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Throughout history, downtowns and town squares have served as the foundation of society’s freedom of expression and the center of community discourse. Downtown Tulsa is certainly no different. At an incredibly tense time in our community and nation, and in the midst of planning for unprecedented events, we found an opportunity to showcase Downtown Tulsa’s core values on temporary canvases throughout Downtown.

More than 300 artists responded to a last-minute call for art on June 18, 2020. Within hours, commissioned artists began painting storefronts thanks to permission from businesses and the generosity of an anonymous donor. Within two days, we were able to mobilize more than a dozen artists to paint murals and messages inspiring hope, unity, and compassion throughout Downtown.

While the storefronts were restored and businesses reopened the following week, the conversations sparked by this art and the core values it represents continue.

Photos by Tyler Huffman

Documentarian McKinleigh Lair recorded short videos with three artists in action for submission to the PBS American Portrait series:

Now is the time to get engaged, Chris Sker Rogers.

Now is the time to be actionable, Krystie Bunch

I never expected to be doing art, Antonio Andrews

Tyler Huffman’s Reflection on the Weekend Event

In the darkest of times we can still find beauty and love. For those of us who know where to look, it's our job to show the world.

The pavement was wet when I headed downtown. My first stop, DGX Tulsa. The artwork by Chris Sker Rogers was already up on the plywood that covered the windows of the store. “Hope” it said. Sker’s lettering was big, bold, and full of life. It was a great way to start my journey across Downtown Tulsa. The project would take three days with the final day being when the campaign rally would be held at the BOK Center, despite national and local opposition. As the days passed, I would see more and more buildings boarded up and more and more of them painted with messages of hope and love.

My next stop after DGX was just down Boston at Decopolis. The TYPROS Arts & Entertainment Crew was busy painting their own message of hope. I saw Krystie Bunch and Greg Stivers take a few steps back to look for any details they may have missed, with their works at Juniper and Vintage Wine Bar, respectively. Antonio Andrews was already gone, but his piece surrounding the Bank of Oklahoma ATM, across from AHHA Tulsa, was there in a brilliant collage of color and love. Terren Zinbi had already left her mark on the Vast Bank Parking Garage and Cody Edwards & Lucas Wisner got their work up at Amelia’s Wood Fired Cuisine. Annie Kate Jones, David Reed James, Amanda January, and Mark Southerland were busy at work, creating their massive multimedia piece down and around PRHYME: Downtown Steakhouse. On the last day, I made it by Vast Bank to see the work Clean Hands had done of a woman reading a book about peace, as the morning sun lit it up.  

On this journey, many other artists had begun to put up their own pieces on other Downtown Tulsa businesses. Unity through art. Were they inspired by the work of those I was sent to document or did they simply notice the blank canvas and knew it was an opportunity to share a message of love when hatred and intolerance was coming to town? Either way, they were a welcome addition, not only to my experience, but to the new downtown wide gallery show that would only live for a few days until business as usual was able to begin again.

This was why I was here. I was here to document these messages of hope, unity, and compassion and where they were created, where they lived, and where they were ready to look all who oppose those things in the eye and encourage them to see what we stand for here in Tulsa. Wide shots to show the world they were in, close ups so you can see the detail these artists put into their works, and action shots of these artists doing their part (if I was lucky enough to catch them.) A record has been taken, these amazing works of art will be preserved, and they will be remembered.

The very last thing I saw as I left Downtown were officers with automatic rifles blocking off roads. Later, I would turn on the TV to hear of low attendance to the rally and a clash between those who support support hope, unity, and compassion and those who don’t.