Park City’s social equity murals have been a hot topic of discussion since they were first painted over the Fourth of July weekend. The murals have now sparked a sharp response from the head of Black Lives Matter Utah, who said city officials missed the point of the Black Lives Matter movement in the murals’ presentation and purpose.
Lex Scott is the founder of Black Lives Matter Utah and has been involved in police reform activism for the last six years. She says she started getting calls about the murals on Main Street last week before she took to the Black Lives Matter Utah Facebook page to voice her frustrations.
In a live stream last Tuesday, Scott said she wasn’t necessarily offended that “Black Lives Matter” was painted on the street without contacting the organization first, but that it was concerning Black people were not involved in the planning process that led to the street art in the first place and the city didn’t promote the murals due to concerns about protesters.
Scott and Park City Mayor Andy Beerman shared a phone call about the issue last Friday.
“I just wanted to make sure that they are having implicit bias training, they’re having diversity training, and that they understand, hey, if you’re going to paint 'Black Lives Matter' on your street and not even call Black Lives Matter, that’s fine, but if you’re not going to have a single Black person or Black voice involved and your city council is white, and your mayor is white, and your police department is white, and your town is white, maybe we should have some hard conversations about racial insensitivity,” Scott said in an interview.
Both Scott and Mayor Beerman tell KPCW their discussion was a positive one. Beerman says the conversation made him realize some of his own personal blind spots on the issue of race.
“I know that Lex and some others felt it was inappropriate and it’s good feedback,” he said. “It’s something we can listen, we can learn, and I think these whole equity discussions for me, it’s like learning a foreign language. You make a lot of mistakes along the way. Even with good intentions I think it’s easy to offend, it’s easy to be callous and not realize it, so for me, I am just trying to get it right and listen and learn and I appreciate the time Lex took with me to help me get there.”
One of the main criticisms leveled against the murals was that the planning process happened too fast and didn’t allow for adequate feedback from the community.
Park City Municipal was eager to fill the void left over the Fourth of July weekend after the parade and fireworks were both cancelled due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns and the city government saw street art as a good substitute for the traditional festivities.
Beerman says the situation became complicated because the city did not set out to explicitly paint a Black Lives Matter mural. Utah-based artists were chosen by the Park City Summit County Arts Council to paint murals about social equity. However, none of them were Black.
Aljay Fuimaono is of Polynesian descent and was the artist who chose to paint the Black Lives Matter mural. Beerman says, in hindsight, the city should have consulted members of the Black community before moving forward.
“It was moving quickly and I didn’t know what was going to go on the street until probably 24 hours ahead of time I saw the four concepts of the murals,” Beerman said. “If I had it to do over again, I would have contacted Lex and maybe some other folks in our community to get their perspective ahead of time, but I didn’t anticipate that this was going to be received by both sides in the way it was, so lesson learned there for sure.”
Days after they were first painted, Fuimaono’s mural and a second with the letters “BLM” were vandalized with gray paint. The artists returned to Park City to repaint the murals that weekend and Fuimaono altered his to show a Black and a white hand embracing. Scott says although the intention of the alteration was good, it missed the point.
Scott says issues of systemic racism like higher arrest and death rates of BIPOC, sentencing discrepancies in the criminal justice system, as well as discrimination in lending and healthcare are bigger problems than individual acts of racism.
“People have this view of personal racism and they don’t understand systemic racism,” Scott said. “It’s like them saying ‘hey, if Black people would just unite with white people, we could have racial equality. This is about friendship and unity and having kumbaya moments.’ This is not about friendship and love and unity because Black people and white people are friends. We have friends that are white and neighbors who are white and coworkers and employers. This isn’t about if Black people and white people could just be friends with each other, we could solve police brutality. That is incorrect. This isn’t about that, this is about systemic racism and putting checks and balances into place that hold police accountable for their actions and provide mass transparency to the public.”
Scott says she hopes to meet with the Park City Council as well as the Arts Council to continue this discussion. Beerman says he welcomes her input on these issues and is looking forward to consulting with her going forward as Park City continues its social equity initiative.