Liam James Doyle/University of St. Thomas

Urban Art Mapping Receives NEA Grant for BLM Murals Research

The Urban Art Mapping research team within the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota has been approved by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to receive a research grant.

The $80,000 arts grant will support an interdisciplinary, comparative study of eight Black Lives Matter street murals produced throughout the U.S. during the summer of 2020 protests.

Heather Shirey (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

The project, led by faculty members Heather Shirey (art history), David Todd Lawrence (English) and Paul Lorah (geography) – co-directors of the Urban Art Mapping research team – is titled “Black Lives Matter street murals: A comparative study documenting and analyzing their impact in eight American cities.”

“We are thrilled to receive this grant, as it will allow us to travel to eight cities to see mural sites and interview artists and organizers who participated in the creation of Black Lives Matter street murals in each city,” Lawrence said.

David Todd Lawrence (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

The research focuses on the importance of street murals in opening access to art that empowers and activates communities. This collaborative project will involve working with artists and community members in eight selected U.S. cities: Minneapolis; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Seattle; Montgomery; Detroit; Chicago; and Tulsa.

“We hope to make connections with folks in these communities, help to bring them together to talk about the murals and their creation, and to learn about what these murals have meant to the communities they are located in,” Lawrence added. “We are interested in the function of public vernacular art, especially during and after moments of crisis and resistance. This has been our focus since we started this project in 2018 and it became even more important during COVID and after the murder of George Floyd.”

Black Lives Matter street mural.
The Urban Art Mapping research team is excited to use funds from the arts grant to support an interdisciplinary, comparative study of several Black Lives Matter street murals.
Michael Kleber-Diggs

Last spring the team gathered on campus with a group of artists who had worked on the Minneapolis BLM street mural together. They talked about their experiences and reconnected with each other.

Paul Lorah (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

“It was an amazing experience for us and one that they all said they wanted to repeat. We want to bring them all together again, interview them all, interview community members and stakeholders – and do that in multiple cities,” Lawrence said. “Thanks to the NEA and St Thomas’ College of Arts and Sciences, we now have the financial support to make that happen.”

In total, the NEA awarded 20 Research Grants in the Arts for a total of $1.075 million in funding to support a broad range of arts-related studies, many of which strive to understand how factors related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility can improve the efficacy of arts management and cultural policies.

“The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support this project from the University of St. Thomas, part of the NEA’s investment in studies that explore the value and impact of the arts,” said NEA Director of Research and Analysis Sunil Iyengar. “Research studies such as this one are key to our agency’s goal of understanding the factors, conditions, and characteristics of our country’s arts ecosystem and the many ways the arts can impact other areas of American life.”