By Sawyer Pollitt
Boston University News Service
NEW BEDFORD — Public art can be found all across downtown New Bedford, complete with murals celebrating the city’s abolitionist past and sculptures showcasing the city’s maritime history throughout its parks and waterfront.
Adding to the scene is a new piece on Union St., assembled by a coalition of community members and organizations. Hand-painted with its letters standing 4 feet tall, a new Black Lives Matter mural was installed in a vacant lot on Union Street between Purchase and Pleasant streets on Feb. 6.
Tanisha Ferrer, 29, who will graduate this summer from the pre-law program at Fisher College, organized the project. She was inspired by other Black Lives Matter murals painted in Washington, D.C., and across the country.
“We’ve seen a few different states doing it,” Ferrer said. “I thought, you know, we need to have this here. Everybody backed me; I didn’t realize I would get this support from the community.”
According to Ferrer, the project started when she saw a Facebook post looking for others who shared this vision. One group, Material Creative Studio, a New Bedford-based art and design space, signed on as creative director.
David Graves and Meridyth Espindola Pereira, co-founders of Material Creative Studio, said that inclusivity was a major goal for their team. They worried that some artists would be too intimidated by the project’s size and decided not to participate.
“A 4-foot tall letter is an incredible undertaking,” Graves said. “We offered community members the option to collaborate with us to design letters if they didn’t want to undertake the process alone.”
According to Ferrer, volunteers designed letters that represented what Black Lives Matter meant to them. One letter was filled with the names of Black men and women who have died from police violence, while another was painted with slogans made popular during protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota last year.
For Ferrer and many others involved, this project was about more than just putting up art.
“A mural won’t solve the issue, but I want the mural to provoke people to have this conversation,” Ferrer said. “If you love the mural, you’re going to talk about it. If you hate the mural, you’re going to talk about it.”
Ferrer hopes that the mural will lead to conversations about police reform and help start a dialogue between New Bedford’s police and citizens. In 2012, New Bedford Police shot and killed 15-year-old Malcolm Gracia after a “meet-and-greet” stop turned violent. During the summer of 2020, tensions regarding this shooting reemerged in New Bedford.
“We’re a part of this community just like they are; the police are supposed to be protecting us,” Ferrer said. “We need to have a conversation where we can build some trust and transparency. I can’t say that conversation alone will cure anything — it won’t. But at least we can start bit by bit.”
According to Ferrer, her team initially had little success finding a property manager that would let them install their mural. After a long search, Keystone Property, the owners of the vacant Union Street lot, gave Ferrer a six-month reservation with the option to extend their use of the space if needed.
This is Ferrer’s first mainstream project. While she does not have anything in the works quite yet, Ferrer said she is not done helping the New Bedford community.
“I represent love, unity and devotion,” Ferrer said. “That’s what I’m trying to give off every day of my life.”