Early Tuesday morning, a mural-sized portrait of George Floyd under I-496 on the Lansing River Trail was found defaced by dense curlicues of silver spray paint.
The vandalism was sadly predictable, but the story has a surprise happy ending.
In just a few days, two quickly organized fundraisers, one by the Lansing Art Gallery and another by local artist Marissa Thaler, have collectively raised nearly $7,000 to repair the painting and protect it with sealant, with money left over to commission more public art for Lansing.
“The response was so overwhelming, and we raised so much more than I ever thought, that now we are in the process of trying to secure a few more locations and do a few more murals,” Flint artist Isiah Lattimore said.
Lattimore quickly painted the George Floyd mural, in his trademark Old-Masters-blended-with-graffiti style, June 11 and 12, at the height of national anguish over Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police.
This week’s explosion of public support for its restoration shows how quickly the community embraced the portrait as a civic icon.
Over the past month, hundreds of people have parked their bikes or strollers to take pictures, leave flowers or just spend time in the portrait’s penetrating gaze.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Lansing Art Gallery executive Katrina Daniels said. “But it’s just one person that did something destructive, and this artwork was overwhelmingly welcomed by the community.”
Daniels called Lattimore as soon as a city employee alerted her about the incident Monday.
“I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed,” Lattimore said. “But people started asking me almost immediately if they could help get it redone or fixed. Community support came so quickly, I almost didn’t have any time to be upset about it.”
Daniels started an online fundraiser on the gallery’s Facebook page Tuesday. By 11 p.m. Thursday, it had raised more than $3,700.
Meanwhile, Lansing artist Marisa Thaler started her own GoFundMe campaign when she heard the mural was defaced.
Thaler first saw the George Floyd mural while jogging by in June. She set up the fundraiser late Tuesday night, as soon as she heard the mural was defaced.
“I knew the gallery would do something great, but I also knew that people were immediately angry and immediately wanted to act,” she said.
When she woke up the next morning, her goal of $1,000 had already been surpassed. Thaler’s fundraiser topped out at over $3,500 Wednesday and is now closed. The Lansing Art Gallery’s fundraiser, on its FaceBook page, is still open for donations.
At first, Daniels and Thaler aimed at raising enough money to pay Lattimore for lost work time and supplies to fix the mural, but the sum total far exceeded their expectations.
The donations will likely enable Lattimore and other artists to add major new works to Lansing’s growing gallery of public art.
Lattimore plans to bring Dtach, the Flint artist who created the lettering around the George Floyd mural, and another celebrated Flint mural artist, Kevin Scraps, to do more work in Lansing.
“The support we received for this mural just so exceeded anything we were expecting that the Lansing Art Gallery and I really want to give them their money's worth,” Lattimore said.
Daniels said the locations of the new public art haven’t been determined yet. The George Floyd mural was a late addition to Lansing Art Gallery’s ArtPath, an outdoor exhibit of 17 public sculptures and murals. After three years of working together on ArtPath, the Lansing Art Gallery and the city are getting to be old hands at finding interesting spots to plant public art.
Lattimore and Daniels are also looking into options for applying a sealant to the restored George Floyd mural so it can be cleaned if it is defaced again.
“I really hope that the work wouldn't get vandalized again, but I think it's more important to remember that the artwork itself is secondary to the conversations they create,” Lattimore said. “Even if we fix this mural the sentiment that motivated the individual to deface in the first place will still exist.”
Lattimore is glad that Lansing has taken the George Floyd portrait to heart, but his art is all about fluidity. He brings his fine art skills into the streets with open eyes, willingly weathering the winds of chance in exchange for reaching a bigger public.
“My focus now isn't creating more murals that could just never be defaced,” Lattimore said. “It's trying to create more art to continue the conversation of progress and change. That dialogue can't be destroyed regardless of what happens to the murals.”
Lattimore will lead an artist’s discussion Aug. 11 at the site of the George Floyd mural and the epic ArtPath mural nearby, “St. Cecilia.”