Artists hope Black History Mural Project ‘educates, inspires, uplifts’
Artists hope Black History Mural Project ‘educates, inspires, uplifts’
One of Just Dixon’s murals depicts Black Olympic medalists Alice Coachman, Simone Biles and Tommie Smith. The mural is part of the 2022 Black History Mural Project in Phoenix, which was commissioned by the Shining Light Foundation. The project’s 28 murals represent the 28 days of February, Black History Month. (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
PHOENIX – The City Council in 2020 denied a request to paint a “Black Lives Matter” mural on a downtown street. That rejection was the impetus for the Black History Mural Project, which the Shining Light Foundation started last year to educate and empower Arizonans.
This year, the group commissioned 28 murals, representing the days of Black History Month. Each features prominent or impactful Black figures with a unique theme.
Gizette Knight is president and CEO of the foundation and founder of the 2022 Black History Mural Project.
“My overall goal for this project has always been to empower my people, but also to educate all people, for Black history is American history,” Knight said Feb. 1 at the unveiling of a mural at Footprint Center, home of the NBA Suns and Mercury.
Cronkite News spoke to four of the muralists commissioned for the project, which is rolling out across downtown.
“I started art here in Arizona,” muralist Just Dixon says, “and I left because there were no Black artists or anyone I could really connect to.” He works on his second mural for the project on the northwestern corner of Second and Lincoln streets on Feb. 1. (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
Two out of the three murals painted by Just Dixon are at Second and Lincoln streets. The works often take a week to finish, he says. (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
“I think the funnest part about these projects is that I get to learn about Black history that was never taught to me or that I’m not even seeking,” Just Dixon says. (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
“We’re hoping that this project educates, inspires, uplifts and brings forth some more people of color to do what we are doing,” Just Dixon says. (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
Giovannie ‘Just’ Dixon
Location: Northwestern corner of Second and Lincoln streets
When he began painting four years ago Dixon left Arizona to seek communities of artists who are like him.
“There needs to be more Black representation, whether it’s on the walls or actually painting the walls,” Dixon said.
Dixon was commissioned to complete three of the 28 murals, a workload he says he was willing to take on in hopes that his work and the project can educate the public, increase representation from Black street artists in Arizona and bring forth more people of color to create art.
“I’m proud of the fact that people appreciate it, and that means everything to me that they’re getting something from it,” David Morgan says of his mural. (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
“Being a white person born in the middle class,” David Morgan says, “I can’t get a sense of 100% what it’s like for a Black person in America to have been born here and lived here. But I can get an idea from looking that stuff (the history behind the subjects) up, and that’s what I was able to do.” (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
David Morgan’s mural is painted on the side of Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe, a Black-owned restaurant that has been a Phoenix staple since 1964. “I wanted to create something that the business owners would be proud of,” Morgan says as he works on the mural on the northeast corner of Eighth and Jefferson streets on Jan. 31. (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
David Morgan began his mural using a technique called a doodle grid, in which the artist sprays doodles onto a canvas that can later be overlaid by a picture of the portrait the artist wants to paint. (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
David Morgan holds a reference photo of one of the three subjects for the mural, heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson. “You have to commend them for their conviction and for their bravery and for setting a positive example for their people,” he says. (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
Location: Western side of Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe at Eighth and Jefferson streets
As the son of a former art teacher, Morgan spent most of his childhood creating art.
He joined the project at the request of the foundation with aspirations to create something Shining Light and the community could be proud of. Although Morgan has created murals for seven years, this project became an inspiration as well as a history lesson for him.
“I felt like I learned more about the other side of America,” Morgan said. “The side that they’re not going to show you on TV, and they’re not going to show you on the computer.”
The basketball mural painted by Lucretia Torva and Jennifer White is on the western side of Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix. (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
“I always get emotional with portraits because I want to represent people the best way possible, so I think about them as I am painting it,” says muralist Lucretia Torva, left, with Jennifer White, her collaborator. “I think about what they must feel when I’m painting them.” (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
Muralist Jennifer White stands in the crowd at the 2022 Black History Mural Project kickoff at Footprint Center. (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
Panelists at the 2022 Black History Mural Project – from left, Jerry McPherson, Sandra Bassett, Neal Lester and Gizette Knight – kick off the project at Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix on Feb. 1. (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
“As I pull these out, I want you to think of an African proverb that says ‘Hunters cease to be heroes when lions tell their stories,’” Neal Lester says of these historical dolls. He is a Foundation Professor of English and founding director of Project Humanities at Arizona State University. (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
Lucretia Torva and Jennifer White
Location: Western side of Footprint Center at First and Jefferson streets
Torva and White collaborated to bring to life a mural of 10 Black figures prominent in basketball.
Torva, who saw Facebook posts looking for muralists to join the project, didn’t see herself as a protester or activist before working on the mural. For her, participating in the process was an important way to support the cause and equality for everyone.
“This project has changed my view personally that I can actually be an activist with my art,” Torva said.
White, who joined the project in 2021, knew she would be returning for the second year after her initial experience.
“(Painting the mural) was the most important and fulfilling thing I ever did, like I was fulfilling a purpose besides just painting something pretty on a wall,” White said.
Hope O’Brien expects to graduate in May 2022 with a master’s degree in mass communication. O’Brien, who has written for the Downtown Devil and interned with Destination I Do, is working for the Phoenix news bureau.
Michelle Ailport expects to graduate in May 2022 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Ailport, who graduated from ASU in May 2021 with a degree in journalism and mass communication, is working for the Phoenix news bureau.