George Floyd remembered with protest art and a photo archive 3 years after his murder

Collection of protest art on display steps away from George Floyd Square

Collection of protest art on display steps away from George Floyd Square

Within days of George Floyd’s murder, a memorial began springing up at 38th and Chicago.

That memorial stands today.

“I still get chills,” says Shaun Farrow from South Minneapolis. “It’s sad.”

There are hand-drawn portraits of Floyd, heartfelt messages, and calls for justice.

On Thursday night, people were gathering flowers and gathering their thoughts about this day.

“It’s important to come down to pay respects — to take a moment to think about it,” explains Shawn Peirce, visiting from Washington, D.C. “Some definitely are forgetting on purpose, and that’s just part of how we ended up here in the first place. They didn’t want to see it.”

Just steps away is the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center.

Inside — an exhibit that organizers call ‘protest art’ — collected from the square itself.

“It gave me hope,” declares Jeanelle Austin, Executive Director of the George Floyd Global Memorial. “It gave me a sense that this next generation is going to fight for us. It was inspiring.”

The exhibit is called ‘Voices of the Unheard.’

Memorial staffers teamed up with students from Harvest Best Academy and Anoka High School to select two-hundred items — and choose their placement in the exhibit.  

Austin says some of the students had oral discussions while others wrote down their thoughts — which, with parental permission, will eventually become part of this collection.

“And they were like, who was George Floyd and who killed him, and did he get arrested?” she recalls. “It was such an experience to know that these kids were hungry for answers. One was so troubled he said, that’s not right. I said yes — now I want you to take that energy and emotion and write about it.”

Emotions were on full display in the weeks following Floyd’s murder.

Plywood boards, used to protect buildings, were turned into works of art and expression.

“Together, these street murals are like a collective monument to this tremendous movement that happened in the summer of 2020,” notes Heather Shirey, an art history professor at the University of St. Thomas.

Since then, she and her students have been assembling a photo archive — 3000 images so far.

“People really use walls as a form of canvas,” Shirey says. “They use graffiti and murals and all kinds of art and public space as a way to communicate things that often go unheard.”

It’s not just in the metro.

Shirey and her team have documented these works in Washington, D.C., Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, and even Ireland.

She says one person recently sent six-thousand images from the nation’s capital.

Shirey’s team is heading to Philadelphia in the coming week.  

“There’s a lot of nuances to the conversations that are taking place through art,” she says. “And it’s exciting to see that continue to happen.”

Meanwhile, the ‘Voices of the Unheard’ exhibit runs through August 19.

Organizers say they hope to eventually open a permanent facility — an archive of the items dedicated to George Floyd.

“How could kids have this level of emotion for something they experienced when they were in the third grade?” Austin exclaims. “I felt like I was encountering all the pieces anew again because reading them side by side-by-side with different pieces. It brought up another layer of story.”