A Mural to Honor African American History
Six miles from DC, Silver Spring is a product of 1840s White slave owners turned real estate developers whose namesakes built it as a sundown suburb, preventing African Americans from owning or renting homes. Although white-washed in the histories, African Americans were essential to White homes where they cleaned, gardened, and raised White children. This is not an unusual start to an American city, but the glaring invisibility of the Black diaspora in Silver Spring is striking.
This was illustrated in 1994 when a mural commissioned by local government was the “first attempt to realistically depict Silver Spring’s history in a representational public art form”. The mural, however, created a blanched vision of African Americans, “I noticed that they had black people and white people standing in line to catch the train, but in 1941 that would not have happened,” insists life-long resident Charlotte Coffield. Not until the 1960s did actions from local Civil Rights leaders begin to break down the Jim Crow era racial barriers there. Black people and their stories remain effectively excluded from published histories, designated historic properties, heritage-themed placemaking, and commemorative landscapes.
In collaboration with a collective of Black community leaders, and deepening partnerships with the Silver Spring Mural Committee, Action in Montgomery, the Montgomery County Office of Human Rights, and the Silver Spring A&E District, the emerging creative professionals of Arts on the Block (AOB) aim to address the erasure and white-washing of African American history and bring to Silver Spring a truer vision of those who fought for racial equity.
The AOB studio has a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to develop an artwork of large scale social, racial, and public significance. A visual exchange of knowledge and point of conversation, our public art work will bring honesty to an intergenerational conversation yet to be had. The timing is opportune as a new generation of civil rights leaders grow in their strength and resolve and our elders can bestow their stories before they are lost.
To realize our mission to “empower creative youth to imagine and shape fulfilling futures, join the creative workforce, and contribute to the quality of life in their communities”, AOB strives to be an anti-racist organization. We are committed to racial equity development: in our studio environments; across our programs; through partnerships and connections we nurture with communities; and within our client relationships and the public art projects we choose. To build an environment in which young people can thrive, we must understand and acknowledge the ways in which white supremacy affects us all and actively work to dismantle it. This art and creative public discourse opportunity is part of that continued work.
In Spring of 2022, AOB will utilize the plaza space outside of its new studio at the Silver Spring public library to install temporary works in light, paint, and vinyl that will introduce and reveal the creative process of developing the permanent artwork. Welcoming the community into this creative plaza space, AOB Crew will:
- Conduct family history and community interviews with Silver Spring stakeholders to develop stories and personal perspectives that inform the permanent artwork concepts. Specifically, holding interviews with the 2021 Living Legends designated by the Office of Human Rights.
- Use online and in-person design charrettes to gather neighborhood stories and discuss their early research and gain input on design concepts.
- Produce a series of online/hybrid in-person public conversations (called Block Talks) about the mural concepts they are developing for the final mural.
They will also inform their mural designs through historical and cultural study including desk and archival research, and viewing related gallery and museum collections. Throughout the Spring, this temporary art in the plaza will serve as a place to engage neighbors, visitors and other stakeholders in the larger conversation about African American history in Silver Spring.
In late Spring/early Summer 2022 the final concepts for the permanent artwork will be presented to the Mural Committee who will decide on the design to be fabricated and installed. By the end of Summer 2022, the collaborative public artwork will be ready for installation and installed in phases beginning in September 2022.