Iman Mekonen, Spectrum Editor
Police officers emerging from clouds of tear gas, protesters with numerous signs crying out for racial justice and a burning police car are just a few of the images used in a repainting update to a four-year-old mural on the side of Richmond ice cream shop Charm School.
The mural by VCU alumni Mickael Broth and Ross Trimmer is hard to miss — it’s large, brightly colored and greets pedestrians walking up West Broad Street into the Arts District. With its new updates, it’s even harder to ignore.
In a change to the original block letters, which featured the city’s architecture, the mural was updated on June 27 with art based on real images of recent Black Lives Matter protests in the city.
“Taking a photo in front of the mural as it was before, really was sort of disingenuous,” said Charm School owner Alex Zavaleta. “You know, with ‘Greetings From Richmond, like everything is fine’ when in fact that’s not the current state of things in Richmond.”
Spent the day today with my buddy The Night Owl updating this mural downtown we painted a few years back. Solidarity with every single person fighting for a better tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/AAUPudG1rX
— Sure Hand Signs (@SureHandSigns) June 27, 2020
More than a month of protests in Richmond sparked by the killing of George Floyd have resulted in the removal of the city’s Confederate monuments, the resignation of two Richmond police chiefs and the use of chemical agents to disperse demonstrations.
“I’ve been struggling with how to find a way to feel like I could use my talents best to help this cause and I don’t know … be a worthwhile human being,” Broth said.
The idea to change the mural came as Broth and Trimmer, two former painting and printmaking majors, shared a common frustration with how the city has reacted to the protests and a desire to preserve the moment’s historical significance.
“There’s been, like just abhorrent violence that’s been done to people,” Broth said, “specifically in the past month and a half. And it’s just — that shouldn’t be omitted.”
Zavaleta originally contacted Broth and Trimmer to create a mural on the side of the building that resembled an old Richmond postcard, an idea which matched a similar one they had beforehand.
Zavaleta said he witnessed firsthand scenes that were depicted in the update, due to the shop’s close proximity to the Richmond Police Department headquarters. In June, police dispersed protesters there with explosives, pepper spray and tear gas for two consecutive nights.
The mural, which resides on the tall brick wall outside of Charm School, was originally painted in 2016 to complement the ice cream shop and showcase the city’s architecture as a lighthearted, Instagram-worthy backdrop.
Trimmer said the original mural’s purpose was purely decorative, to reflect the architecture of the city that wasn’t the Confederate monuments. This time, he said, it was painted to give viewers “something to remember.”
“The first time that we painted that mural, the postcard mural, was like the day after [Donald] Trump got elected,” Broth said. “So it was interesting to … revisit this traumatic experience in a way.”
The repainting process took one day and was completed using materials the two already had on hand.
Trimmer said once the removal of Confederate monuments in Richmond became a main topic of discussion, he felt that the coverage and discussion of the ongoing protests shifted.
“We wanted to make sure people were still thinking about it, you know, and give them something new, a kind of new vision of what you get if you want to come to Richmond as a tourist,” Trimmer said. “It’s not just pretty buildings anymore.”
Trimmer and Broth prioritized including imagery from local media outlets and photographers.
“There were like one or two moments where we’re like ‘oh, I have this photo of a burning cop car from another city that looks really cool and which fit in this letter, and then I was like ‘no, no, this all has to be from Richmond,’” Broth said.
Broth contacted local photographer Lindsay Kagalis to use her image of a protester holding a sign in the mural.
“I was extremely grateful to be thought of for that painting,” Kagalis said. “It’s honestly breathtaking and a little hard to describe in words, being able to see your work on a mural, or really up anywhere.”
To respect the anonymity of a protester in the original photo, Broth and Trimmer decided to change the subject of the image to Princess Blanding, sister of Marcus-David Peters.
In 2018, a Richmond police officer shot and killed Peters, a 24-year-old VCU alum and high school biology teacher who was unarmed and experiencing a mental health crisis at the time of his death. Peters’ sister is portrayed in the letter H in the mural, wearing a shirt with her brother’s face while her fist is in the air.
“I wanted to utilize my skills to help document the Black Lives Matter movement,” Kagalis said. “So I’ve done my best to be out as often as possible, documenting the true narrative of what’s going on.”
Kagalis has been out almost every night documenting the protests and said she’s proud to see the sense of community that has developed. She also said the addition of the Peters family in the mural makes it even more representative of the city.
“This isn’t for artists. It’s not for us,” Trimmer said. “It’s literally for the people that are out there every night getting shot up by the police. … I hope it makes the right people happy, and I hope it makes the right people sad.”