From now until the end of July, a dozen Paint for Peace murals from Ferguson and South St. Louis will be on exhibit at the Stratford Library in Connecticut. The exhibit in Vicki Soto’s hometown will be the first time the actual “Paint for Peace” artwork will be on display outside the St. Louis area.
The art tells the story that is not widely known in other parts of the country, of how the people of St. Louis and Ferguson came together to help their neighbors in crisis. What began as a few people armed with paint, paintbrushes and an idea, quickly became transformative. Now another community will be able to experience how this art changed things … not only the plywood boards covering the boarded up windows, but also the residents of Ferguson and the artists themselves.
As one artist, Chrisitna Carroll, a Ferguson resident puts it, “Everything was boarded up. It was amazing, on the day of the mural paintings, to watch as my community was transformed from a place of pain and sorrow to the most beautiful gallery of art.” People brought caring and hope not only through their artwork but also by bringing brooms to sweep up broken glass, by walking up and down the sidewalks sharing water and food, even playing music for those who came to the Ferguson streets. Ordinary, everyday people, came together after a tragedy, picking up the broken bits, feeling the need to do something. What was left behind were hundreds of images and messages of hope, unity, peace and healing. What’s happening nearly four years later is that people still need these messages.
Carol Swartout Klein, who grew up in Ferguson, went to her childhood hometown in the days immediately following the fires expecting to feel great loss, but upon witnessing the hundreds of people and volunteers who came out in the cold to make a difference, it moved her so much, she knew she had to capture this moment. The end result became Painting for Peace in Ferguson. She not only wrote the award-winning children’s book, she also began collecting as many of the plywood boards as she could before they were damaged by the oncoming winter weather. While some business owners have kept the murals, many others were lost as businesses hurried to re-open their doors. Still, Klein was able to salvage and store dozens, hoping that someday these pieces could tell the story of a moment when a community reached across the lines that often divide it, to create something larger than the individual images and that showed on a massive scale what kinds of transformations we can make when we work together.
Fast forward to 2018. Two dozen of the pieces have already been displayed in various venues around St. Louis, whether permanently or for only a week or a month at two significant shows (more on the 2017 Urban League exhibit), and have become artifacts in just a few years. Seeing the murals in person one sees their massive scale and can understand the powerful impact they had on the people of Ferguson.
Those of us that were there know how important this Paint for Peace movement was, and still is today. And we want to share that. It’s one thing to see these images in the book, but to see them up close and at actual size brings an entirely new perspective. Many thanks to both Regional Arts Commission and the United Missouri Bank in Ferguson for loaning some of the murals that made the trip to Connecticut.
If you’re in the area of Stratford, Connecticut from now until the end of July, you can experience these murals for yourself. Also, Carol will read from her book for children through grade 6 on Wednesday, June 27, at 2 p.m., and beginning at 6:30 p.m. she will host various community leaders in a community conversation about how Ferguson produced art out of the ashes and what it means to towns like Stratford. On Thursday, June 28, at 1 p.m., she will discuss the art of Ferguson. All programs will be held in the Stratford Library's Lovell Room.