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Black Lives DO Matter, City Council Approves Public Art Installation

A mockup of what the proposed art installation might look like. The final art installation will read BLACK LIVES DO MATTER.

At Tuesday evening’s city council meeting, council voted 5-2 to approve the “Black Lives Do Matter, End Racism Now” art installation at Jervay Place. The meeting was at times emotional and tense. 

Four foot by eight foot letters spelling out BLACK LIVES DO MATTER will be loaned out to the City of Wilmington for one year, in a public art installation that was first proposed nearly two months ago.  

Mayor Saffo spoke in favor.

You know, taking down symbols, putting up signs, I've said this, that probably is hard, but it's also some of the easiest things to do.

Councilman Kevin O’Grady also spoke in favor, noting the slight change in phrasing--which has been controversial.

I like the fact that it's slightly different than what was proposed. Cause it says it, this is our words that black lives do matter. We want to end racism. And that's what that sign says to me.

Here’s Councilman Clifford Barnett. 

I have the privilege of being the oldest African-American on the council. And with that, I've had an opportunity to see some things. Putting up this, this artwork, it's really a small concession to what really has happened and what needs to happen in the minority communities.

Councilwoman Margaret Haynes did not speak, while Councilman Neil Anderson opposed the measure. 

This is simply not the role of government. It is not city council's role, in this member's opinion, no matter how appealing, to promote selected messages of political speech.

But the most heated exchange was between Councilmembers Charlie Rivenbark and Kevin Spears.  

Rivenbark opposed the measure and spoke first.  

It makes me think that they don't think that much of themselves. If they've got to have a sign out there that says black lives matter, I just, I can't get my head wrapped around it.

Rivenbark went on to cite his experience on council. 

I’ve been sitting in a chair just like this on council for 19 years. I’m telling you you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. This is going to be something that drives a stake right between the races in this town. And if you don’t believe me, do it and watch.

Kevin Spears responded directly.

With all respect, this rhetoric is the problem. This is what’s wrong with Wilmington. Mr. Rivenbark said it himself, he sat in that chair for the past 19 years with the same type of ideology, the same type of mindset.

Spears went on to clarify the messaging behind the phrase Black Lives Matter, as well as highlight the need for substantive policy changes.

Black Lives Matter is about law enforcement in the treatment of black people, the deaths of black people, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor on and on and on and on. We want people to acknowledge that there's a problem here. And the sign is the smallest of things that could be done. We need to work on policy to create better living for people in our city.

The proposal passed 5-2, with Councilmen Rivenbark and Anderson voting no. Going forward, artists will submit proposals for the installation, and the committee bringing the effort forward will approve them. 

Katelyn Freund is a nonfiction student at UNCW's MFA Creative Writing program. She holds degrees in Spanish and English. In her time not spent working as WHQR's CoastLine Producer, she enjoys shooting pool, humor writing, and snacking.