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With a history of painting murals about political struggle, J Manuel Carmona has once again picked up his brushes and palette of paints to hit the streets of San Francisco. And this time, he’s drawing attention to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“During the past couple of months we all had to look at our own lives and understand that not saying anything was actually contributing to the problem,” said Carmona, a queer Mexican-American artist.
Carmona’s presence on the streets in many ways reflects the new surge of artistic engagement that has accompanied the powerful wave of protest following the tragic killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Allison Murray, content director for the art marketplace website Wescover, says in recent months she has seen more creators talking about social justice.
“Many are encouraging each other to create works that support the Black Lives Matter movement and inspire positive social change,” Murray said.
Carmona said he realized the immense power and responsibility he has as an artist several years ago when he started painting city murals.
Noting that outdoor murals are hard for people to miss, he said: “Public art is not a choice, you have to see it.”
Carmona’s latest project, completed in June in San Francisco’s Mission District, covers Black Lives Matter, as well as diversity within the Mexican-American community.
“Black Lives Matter is about all colors and specifically about racism,” he said, adding that while he may not be able to change the minds of people who disagree with him, his art may get them to consider a new perspective.
Cynthia Tom is another artist who feels a heavy responsibility to share the truth and the trauma communities of color experience daily, and aims to spur action with her art.
With more than 30 years of experience as a visual artist and curator, San Francisco-based Tom has found a principal purpose in embracing the importance and power of women. She is concerned, however, about the shortage of funding for the arts, especially outside the Bay Area, which she thinks reflects a lack of awareness and appreciation for the importance of supporting female artists and artists of color.
“There is little to no money creating art that serves the community; only small grants for a very few,” said Tom. “There are few venues willing to show work that isn’t about pretty things or about ‘color,’ ‘shape’ or specific genres (such as) landscapes (and) portraits.”
Locally, she credits the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) for being forward-thinking in funding art in underserved communities. SFAC recently announced grant awards totaling more than $4.6 million to 154 individual artists and arts organizations for the fiscal year that began July 1.
“Art has the duty of informing and illustrating history,” said Carmona. “We as artists and citizens of this crazy new world should try everything in our power to make our immediate context a better place. Love always wins!”