How did you get involved with the mural project?
Adán Gutierrez-Gallegos: It started with a suggestion on a local Facebook group: “Hey, there’s so much plywood going up. Wouldn’t it be beautiful to get some artwork up on there?” Artists, including us, popped up and said, “We’d love to do a mural if you’ve got a space.”
Joanna Ruckman: Deirdre Freeman, who made the post, connected us with Feathered Outlaw. Marie Ortega, the store’s owner, wanted the mural to relate to what was going on but otherwise gave us the gift of complete artistic license. As artists, that’s a very rare and wonderful situation.
The project grew out of the protests against horrendous injustice. Your mural radiates hope. Could you talk about the imagery and message you chose?
JR: A boarded-up storefront has a resonance of fear and potential danger and harm, and to be able to put messaging in that space was critical in that moment. We wanted to project hope and a vision of positive change—to offer something that hit you in the heart. We’ve all been hit hard by the murder of George Floyd. There was a moment when I saw the video of Gianna Floyd, his daughter, on the shoulders of Stephen Jackson, the basketball player who has stepped into a fathering role for her, and she says, “Daddy changed the world.” The hope and the inspiration in that moment, to take the horrific events and be able to imagine this being a moment that finally changes the way the world works and potentially as a key to unlocking the systems of oppression and systemic racism—I wanted to carry that moment, amplify that moment. We also see in the next generation the potential for something different and wanted to present them as the visionaries of a different type of society.
We incorporated an olive branch and coriander and flowers—marigolds and white roses—into the mural. We chose imagery that symbolizes surrounding Gianna with love and protection and innocence, as a gesture of what we want to offer to her, and to this next generation of Black children, who deserve to have a childhood of innocence, free from violence.
You are partners in life and art. Could you tell us more about your artistic collaborations?
JR: We’ve been building this collaborative process together over time. I do a lot of the technical composition, and Adán does the research and editing of ideas and messaging. We also work with SF Poster Syndicate, which is a loosely organized group of artists who produce political posters and screen-print them live at rallies and other events, distributing them en masse for free.
AGG: Making the live-action prints is a really exciting process, because not only are the images you’re creating being produced, dried, and immediately put out into the world, but you’re watching people’s reaction to art. People are so happy to have something they can share with the masses, so to speak, just like we can. I think it’s really fun for us as artists because we get to—
JR: Engage with the public.
AGG: Right, and give away our art for free.
JR: We love having our community and the public as our audience. It’s very fulfilling.
What do you see as the role of public art in protest movements?
JR: The key word is amplification. We work sometimes with different organizations like WRAP (Western Regional Advocacy Project) that works on homeless rights—organizations that are doing the work and need a visual piece of art that can amplify the movement or the ideas.
AGG: And also providing a vision. Being able to put an image or a message onto a poster or onto a mural adds to the movement’s overall beauty and diversification of ideas. You’re adding to the vision that people want to work toward, and for me, and us, that’s a really important part of getting public art out in times of protest.
JR: The power of transforming the future through imagination.
JR: The process of making a mural was for us a catharsis, because we’ve had so much pent-up creative energy. But there is a catharsis also for the community to see that things are changing, things are shifting, it’s not just business as usual. These ideas are in the heads and the eyes and the hearts of our community members.
AGG: And especially with the youth. Seeing the youth answer the call, organizing marches and rallies and making their own art—all of that is just beautiful.
Have you seen other examples of public art that you’ve found particularly inspiring in this moment?
GAA: It’s one of those questions you have to flip around and ask, Where have we not seen inspiring, beautiful art? Our latest mural is up in Fruitvale Village, where the Unity Council did the same thing as the plywood project here in Alameda, where they reached out to different artists to create temporary murals. The artwork there is astounding. I encourage everyone to go and see it, just to take a breath of the depth of artist talent that exists within a small radius from us here.
JR: There are probably 40 murals in that area. It’s been really exciting to be part of that community and meet the other artists and see what they’re doing—all the different ways to approach the healing and the shift from this moment.
AGG: As well as the other artists here in Alameda. It’s been so invigorating to walk down Park Street and all of a sudden see a new mural pop up. You take in the artwork and let it sit with you, and it bursts new avenues of creativity and learning for yourself as an artist.
I just want to say thank you to so many people. It’s really lovely to see so much come to fruition through our own community here in Alameda. The opportunity to make art spurs creativity in so many ways, and it spurs what we really need to happen right now, which is conversation. Conversation that leads to change. Let’s amplify those voices and really make the change we need.
The Healing Garden and Memorial, a collaboration between West End Arts District and West Alameda Business Association, is on Webster Street at Taylor Avenue. On view through late fall.