What comes next for protest artwork from Black Lives Matter Plaza

Plain boards that covered buildings to prevent damage if protests went awry were transformed into art pieces inspired by the protests of 2020.

Now some of that artwork, particularly from Black Lives Matter Plaza in D.C., will be part of an art gallery commemorating last summer’s events.

The partnership for the gallery started last summer.

Josh Turnbull, general manager with Oxford Properties, said Oxford’s relationship with the PAINTS Institute started in June — when the city and country were deep in protests George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis. Oxford’s building in D.C.’s Gallery Place neighborhood will now showcase the art work.

“The PAINTS Institute…is a community nonprofit group that provides arts-based programming to underserved communities,” said Turnbull.

Turnbull said PAINTS was working with the Downtown Business Improvement District and was painting murals on the wood covering buildings in the Gallery Place/Chinatown area “to soften up the plywood that was on many buildings.”

That’s where he met John Chisholm, the organization’s executive director, in June. Turnbull said he observed the painting and grew fond of the community vibe.

“We really need to put this kind of stuff on the plywood we have over on 16th Street on Black Lives Matter Plaza,” he recalled thinking last summer. “The letters had just been painted on the street…and so we quickly mobilized to get them over there the next day to do the same kind of murals over there” on another Oxford property, Turnbull said.

From the start, Turnbull said they planned to do something with the artwork once the boards came down. The past eight months were spent figuring out what would happen to the creations.

“We really do see those pieces as historic,” he said.

Time and financial damages from the pandemic showed the way.

“Unfortunately, our building at Gallery Place, really from the impacts of the pandemic has lost a number of retail tenants like much of the rest of the country.”

So Oxford offered a vacant space for a gallery to commemorate a tense time in history. The artwork will be displayed in 20,000 square feet of space, with no charge on their month-to-month agreement with PAINTS Institute.

“There was never a chance that these pieces weren’t going to land somewhere,” Turnbull said. “They were going to be preserved, protected.”

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