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Plywood Used to Protect Damaged Buildings; Now Works of Art

Plywood that was used to protect the Alabama Theatre from damage in the case of civil unrest has now become a work of art. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr, For the Birmingham Times)
Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For the Birmingham Times

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A week after unrest in downtown Birmingham which damaged some businesses, groups of volunteers on Sunday turned remnants of looting into works of art.

B’ham Cleanup assembled about 50 people to paint murals on the plywood that replaced shattered storefronts left from the mayhem on Sunday, May 31, in the wake of the death of George Floyd, the African American man killed by police in Minneapolis.

Led by realtor Gusty Gulas, the volunteers collected donated supplies to help downtown businesses and residents.

Sunday’s event –  “Paint Positivity – Turning Plywood Into Art” – sought to place a fresh light on the situation with positively themed murals.

“Really, the goal is for us to become unified and really come together,” Gulas said. “We’ve got all ethnicities that we’ve been helping out. It doesn’t matter if black, white, Asian. We want to help out anybody that wants to help. We’ve been going around the community over the last week, providing plywood at different places that had shattered glass or just wanted protection.

“We’ve really just said, ‘Hey, how can we help?’”

Artwork include Alabama Theatre decorated with murals that read “B’ham Strong,” “Be Safe,” and “Be Well.”

Across the street at the Lyric Theatre, the message includes “Birmingham, The world is Watching.”

“Most of the people that are out here don’t know each other,” Gulas said. “We were looking for volunteers and people have raised their hand, willing to use their labor, willing to donate to try to help out here. It’s been really beautiful. What we’re seeing is people are building relationships.

“They’re painting alongside other people and we’re having more conversations about what’s going on in the world,” he continued. “I just think it’s a beautiful thing.”

B’ham Cleanup is working on several storefronts downtown, including some on Second Avenue North. But they are not alone. Blank Space Birmingham, a mural company, was also brightening the scene.

Blank Space’s effort included painted handprints on whitewashed plywood at the Pizitz Building.

“These businesses are advocating for this,” said Lydia Walker, a Blank Space mural painter. “It’s a symbol of their support to the movement. This is their way that they can come out and stand up and make their statement clear on where they stand and who they’re willing to support.”

The Blank Space murals could be sold with the proceeds potentially going to an entity, perhaps Montgomery’s Equal Justice Initiative, that recognizes and remembers the fight for civil rights.

Gulas said artwork his group creates could find a public home once the plywood is removed from the various storefronts.

“We’re working with the mayor’s office. We’re working with Birmingham Museum of Art. We’re working with the (Birmingham) Civil Rights Institute,” he said. “We’re going to be coming up with a plan for all of the murals so that there can be some things that are done with this proactively and positively. We will be working towards a solution on that.”