by Shari Finnell, editor/writer, Not-for-profit News

Just over a year ago, Indianapolis native Deonna Craig was among a group of 18 artists who gathered in downtown Indianapolis — committing their talents and points of view to create a street mural during one of the most turbulent periods in American history.

Craig recalls the experience on Indiana Avenue as peaceful refuge, even as people gathered just outside of a barricade to protest them painting the phrase “#BlackLivesMatter” (BLM) on a segment of Indiana Avenue.

“It was like I was in a bubble,” recalls Craig, who included the names of people who had been killed by local police in the letter V, her contribution to the project approved by the City-County Council of Indianapolis and Marion County.

About a week later, the street mural was vandalized with splatters and streaks of gray paint — similar to the acts of vandalism on #BlackLivesMatter public artwork across the nation.

Craig, who regularly talks to youth at area schools about current events and the power of artistic expression as an art instructor, said the defacing of the mural did little to minimize the voices of the artists who gathered that day to raise awareness. While the vandalism was devastating, she said, it wasn’t entirely unexpected given the tensions in the community throughout 2020.

Unveiling of new BLM exhibit

And with a recent exhibit launched by The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis those moments will reach a larger audience — as many as the 1.2 million visitors who visit the destination each year.

Under a special initiative, the museum commissioned the artists to recreate miniaturized versions of their street artwork on 16×20 canvases, said Monica Ramsey Humphrey, director of exhibits and interactive media for The Children’s Museum. Of the 18 artists, 14 artists, including Craig, participated — recreating their artistic lettering and recording a video in which they share their personal stories, inspiration and experiences of how the mural impacted their lives. The exhibit also includes some of the concept art renderings, tools, shirts, badges and clothes the artists were wearing as part of the event.

“It’s an incredibly important movement,” Ramsey Humphrey said of the massive outpouring of people who demonstrated on behalf of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. “The museum has a responsibility to collect and preserve moments in history for generations to come.”

Having hard conversations with youth

Craig, who regularly works with children as part of her community work, said it’s important to communicate with children what they were witnessing during that intense period of social unrest and demonstrations, and art is one of the most effective ways to bridge that understanding. Craig also is involved in the Visiting Artist Program for The Children’s Museum.

Like the exhibit, The Power of Children©, which will be expanded to add the story of Malala Yousafzai this year, the new #BlackLivesMatter exhibit will help educate children on difficult periods in American history, Ramsey Humphrey said.

“These are tough topics we want to tackle,” she added. “The exhibits play a part in bridging gaps and elevating voices and stories. We are able to give parents and children the information and tools needed to talk to one another about challenging issues that can be difficult to break down as an adult.”