Open-air art gallery in Minneapolis honors George Floyd, victims of police violence

A unique art space appeared in Phelps Park Saturday, not far from George Floyd square.

“This art is powerful,” says Kenda Zellner-Smith, with the group Save the Boards Minneapolis. “We’re doing the best we can to honor his legacy and make sure that the community feels valued and honored.”

Zellner-Smith and her colleagues have cared for hundreds of pieces of plywood art, created after Floyd’s death nearly a year ago and temporarily placed in storage.

Those boards were originally used to protect storefronts during the unrest last spring.

Now, with special frames in place, 150 pieces are seeing the light of day again.

“I think the exhibit is beautiful,” says Precious Shider, visiting from New Jersey. “I like how it’s all coming together, and it’s very inspiring. I’m grateful to be here, that I was able to be part of the event.”

"These pieces, these are history. These are artifacts. This is Black history,” Zellner-Smith says. “This is a story, a narrative that needs to be told through the lens of Black people. This art wouldn’t exist without the murder of a Black man."

The exhibit is called "Justice For George: Messages From The People."

"It’s all about the unity because his murder brought us together as far as trying to get justice served,” declares Serena Black, a Minneapolis-based artist, who was among those painting new works here.

She titled her newest work, "Unity."

“Hopefully, with all this painting and this community, we’re going around speaking to come together, try to heal,” Black says. “So healing from that trauma is going to take a while. Shake a hand and meet a new friend, that’s my motto.”

George Floyd, Philando Castile and others killed by police were portrayed here.

Some of the original messages — delivery instructions, for example — were still posted on some plywood boards. But the bigger message, applied with paint, brushes and passion, were remembrance, justice and hope.

"I think that George Floyd would definitely be, he would feel grateful that people cared,” Shider says. “That they cared enough to go out and protest, I would say, and do art in honor of him."

As she painted, Black voiced her concerns about the future and the safety of her children after the death of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by ex-Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter during a traffic stop in April.

“I tell my kids to be law abiding and follow the rules,” she says. “But as far as teaching my kids to fear for their lives for being stopped, I don’t think anybody should have to do that with a child.”

Organizers hope some of the pieces will be placed into the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum.

Already, the planners are working on a digital gallery.

“We want to make sure that we have created a space of healing and reflection,” Zellner-Smith says. “And a space that still encourages change in a system that targets Black people.”

You can find out more about the project at Save The Boards’ website.