PA Youth Art Protest Work Removed by City

September 20, 2020 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, Community Art | By

In light of the ACLU/NAACP lawsuit recently filed against the City of Palo Alto, I wanted to highlight another instance of silencing the voices of color in our community.

Over the summer, a group of students of color organized called Palo Alto Youth Art Protest. They installed full color prints along University Avenue with wheatpaste, which is biodegradable. Hudson, one of the organizers and a recent Gunn graduate, explained: 

“It started as an idea early June with me and my friend Lucia, she went to Paly. We felt like… there wasn’t enough knowledge about inequities within our own community, in between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto so we wanted to bring that out into the forefront for at least a few days.”

You can see the original artwork on Instagram. I’ve included part of an interview I did with Hudson here which includes his descriptions of the Art Protests. 

First Installation

Less than a day after the first installation, a man spray painted MAGA and other racist graffiti over the art in broad daylight. That man’s reaction garnered news attention. The art was removed and video of the man defacing the art was shown on local news stations for a couple of days.

Hudson recounts his reaction: “After the man – I still don’t know his name – after he went down and spray painted all the posters we set up a Go Fund Me in order to do it bigger and better because we felt like the news covered it in a way that was more about him instead of what we were talking about and what we wanted to get across. It took about two weeks because we have a lot more people send in art submissions. And do some more research on things so that one took about ten or so days to get it going.”

Second Installation

The group accomplished their goal. They completed the GoFundMe, raising $1,000 toward printing costs for  new installation, and over $1,600 for local charities. PA Youth Protest installed the work of over 30 or 40 artists on University Avenue. These works attempted to respond to the defacement, including the use of gold, a reference to the color of the spray paint used to deface to the original art. 

They sent an email to the City the same morning. Hudson explained his reasoning behind notifying the City: “If you guys want it off the ground, we’ll take it off because, at least in my experience, I’ve seen a lot of the City workers and janitorial staff tend to be people of color and I didn’t want them to scrape up that kind of stuff. They read the email, responded, ignored that last part, and went against our wishes. When I say they, I mean the mayor, Adrian Fine. I forget the other city council member.”

Hudson said, “It was only there for like fifteen or so hours before the City came and removed it. But, you know, at least the effort was there.”

Hudson’s reaction was measured, but the removal was swift. 

Which leads me to ask these questions: Why did the City remove these expressions? Were those items removed because they criticized City policies, or simply because they did not seek approval first? Is expression only allowed to remain that appears to support the City? Or, must artistic and other expression be pre-approved by City leaders? 

The will and resources are there to remove the art or even chalk – neither of which cause harm to property –  rapidly enough. For a city that does not have many leaders of color, this appears unjust to me. 

When our young people take their time and effort to express themselves – and their desires for our community – we should support their efforts and listen to their suggestions.

What do you think? I can be reached here: KristinAkerHowellATgmailDOTcom.

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