Photos: New Millwood Ave. Mural Connects Artists with Neighborhood
Watching four street artists as they painted a new mural on Millwood Ave., a 59 year-old neighborhood man sat across the street drinking a 16 oz. can of Icehouse on Wednesday night. He had been shouting at the group for ten minutes when Knoxville’s Brandon Donahue’s scarab themed section pushed him over the edge. He stood up and threw down his beer as he marched across the four lane artery connecting Devine and Gervais Streets. The can bounced on the asphalt and careened back on the sidewalk as beer flew through the air.
“EIY!!!……….EIY!……EIY!” he had been yelling in an endless loop trying to get their attention. The shouts grew in frequency and loudness until it climaxed with the man wasting part of his evening brew.
He had first been by earlier in the week.
“We saw him Monday. And he may have been a little bit inebriated. He was like, what ya doin’? says Columbia’s Cedric Umoja, who spearheaded the project with a Gofundme fundraiser and some help from OneColumbia. Umoja explained their project and the man was really receptive. “He was giving us the big ups — ‘I'm glad someone is looking at it with this perspective.”
“So then on Wednesday, he came up the block later on in the evening. We crossed the street to look at the wall to talk about what we were gonna to do next,” says Umoja, “He gave me the handshake and was saying thanks and he sat down not too far from us and started drinking his beer.”
“He kept drinking his beer and looking at what we were doing. And he kinda focused in on Brandon and made that his point of aggression."
“WE AINT NO BUGS!” he shouted from an empty parking space behind Donahue as he worked on the wall. “YOU CALLING US BUGS!?”
"I'm turing 60 this week and I can't believe in all my years. I've never been called an insect,” Umoja recalls the man saying, “Brandon extended an olive branch and said, you know, we're trying to give something back and were doing it out of love. And he was just being really belligerent.”
“He was like, 'I don't care about love right now.”
“Then on Thursday he came, they had an exchange and he said, 'I see. I'm starting to get it now,” says Umoja, “By Friday morning, he's coming up the block and giving us sodas. They were cold too.”
Umoja was blown away. “I was like wow, to see him change over those couple days. He reminded me of the wall — just the whole idea of the wall being transformed.'
“There was a halfway house around the corner so those guys would get off work and they'd come down the block -- I guess they'd maybe go to the corner store, the Orange Party Shop and they'd have conversations with us. I spoke to one guy, his name was Skylar. That's what he told me to call him and we had several conversations about the community, about his life and the state of affairs,” explains Umoja.
"I'm a little saddened I'm no longer gonna be painting down there cuz I kinda felt like we became part of the community. One of the guys the came through that was sorta like a street minister,” says Umoja, “He gave Karl a nickname. He called him "WB" -- "white boy." It was like, "WB, what's up man?" It was hilarious. And they really embraced us at the end of it all.
“They were suspicions. Truthfully speaking, we’re naturally suspicious as human beings. But as black folks we are very — very naturally suspicious of all people, especially people we don't see everyday in our community. They're looking at us and saying, "Who are these guys?”
As the mural started to take shape neighbors regularly stopped on their walks to thank the artists. Parents and grandparents brought their kids by. One man summed it up as he walked by without stopping, “That’s some new shit right there! That’s good.” Folks honked as they drove past. Every fifteen minutes someone would stop to take photos or just say hello while checking out the progress.
A woman with orange hair, bug eye sunglasses, and a giant green phone celebrated her birthday by taking selfies in front of the new artwork. “Take my picture! YEAH!!! It’s my birthday!” she exclaimed.
Millwood Mural by Cedric Umoja and Ariel Flowers (Columbia,SC), Karl Zurfluh (Charleston, SC), and Brandon Donahue (Nashville, TN).
Words and photos by Sean Rayford
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Hi. Rachel, Cool project. Great to see people who are proud of their neighborhood. My wife grew up on Maple St. She remembers the Millwood neighborhood. She had a friend who lived in a duplex their but she can't remember exactly where it is. 50 years ago when she was a child. She recalls that it sat up from the road a bit. We drove around one Sunday afternoon looking, but her memory has faded. Are there any old community photos of the area anywhere? Thanks for your help. Al
These pics were great. love the mural and all the public interest. We have so many spaces in Columbia that should have murals on them.
Awesome story! Glad this mural's in the community.
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