‘Part of our history’: Post-riot artwork hangs in GR museum

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — What began as a peaceful protest the last Saturday in May, just days after George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, erupted into a riot in downtown Grand Rapids.

When it was over, damage and costs to businesses and city were estimated at around $2 million.

Soon after, artists turned the plywood covering broken storefront windows into canvas, creating artwork, much of it focused on race issues, that remained until the glass could be replaced.

Now three of those pieces are part of the Grand Rapids Public Museum exhibit called Windows GR.

It’s the artists’ way of highlighting Black voices. It’s the museum’s way of making sure those voices have another outlet.

“We understand that that’s a part of our history,” Grand Rapids Public Museum marketing manager Alee’a Cherry said. “And as a museum, we want to make sure we’re telling the diverse stories of our history and showcasing that to the community, because that’s what our community is made of: diverse people.”

“These are Loteria cards, which is a game in Chicanx culture,” artist Jalexia Stoutmyre explained, describing her portion of the exhibit and what she hopes viewers take from it.

“Maybe they’ll look at it like these childhood games are covered with call to action for protesting and unifying,” she said.

It was a moment in Grand Rapids history that many will remember from the images of shattered windows and burning police cars. But for many others, those pictures only simplify a complex problem that has persisted for generations.

“I don’t think it would be a good idea to erase that. I think people should look at it big picture and look at … what led up to everything going down,” Stoutmyre said.

The young artist calls the exhibit a huge personal milestone, and not just because her artwork is in a museum.

“It’s something I’ve been doing with my artwork for a long time, trying to bring light and speak on political issues within my community,” Stoutmyre said. “I just hope that people that look like me and people what don’t look like me see this and are curious to know more, and research. “

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