CINCINNATI – In the aftermath of civil rights protests that swept across the country last summer, local artists painted a Black Lives Matter mural outside Cincinnati City Hall.
Blessed by Cincinnati city officials and unveiled on June 19 amid song, dance, poetry and political speeches, the mural caused a stir on the internet.
But once the fanfare died down, the downtown mural was left to rot.
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The street barriers protecting the mural were removed the next day. A counselor intervened to briefly put back the barriers.
Someone threw red paint on it one night. No one has been arrested and the paint stain remains.
As the Pan-African flag was hoisted outside City Hall for the first time on Friday, celebrated in a ceremony that drew people from Cleveland, Dayton and Columbus, the mural was a shadow of itself.
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It is coated with salt used to fight snow and ice. Ragged asphalt cracks appear where the street has eroded. The red paint stain is a faded pink blur, spoiling a corner of the mural.
A vote, and then nothing
Cincinnati City Council unanimously passed an ordinance on June 17 that said the mural should be painted and maintained by the city.
Within a week, it became apparent that there was no plan to preserve the mural, so council members asked the administration to fix it. What they got was a note from then-city manager Patrick Duhaney saying that taking care of the mural and closing the street would cost $ 25,000 – and that there was no money to take care of the mural or build a pedestrian square.
So nothing happened.
Alandes Powell, the visionary behind the mural, said those conversations were still going on and she was hopeful.
“Our vision was to not go away until we made progress in these areas, that the bat signal has to stay there,” said Powell.told the Cincinnati Enquirer, which is part of the USA TODAY Network on Friday.
The artists said they weren’t surprised at the condition of their mural today.
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Powell is working with City Councilor Greg Landsman and Mayor John Cranley to repair the mural. Proposals include repainting it where it is, repainting a smaller version and even painting a second mural on a city street that is easier to close to traffic, then creating the proposed gathering space.
“It’s definitely going to be preserved,” Landsman said. “It’s an absolutely stunning mural, and it represents not only the critical Black Lives Matter movement, but also these incredibly talented artists and the stories they have to tell.
“We have to see how we can preserve it”
Holly Stutz Smith, chief of staff to the mayor, said Cranley had spoken with the artists and the Greater Southwest Ohio Urban League and would soon come up with a plan to pay for the painting and add a historic marker to the current location of the fresco.
The weather during the winter months made it necessary to wait, she said.
Powell estimated that it would cost anywhere from $ 10,000 to $ 20,000 to touch up the mural each year. Landsman said it was difficult to close the street in front of City Hall as there is a business across the street and two churches that need the road to be opened for weddings, funerals and weekly services.
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Powell is open to many possibilities. In addition to retouching, she is interested in seeing letters standing like the “Sing the Queen City” statue on The Banks. She wants plaques added around the mural so that people understand the vision behind each letter. She would love the area to be a pedestrian route.
Councilor Lemon Kearney hopes that a pedestrian plaza will be created again.
“It should be a great place for people to come together and talk about race relations,” Kearney said. “This (last) summer people came and talked. The Town Hall is the citizens’ house. It would be nice to have a gathering space in front of the people’s house.”
She admitted that the mural should probably be repainted.
Kearney said other towns have street murals that are sort of protected.
“We have to see how we can preserve it,” Kearney said.
For Brandon Hawkins, senior director of artists and project manager for the mural, only the painting on the mural is symbolic of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The day it was completed was more important than the days that continue to pass,” said Powell. “The physical mural did its part. She spoke quite loudly. She said what she needed to say.”