Boston murals and sunflowers from London Parker-McWhorter and Ekua Holmes

Pairing celebrated Black muralists with up-and-coming artists is the focus of Now + There’s year-long, critically-acclaimed project, “Mentoring Murals” with notable artist Ekua Holmes and emerging artist and local photographer London Parker-McWhorter creating the latest installation, “Honoring the past, seeding the future.” The artists’ three temporary, printed murals are mounted at 345 Blue Hill Avenue in the Grove Hall neighborhood between Roxbury and Dorchester and will be on display through December 7. 

All of the murals are offset by sunflowers, planted this spring in time to bloom in the fall, to honor the artists’ belief that to plant a seed is to believe in the future.

To amplify the Black mural movement’s past and present in Roxbury and Dorchester, the project builds on the importance of mentorship in maintaining a vibrant Black arts community by inviting artists to team up with a younger artist to create side-by-side works of art on a visible wall in the neighborhood. Printed on fine mesh from an original print, the murals rotate every three to four months, allowing for a range of artists in age and ability to create large-scale imagery. This new iteration celebrates gardens as creative community building.

“Mentoring Murals” is a program by Now + There, a nonprofit organization bringing temporary, site-specific public art to all neighborhoods of Boston, in collaboration with Greater Grove Hall Main Streets (GGHMS) and support from Breeze’s Laundromat LLC. The goal is to create temporary public art with aligned community organizations for a more vibrant and equitable Boston. The first installation, “No Strings Detached,” was created by artists Paul Goodnight and Larry Pierce and was on display from June 16 to Sept. 10. There will be six artworks presented through February 2022.

Within walking distance to several other important Grove Hall murals, the 13’ x 60’ wall at 345 Blue Hill Avenue is part of the anchor community business, Breezes Laundromat, and is a focal point for mural enthusiasts and for those wanting to learn more about the enduring legacy of Black artists in Boston. The changing imagery and a mobile tour of all Grove Hall murals available at www.nowandthere.org/tour. The Mentoring Murals program is generously supported by Boston Main Streets Foundation, the Kensington Investment Company and a New England Foundation for the Arts Collective Imagination for Spatial Justice grant.

A Roxbury native and life-long resident and celebrated children’s book illustrator, Holmes had her first experience in public art as a Now + There Public Art Accelerator in 2018 and launched her now-ubiquitous Roxbury Sunflower Project, planting 10,000 sunflower seeds around Roxbury. That recently blossomed into Garden for Boston at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where she and fellow community activists including Parker-McWhorter planted two gardens of sunflowers. Inside the museum, Holmes is gaining critical acclaim for her first exhibition there, Paper Stories, Layered Dreams: The Art of Ekua Holmes, (July 17-Jan. 23, 2022) exploring her works of vibrant, colorful children’s book illustrations and collage.

Holmes enjoyed collaborating on this project with Parker-McWhorter, a local photographer and co-caretaker of United Neighbors of Lower Roxbury Garden who also assisted Holmes as project manager and liaison to the Museum’ contractors as she designed and planted Garden for Boston.

“The synergy created in these partnerships is palpable,” said Kate Gilbert, Now + There’s Executive Director. “The community outpouring for our first project was really indicative of how much Boston appreciates and celebrates public art. By offering mentorship and collaboration between artists, we aim to grow the city’s artistic community and bring more public art to all corners of this city. Ekua’s renowned Roxbury Sunflower Project is a welcome sight around the city so this partnership with London will offer a new and exciting dimension.”

From the 1960s to today, local artists such as Dana Chandler, Napoleon Jones-Henderson, Sharon Dunn, and others have registered the neighborhood’s significance as a center of Black culture. During the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 70s, the neighborhood’s walls became the fulcrum of powerful murals, starting a tradition that continues to this day. Notable examples include “Africa is the Beginning,” by Gary Rickson (1969), Dana Chandler’s “Knowledge is Power” (c. 1973), “Faces of Dudley” by Mike Womble (1995, reprised 2015), “Roxbury Love,” by Ricardo “Deme5” Gomez and Thomas “Kwest” Burns (2016-2020), and “Breathe Life 3” by Rob “Problak” Gibbs (2019) for Now + There. The wall at 345 Blue Hill Ave is catty-corner from Gibbs’s first in the “Breathe Life” series.

Murals–bringing diverse representations of Black life and culture–have popped up across Dorchester in recent years. These artworks emerge atop the foundation of African American scene painting from the 1930s and 40s. In particular, painter Allan Rohan Crite “biographer of urban African-American life in Boston,” nurtured a generation of Black artists, known as “The Boston Collective” to depict their daily lives, as well as Black narratives, as a way of claiming space and broadening cultural representation. Upcoming installments include pieces from Crite mentee Johnetta Tinker.

When Ed Gaskin came to Grove Hall, he said there was only one work of public art listed by the Boston Arts Commission. “Learning of the relationship between public art and economic development, and the challenges artists of color have in getting the opportunity to display their work, we set out to change that,” said Gaskin, GGHMS’s Executive Director. “Murals were one way to bring more public art to the community.” He said they are grateful for financial support from the Boston Main Streets Foundation and Now + There so “art infrastructure will be in place for us to display the best established and emerging artists from a range of styles, at a much lower cost.”

About Ekua Holmes 

Life-long Roxbury resident Ekua Holmes distinguishes herself as an artist by creating elaborately layered collage pieces made from cut and torn papers that investigate family histories, relationship dynamics, childhood impressions and the power of hope, faith, and self-determination. Remembering her childhood in Roxbury with wonder and delight, she considers herself part of a long line of Roxbury imagemakers.

She is the recipient of several awards for illustrating children’s literature including the Caldecott Honor and has been a two-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration. In 2018, she received a Now + There Public Art Accelerator Fellowship and launched her first public art initiative, the Roxbury Sunflower Project.

She currently serves as Commissioner and Vice-Chair of the Boston Art Commission where she oversees the placement and maintenance of public works of art in the city. As Associate Director at the Center for Art and Community Partnerships at MassArt, Holmes manages and coordinates sparc! The ArtMobile, an art-inspiring, art-transforming vehicle retrofitted to contribute to community-based, multi-disciplinary arts programming in Mission Hill, Roxbury, and Dorchester.

She earned her BFA in photography from MassArt in 1977.

(Source: https://www.ekuaholmes.com/about)

About London Parker-McWhorter 

is a photographer, artist, and researcher. He is also co-caretaker of United Neighbors of Lower Roxbury Garden, raised in Boston.  He has previously assisted Holmes with the Roxbury Sunflower Project, most recently when she brought it to the Museum of Fine Arts for planting as part of Garden for Boston on the museum lawn.

ABOUT NOW + THERE

Now + There (N+T) is a non-profit public art curator changing the landscape with temporary and site-specific public artworks. Through its curatorial efforts, N+T is transforming Boston into a public art city by creating a portfolio of projects that supports artistic risk-taking, community dialogue, and cultural change. Fostering artists of many diverse backgrounds and inspiring the public to create bold art experiences that open minds, conversations, and spaces across Boston is the organization’s goal, resulting in a more open, equitable, and vibrant city. Learn more by visiting, www.nowandthere.org.

ABOUT GREATER GROVE HALL MAIN STREETS

Greater Grove Hall Main Streets is a non-profit focused on the economic and community development and urban planning for the Grove Hall area. As part of its community development, it has brought murals, painted utility boxes, a summer concert series, and is in the process of restoring the iconic clock tower in the heart of Grove Hall.

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