BATTLE CREEK— After years of civil unrest across the nation, Battle Creek artists have taken on covering the city in murals and quotes when social injustice has come to threaten their immediate community.
For residents of Battle Creek, 2020 was the year that sparked change within the city. Residents set foot downtown to march in protest of police brutality and support of victims across the world on June 6, 2020. The march would only be the beginning of bringing awareness to the community before local organization, Color The Creek, stepped in bringing together local artists to paint murals. The murals would find home on the corner of Dickman Road, and Riverside Drive in Battle Creek, as a means of bringing art and awareness to the city.
Color The Creek will continue their annual mural creations throughout the week of Aug. 16-21 in Battle Creek’s downtown to give visibility to both artist’s and small businesses in the city.
Among the artists who created a mural last year is 19-year-old Mariah Compton. Compton is a self-taught artist and Battle Creek Central alumnus. Compton highlighted her two younger cousins in her mural.
“I remember the days I was thinking of what my mural was going to be about,” She said. “ I looked at my little cousins and nephew playing, they were just oblivious to the world. With everything that was happening at the time I asked myself ; ‘how could someone ever see them as a threat?’ At that moment I knew what my mural had to be.”
Compton, among the 11 artists, who worked to curate the murals over the 2020 Juneteenth weekend. Compton said she feels as though her mural wasn’t just a tribute piece, but necessary for those in her community to feel represented through her work. She said that she believes that not only her art, but art in general has been able to help the community through “representation and hope.” Compton is not the only one who believes that art has helped the community, sharing similar sentiments is Battle Creek activist Bobby Holley
Holley, a Battle Creek native, has been advocating for social justice in the local community for 34 years through crawling between cities, holding speeches protesting gun violence, and this year, showing off his dancing talents on busy street corners in town. Holley has been a city activist who also teamed up with Color the Creek to assist with bringing the community together to show off the artist’s work and the importance of art and representation.
“Man, for me I’ve been doing this for years and we got statues all over this city, and now artwork,” Holley said. “The art is just as important as those statues of Sojourner Truth, and the slaves who fought to get free. They tell a story and keep those who passed away alive.”
This year, Holley will again be making an appearance at the Color the Creek week in the city on Aug. 16-21 to perform and show his support for the community and artists. He said he hopes that the artists this year will continue to create art that brings awareness.
Among others hoping to see the continued work and creation of artists in the city is long-time artist Dallas Shoesmith. Shoesmith, 86, is an artist, art instructor, and former president of the board for the Art Center of Battle Creek. He has been practicing and teaching within the arts for over 59 years. He said he has seen art create a message in different time periods.
“Art is so important in commemorating a moment in time,” He said. “Every bit of it tells a story. About the person who made it, the person it’s made of and the people it’s made for.”
Shoesmith has held events in his own backyard in previous years to allow artists a chance to get their work out, alongside his own. He said he hopes that art continues to be an outlet and a way to help those facing social injustice express themselves.
Diane Tate-Payton, 64, a Battle Creek native says she may not have faced social injustice personally, but she believes that art within Battle Creek has done great at expressing her frustrations as a black woman who’s lived through some of the largest social justice movements.
“When I was in my teens and early twenties I lived through the Black Panther Party movements and seeing their faces spray painted on walls,” she said. “The black fist being on business walls and murals of MLK. It made me feel good knowing we weren’t gonna let history white wash the rawness of these individuals. They’ll always be the heroes I needed them to be.”
Payton, has been married to the late Leo Joseph Payton Jr., an abstract and portrait artist of Battle Creek. She says she’s learned so much about the importance of art thanks to him, but also thanks to the artist of Battle Creek.
“They’re saving these moments for future generations to see and feel represented.”