Middletown murals continue making ‘powerful statement’ a year after George Floyd’s death

Credit: Journal News

Black Lives Matter mural in Middletown

Credit: Journal News

Paintings in Middletown emerged after unarmed Black man was killed by police.

One year after George Floyd was killed in police custody, several downtown Middletown murals serve as a “powerful statement,” said Sue Wittman, director of Art Central Foundation.

“In my mind, these are still 100% relevant,” Wittman said. “This is a timely piece of art that speaks to the times and the issues that exist in our culture.”

The murals, near Governor’s Square, were vandalized earlier this month. After repairs, they were moved inside the building and can be viewed through the windows.

Wittman said the murals will be part of an “Equality As We See It” exhibit at the Pendleton Art Center that opens on June 4, downtown’s monthly First Friday celebration.

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The seeds for the murals were planted last year after John Hutton, owner of Tritech Light and Sound in downtown Middletown, heard Black Lives Matter protests were going to be held near his building. Concerned they could turn violent, he protected his storefront windows with plywood.

But the protests were peaceful, and those pieces of wood serve as canvases for portraits of Black people killed by police.

Initially, the plywood was covered with “I Can’t Breathe” sheets of paper in memory of Floyd, the unarmed Black man who died on Memorial Day while in Minneapolis police custody. Wittman, owner of Artique inside the Pendleton, had protesters write messages on the papers, then stapled them to the wood.

Then Wittman was introduced to Ashli Szymanski, 35, a 2003 Middletown High School and Butler Tech graduate. Szymanski told Wittman she was interested in working on the Black Lives Matter mural project.

For several weeks, Szymanski sat on a folding chair and painted portraits of Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Elijah McClain, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and Floyd.

Above the portraits are the phrases “Middletown Black Lives Matter,” “Unity Loves Equality,” “Hands Up Don’t Shoot,” and “8:46,” representing the time police officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s neck.

When Szymanski views the mural, she hopes the paintings “shine a light in a respectful way not to promote violence. It was a peaceful way to make a message; make them seen and important.”

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