MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — From the outside, there is not much to the old brick warehouse in North Minneapolis that Leesa Kelly was standing at, but inside is a collection of plywood murals that the young activist is working to save.
When George Floyd died last year, the Twin Cities were boarded up. But as businesses tried to shield themselves from protesters, they unknowingly provided artists across the city with blank canvases.
The plywood boards that seemed to be everywhere suddenly became a place for people to express their pain.
"As I’ve taken a step back, I understand that this history could not have come about if [people] didn’t board up their businesses. In a weird way, I’m happy they did it. We wouldn’t have this history," Kelly said.
Kelly, 28, oversees the newly formed nonprofit called Memorialize the Movement. The group is made up of volunteers who have spent the last year driving around Minneapolis and St. Paul to help preserve those plywood murals. Through donations, they've been able to afford a 1,000 sq. ft. warehouse space in the Minneapolis' art district. It's not much, but for now, it's a safe place for the murals to stay.
"Once you look at the entire story, you see this is an entire city’s grief,” Kelly explained.
Hundreds of pieces of plywood have now been collected from local businesses. Each one tells a story, whether it's with words or not.
Kelly sees these murals as more than just pieces of wood.
"This is our history. This is written and recorded history. If you take in each individual mural, you get this complete history of what happened last year. We’ve done something here that hasn’t been done before. We’ve recorded our own history, Black and brown history," she added.
Ultimately, the goal for Memorialize the Movement is to find a permanent home for their plywood art to live, so that people from all over the country can experience the murals in person.
"We are in the process of creating a capital plan to get a permanent space. We’d love to be able to create a gallery or museum space and sit with the mural and process and take them in," Kelly said.
The challenge now becomes preservation. Plywood is not meant to be permanent. So, Memorialize the Movement is working with an art conservation group to find ways to keep this art from fading.
"The messages are beautiful, the messages are heartbreaking," said Kelly.
No one knows what's ahead for this city, but like the murals she's collecting, Kelly is hoping the days to come are a bit more vibrant.