Paint the City Black – Making an Impact on Anti-Racism

Toronto artists in support of the Black Lives Matter movement

Artists have expressed their support of the Black Lives Matter movement by painting a mural of George Floyd in Toronto’s graffiti alley on Saturday, June 6.

A peaceful protest was held in downtown Toronto with thousands of participants in tribute to George Floyd and in support of the anti-racism movement Black Lives Matter. While many protesters chose to walk around the downtown areas holding up signs or taking a knee with police officers, many artists decided to make significant impacts through their works.

“I think it’s amazing to see the community come together. And not just our community of artists, but just people of all races, nations, and creed come together to speak out against such atrocities that we’re seeing in the world today,”- said Jessey Pacho, who co-organized this event.

More than 40 artists from Toronto and some other parts of Ontario participated in Paint the City Black last Saturday and they have made amazing pieces of art. They transformed the colourful Graffiti alley, which is located between McDougall Lane and Augusta Avenue, near Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue to a black-theme art show to demonstrate their desire to change others’ perceptions.

Based on the information from organizers of this event, a call to artists was brought up on Tuesday. Over four days, the team received many positive responses and supports from artists themselves and advocates.

“It’s a lot of people understanding that now’s the time to say something … We’re coming together to say something important,” Moises Frank, co-founder of Paint the City Black, said during an interview last Saturday.

Artists have drawn many murals that feature important figures in the anti-racism movement. To kick off this meaningful event, many artists came together and started working on the black panther image with the message “All power to the people”- a slogan from the Civil Rights Movement.

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🖤BLACK LIVES MATTER🖤 The last two weeks have been agony as we have watched more black people in the US get murdered by police and an increasingly militarized response to legitimate protests against the brutality, with the president doing all he can to fan the flames. In the face of this kind of pain it is not always easy to see how art can make a real substantive difference. I hope that by showing we care about this, myself and the other artists who painted the city black this weekend have helped inspire the changes we need, though obviously the systemic racism that pervades every layer of society will require much more than murals. The Black Panther Party was a revolutionary socialist political organization founded by Marxist college students Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in October 1966 in Oakland, California. The party was active in the US until 1982 with chapters in numerous cities, in the UK and even Algeria. At its birth the BPP’s core practice was its open carry armed citizens' patrols ("copwatching") to monitor the behavior of Oakland Police Department officers and challenge police brutality in the city. They were hailed as revolutionaries and also criticized as violent terrorists. My reason for painting this panther is to evoke the beauty of blackness, but to also reference this violent history as a symbol of proud black resistance to police oppression. I do not advocate using guns on anyone, but I can easily understand the need to fight back when your people are being murdered in the streets with impunity by those sworn to protect and serve. When you are forced to choose between survival and non-violence the choice is easy. Thank you to @_________moises @blazeworks and @artofphade for organizing this powerful event with no funding whatsoever and very little time – this was truly a show of what is possible when motivated artists believe in a cause. I encourage all artists of all races and backgrounds to stand with us and #paintthecityblack wherever you are to show your support, and anyone else to help by donating (swipe all the way right) to one of these important initiatives. #blackpanthers #panther #sweetman

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A portrait of George Floyd was also made in the heart of Graffiti Alley. Floyd was held down for almost nine minutes by a police officer in Minneapolis and his death caused a strong backlash against racism towards black people all over the world and sparked many protests. A mural with the words “I can’t breathe” was painted in downtown Toronto to send out the message of anti-racism and support to the black community. 

Additionally, artists drew murals of Martin Luther King Jr., Breonna Taylor, Regis Korchinski-Paquet and many other figures. They can be either the victims of racism or the heroes who devoted their lives to fight for anti-Black racism.

More than a thousand users have posted about this event online with a hashtag #Paintthecityblack. Many pictures of artworks can be found on Instagram or Twitter. This event also got hundreds of media coverage and so far, it has created enormous impacts towards the Black Lives Matter movement.

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