by Marc Lefkowitz
Artist and activist Amanda King is always in full-court press mode to highlight her latest projects—most recently she was focused on the launch of her Shooting Without Bullets’ streetwear collection at a popup shop and gallery during the the CLEVLAND WALLS! International Mural Program this week.
But earler this summer King was busy with a project that focuses on her roles as both Civil Right activist and Cleveland muralist—a mural as part of the #VoicesofCLE project and a result of her participation in Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC)-funded Center for Performance and Civic Practice (CPCP) Learning Lab.
“It’s Almost Tomorrow” depicts the three founders of Black Lives Matter (BLM)—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—and was installed on the side of the Public Square Café earlier this month.
As creative director for the mural project, King and Leigh Brooklyn, a painter, illustrator and Women’s March Cleveland co-organizer, worked with a group of students from Citizens Academy East in the Lee-Harvard neighborhood to develop the mural, which has the appearance of a holy trinity illuminated by fire, rainbows, and hearts—symbols of hope, love and renewal, King says.
The students are active in the school’s LGBTQ+ Pride Club, which made the depiction of their subjects a fitting tribute.
“It was important to uplift Black Lives Matter founders, [two of whom identify] as queer women,” Kings says.
King worked with the club to explore links between the protests for racial desegregation of public schools that took place in the 1950s and 60s and the contemporary protest for social and racial justice following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
“I was interested in exploring moments of activism in which children participated,” King says. “Many young people [in the 50s and 60s]were going with their parents to protest grave injustices of not being able to fully pursue an education.”
In designing “It’s Almost Tomorrow,” the Citizens students reflected on that activism theme and wrote what came to mind. Some of their words, like “Love is Love” and “When I think of peace, I think of chains being free” are emblazoned on the mural.
The project was born out of a Learning Lab session last spring when King, co-founder of Shooting without Bullets—an arts-based program that uses photography and hip-hop performance as a tool to combat social injustices affecting Black and brown teens in Cleveland.
King is part of the second cohort of 12 artists in Learning Lab who were paired up with nonprofit arts and placemaking organizations, such as Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA), and implemented co-designed arts-based projects.
Though CAC, CPCP pays artists $500 to attend a three-day workshop and the artists then receive up to $7,500 for the public projects.
“It was a good experience,” King says of the Learning Lab. “It allowed me to be the student. I am regarded as a creative director, an artist, and an activist. But, I’m good at what I do because I’m always learning and absorbing.”
DCA director of operations Lisa Kreiger says the Learning Lab was an opportunity to hold important conversations in the wake of the Floyd killing and nationwide protests—including those in downtown Cleveland.
“A lot of what I learned at the Learning Lab follows the racial equity and inclusion training that [DCA did],” Kreiger says. “It’s at forefront of the discussion and it leads the way.”
King’s proposed project seemed like a good fit for the #VoicesofCLE project the launched in June. The multi-organizational effort to invite artists and activists to install work that reflects the struggle for racial and social justice in a series of installations around downtown and was asked to complete the mural.
“It’s amazing what these middle schoolers came up with,” Kreiger says the Citizens Academy participants. “It’s hard to have conversations about race. Art is a good way to make people think.”
King echoes that statement, calling the students’ response incredibly brave.
“There’s a collision between peace and unrest right now,” she says. “It’s a similar ethos to those who stood out there with protest signs during desegregation saying, “this world is not good enough.”
Keeping challenging conversations about racial equity and inclusion going through public art is the role that CAC envisioned with Learning Lab.
“This community mural is a prime example of what we aimed to support,” says Jake Sinatra, CAC communications and special projects manager of CAC’s commitment to Learning Lab. “The goal was to invest in projects that will use art and creativity to drive civic change, and ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’ will help to spark critical conversations about how education can transform our communities.” 🔥
This story is published with permission from FreshWater Cleveland, where it originally ran on Thursday, Aug. 26.
Marc Lefkowitz is a sustainability consultant with more than 15 years of experience writing, speaking and advocating for a more sustainable Northeast Ohio. He served as Director of the GreenCityBlueLake Institute and editor of its well-known blog at gcbl.org. He has a B.A. in English from Ohio State University and an M.A. in urban planning from Cleveland State University. He is a regular bike commuter and transit rider.