Teen artist explains vision behind new Black Lives Matter mural

Published: Aug. 1, 2021 at 10:01 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - If you’ve been in Montpelier in the past month, you may have seen a new mural behind the recreation center. The giant Black Lives Matter-themed piece of art started off as a vision inside Montpelier High School student Xavier Santana’s mind.

“I knew I wanted to do big role models like [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.],” Santana said.

The rising senior says his original plan was to include a mural about success in the Black community in his college applications. But he eventually decided he wanted to display it publicly.

“As I did it more, it felt more like a responsibility,” he said.

That’s when he took his idea to his art teacher, Colleen Flanagan, who, at the time, was looking to secure a grant from the Public Arts Commission, which requires applicants to submit a project to be considered.

When Flanagan heard Santana’s mural pitch, she had a pitch of her own.

“How about we do this for our first project?” Flanagan suggested to Santana. “And he was super on board and we went from there.”

About a month later, they received word that their application for the grant was accepted.

They recruited five other students, including rising sophomore Kathryn McCall, to hop on board the project. McCall says she’s not an artist but wanted to be a part of this effort after hearing Santana’s vision and the message he wanted to get across.

“It feels good to be a part of it,” said McCall.

The group took off working on the design. They spent about two weeks brainstorming whose faces to include in the piece.

The mural depicts Civil Rights icons Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lewis, as well as inaugural poet Amanda Gorman. They’re standing behind four victims of police brutality and other forms of violence: George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor and Adam Toldeo. The four victims are painted in blue to signify their recent deaths and memories.

“Because it’s a sad remembrance but it’s also something that we have to remember and not just push it away,” Santana explained.

“The dichotomy between this hope and inspiration and then this sadness and desperation,” said Flanagan.

But among the sadness and despair, there are also glimpses of hope and light.

“The beautiful flowers, the colors-- I also wanted it to be the beauty of the project and of the Black Lives Matter movement,” said McCall. “I feel like that is important for people to see those two things together.”

Santana says he hopes the mural will make people stop and reflect and also recognize their power to make change.

“I hope that this shows inspiration to not just show what you believe in through art but just fight for what you believe in,” he said. “And art is a very good tool to use that for.”

The group spent about two months working on the project from start to finish. They say they’re considering creating more murals and they’re hoping to get more students on board.

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