How a Database Unites Destinations Through Their Street Art

The Urban Art Mapping George Floyd and Anti-Racist Street Art database records and maps street art with important social messages from around the world.

Author: Casey Gale       

George Floyd I Can Breathe Now art

This mural, at 38th and Chicago Avenue South in Minneapolis, is one of the many pieces of street art on the Urban Art Mapping George Floyd and Anti-Racist Street Art database. (Jean Beller/Unsplash)

When the COVID-19 pandemic first made its way around the world in 2020, a group of researchers from the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis started working on a database of pandemic-related street art. But when George Floyd was killed in their city and a new wave of the Black Lives Matter movement was sparked, the database created by Todd Lawrence, Ph.D., Paul Lorah, Ph.D., and Heather Shirey, Ph.D., took on a new purpose.

According to a recent article from Hyperallergic, the project became the Urban Art Mapping George Floyd and Anti-Racist Street Art database — a means to document street art inspired by Floyd’s death and the social justice movement that followed. The database, according to Hyperallergic, continues to grow today, with more than 1,800 images submitted from around the world through an online submission form. The images are indexed by geolocation, date, source, “and other relevant metadata,” according to the article.

“The neighborhood where we had already been doing work, Midway in St. Paul, turned out to be the epicenter of the uprising in the city,” the researchers told Hyperallergic. “We were suddenly seeing art everywhere, and it was telling a story that we felt needed to be preserved.”

Now, the researchers are analyzing the database’s artwork to examine how the location of the art is shaped by the neighborhood’s “cultural geography” — for example, Hyperallergic noted, the researchers found street art tends to be located near intersections, mass transit stops, and commercial real estate.

When Convene spoke with Meet Minneapolis CEO and president Melvin Tennant in late 2020, he noted the cultural relevance of representing the city where “a movement was reborn,” noting that the city takes the responsibility “very seriously.” In the time since George Floyd’s death, street art has populated the city in his honor. In parts of Minneapolis where there were clashes between protestors and police, the messaging leaned more confrontational, the researchers said, while sites located farther away from points of conflict featured art with messages of love and unity.

“Our goal is to create an archive that is not simply a passive collection of images,” the researchers told Hyperallergic, “but one that can go out in the world and do something.”

Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene.