LB Rising Activist Art Exhibits Peace and Hope
By Dianne Anderson
Uprising art that captured the pain of the murder of George Floyd on storefront panels is now transformed to the greater message of survival, hope and inspiration.
During the unrest, businesses in the city boarded up immediately, and what followed became a proving ground for creative angst at the Long Beach Rising Mural of the Movement Exhibit with its 25-piece presentation.
Greg Johnson assembled the plywood panels after seeing powerful ideas emerge from the aftermath, wanting to preserve the local artists’ images of protest.
He said the works have been very emotional for a lot of people, and expects the exhibit visitors will walk away with a sense of pride in how the city has emerged from the struggle.
“It’s a reminder that we’re still not out of the issues that were present that led up to the death of George Floyd,” he said. “It’s really remembering what it was like during that time, and remembering how uplifting the art was as it was painted on the different storefronts. We’d like for them to leave with that inspiration.”
Long Beach Rising, a Mural of the Movement Exhibit, is hosted and curated by Hannibal Media Group and DreamKreator Studio. From now until October 14, the exhibit is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., located at 255 East 4th Street, Long Beach.
There is some graffiti in the exhibit, but the pieces are more akin to street art, in words and images, and would be the envy of any art gallery, he said.
While he was constructing the exhibit, the song “Out for Fame” by KRS One, about a graffiti writer inspired him.
“I was neck deep in plywood and trying to assemble all the pieces after I discovered them. When we talk about graffiti writing and connection to hip hop cultures, it is definitely hip hop, but also very much fine art,” said Johnson, who has worked as an arts advocate and marketing strategist for decades across various venues, including marketing director for 102.3 KJLH.
Compared to traditional and various art forms that he has curated in the past, he finds the beauty of street art is out of museums and mainstream, but holds the heart of the people. It can instantly convey the message to the larger community in a visual way.
There is a high demand for art that reflects the message of the masses, of protest and the streets. He recalls the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, out of New York as an acclaimed graffiti writer and artist, who has had pieces sell for over $100 million.
“He met with Andy Warhol, and the rest is history. His works right now are in a special exhibit downtown,” he said.
Johnson is a self-described culture keeper, with his career around music and art, and a history of Black media, Black culture, and broadcasting. His music-centered passion stretches from the motherland to the Americas.
Currently, he serves as board president of the Arts Council for Long Beach. He said Gov. Newsom set aside $60 million for the California Creative Corps demonstrates how cities and government recognize the need for arts and culture as essential to the post-pandemic recovery.
The Arts Council for Long Beach is one of four arts organizations in the state chosen to administer the funds. The California Creative Corps is a program that links artists with arts organizations.
At the end of the project, he said artists will have created pieces that address specific categories, such as social justice, climate change, and mental health. He said it has allowed the program to operate and support the arts outside of the Long Beach chapter and across the region.
“I see Los Angeles Commons, a Black organization out of Leimert Park. Amazing Grace Conservatory organization, and all the different African American-led arts organizations that are participating in this program. That’s a really big deal for the Arts Council for Long Beach,” he said.
At statewide art events, from what he sees and hears at talks and meetings is that the Arts Council for Long Beach is highly regarded for the work they’ve done in public arts and arts education.
It also attests to how art will never go out of style because it is relevant to address deeper issues of society.
“There are many studies that show reductions in mental health crisis when art is invested into treatment. From a business standpoint, and for cities, art is a definite driver for tourism and tourism equals dollars for municipalities, especially in these days of recovery, and the list goes on,” he said.
Traditional, cultural and street art has the potential to awaken the seer to something more. This summer, he visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and said the impact strikes deep.
“When you go through that journey, there is a section dedicated to Black art. The movement toward liberation and how the arts played a role in providing a backdrop for the people as they protested toward freedom. Art heals, art is essential,” he said.
His next big project is to apply a special coating on the plywood panels to prepare the art, and preserve it for storage. He is also seeking locations to mount it as a traveling exhibit.
When he is not enjoying art, he can be found lobbying for art policy. Not long ago, the council participated with the advocacy group, Californians for the Arts at the State Capitol.
“In Sacramento, we spent an entire day visiting elected officials [about] different bills that support the arts, in making sure that our elected [officials] vote for the arts, and that the arts are in the schools,” he said.
One policy will impact places like Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, which had a great performance venue, but could not afford to hire teachers to instruct the children on performing arts.
Last year, state voters approved Proposition 28, the Arts and Music in Schools Funding Guarantee and Accountability Act, to support art instruction for the state this school year.
“Prop. 28 has been funded and allocated and hopefully they’ll be able to bring some teachers. That’s the blessed hope for arts and culture, that’s a real tangible example of the need. It shows that our work going up to the State Capitol is not in vain.”
To learn more about the Arts Council of Long Beach, see https://artslb.org/event/long-beach-rising-murals-of-the-movement/2023-08-31/