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Community members, artists and Neiman Marcus employees gathered outside the luxury retailer in Walnut Creek on Tuesday with buckets of paint and brushes to make a statement for peace and equality, using the boarded storefront as their canvas.
It was a day dedicated to heartfelt expression for change as protests continue around the nation and the world following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis last month.
Neiman Marcus was among the stores in the Broadway Plaza shopping center damaged by looters on May 31 during protests. In the spirit of “leading with love,” the retailer invited the public to decorate the boards and send a positive message to the world, said John Collins, vice president and general manager of Neiman Marcus Walnut Creek.
The retailer provided all supplies and offered suggestions for positive phrases, but most participants used their own creativity to create their messages.
Artists and participants said the colorful facade is a step toward healing the community after weeks of trauma. Throughout the day, people drove by, honking their horns in support of the colors and messages that unfurled across the panels.
The project started early with Neiman Marcus employee volunteers and local artists painting the background. Community members of all ages arrived later in the day to make their mark.
University of California at Davis student Maria Breboneria was downtown helping her sister pick out a wedding dress when she saw the activity and stopped by to draw a heart on one of the panels.
“I think everyone gets inspired in different ways,” Breboneria said. “I’m sure some get inspired by art, and I hope that inspires more people to get more involved in the movement.”
Artist Lisa Bohm, who arrived early to block the background and then added several larger images, said the project is a greeting card to the community that could spark meaningful conversations between children and parents about how others’ life experiences may be different from their own.
Plus, the paintings are much more cheerful than plain plywood, Bohm said.
“I’ve been hearing people honk their horns all day,” she said. “I think people are hungry for something that is happy and hopeful.”
Neiman Marcus, which houses an extensive art collection inside the store, plans to keep the painted panels once the store reopens, Collins said. The store closed in March in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, and will remain closed for a few more weeks, he said.
Neiman Marcus in Dallas, also damaged by looters, launched a similar art project that high school students, employees and artists completed June 6.
Collins said the project accomplished what it set out to do: create a forum for peace and encouragement. People are taking action to make a difference, he said.
Participants also described the project as a positive step that must be one of many.
“There’s a lot of action to be taken,” Bay Area resident Natalia Ghorbani said. “This is a good gesture, but there is still so much to be done.”