//Art Is Our Weapon

Art Is Our Weapon

By Dave Fountinelle | dave@fresnoflyer.com – Featured image by Jeff Martinez

On June 13th, artist Omar Huerta debuted a powerful mural in tribute to George Floyd, Gabriel Fernandez, and a nurse wearing PPE in the fight against COVID-19. The painting made headlines and kicked off the Lift Every Voice Mural Tour, an event organized in less than a week. Local art activism group, Dulce UpFront, in a partnership with DJ Kay Rich, united the art activist community in the wake of the death of George Floyd. And they pulled off something that is nothing short of incredible. In only five days, what began with a phone call became a full-fledged art movement in Fresno, starting with Huerta’s mural next to Fresno’s city hall. The Lift Every Voice Mural Tour was initially planned as a month-long, six site event, involving artists from all over the valley contributing their original mural paintings. Their goal, to bring awareness not just for the killing of George Floyd and the BLM movement, but also justice for Breonna Taylor, support for the Black Trans community, and the continuing struggle for equality and the end of systemic racism. After an overwhelming public response, the Lift Every Voice tour was immediately extended into July, with over 60 artists joining the movement so far to contribute their skills in some way.

“This is really a credit to the strong foundations each of us had already established in our respective communities,” Kay Rich explains. “I’ve been doing activism work in the Black community for years. Omé has been doing work in the Latinx community for years. We have both have been a part of building a strong framework for activism and change for a long time. So all of this just created a perfect storm for us to come together and unite our respective movements into something bigger and more powerful than any of us could have imagined.”

Omé Lopez has been an activist and voice for equality her whole life. Raised in Sanger, CA, and growing up in an art-activist family highly involved with the farm labor and Chicano movement defined her vision. Along with Tony Carranza, she founded Dulce UpFront as an organization that provides safe spaces and uses art, entertainment, and community workshops to promote activism and social change. With over 20 years of experience combining her art and event planning skills with social work, Omé has been a powerful voice for art as activism in the valley. When the killing of George Floyd sparked a firestorm of protests across the country, Omé wanted to use art as a vehicle for change again, this time in unity between the Latinx and Black communities. To accomplish that, she reached out to DJ Kay Rich, who described their conversation as “Just everything falling into place. All the contacts she needed, I had, and all the contacts I needed, she had. It just felt right, like yeah, this is exactly what we need to be doing right now. But, we never would have been able to accomplish what we have in such a short time if we hadn’t been working up to a moment like this for years.”

Photo by Jesus Sepulveda | @jsepulvedaphoto

Huerta’s mural of George Floyd generated a viral buzz that catapulted the Lift Every Voice movement onto the headlines. And as the media attention shifts from Floyd to the growing protest movements in the wake of his killing, Omé and Kay Rich have their eyes on a larger picture.

“We’re building an art activist network. This is not just one event. This isn’t just one issue. We’re going to keep using our platform to raise awareness and continue to unite the Black and Latinx community because our unity is vital for policy change,” Omé explains.

“To expand on what Omé said,” adds Kay Rich, “Our work doesn’t end when the Lift Every Voice tour ends. This has been our first joint effort, bringing our respective groups together for a common goal, and it has been a huge success. So, we’re going to keep working together and combining our resources to put on more events like this and continue working for social change.”

“Something we’ve been working on for a while now is redirecting funding from the Fresno PD graffiti abatement program to the artist collective.” Adds Lopez, “We’ve been pushing the city to redirect the funds, so we can have artists cover up the graffiti with murals that deliver positive messages and get people talking about these issues that affect all of us.”

On June 25th, Dulce UpFront and Kay Rich accomplished one of their “big picture” goals when they partnered with Fresno City Council Member Esmerelda Soria. To move over $1 million from the Fresno PD graffiti abatement project to fund a Muralism Arts project with oversight from the arts collective.

Painting of a mural in Chinatown. Photo by Jeff Martinez | @cr8tiveimages4u

“Anything about us, without us, isn’t for us,” says Omé. “We want our communities to represent who we are and inspire others to be a voice for change. We need to always be a part of that conversation.”

The Lift Every Voice Mural Tour is expected to end with an extensive exhibit showcasing the history of the murals and the muralists themselves. Part of the final presentation will be handing out canvases to all the members of the community art collective to create their original artworks to be combined into one large display “by the people, for the people.”

“It’s just a perfect way to bring it all together and show that it’s the entire art activism community that made all of this possible,” Omé says.

As for what people can do to help? “Grab a broom!” Lopez says with a laugh. “But seriously, though, we need boots on the ground. We need people willing to help us set up and tear down and clean up. When I was a child, my family marched with Caesar Chavez, and my mom would make burritos because you get hungry when you march across the state! We need soldiers, sure, but we need cooks and nurses and laborers and anyone willing to roll up their sleeves and do what needs to be done to make events like this possible.”

“The support from the community has been amazing,” Rich says. “The beauty of our community is its resilience and strength and our ability to come together and rise above the negativity. Attitudes are changing, more and more people are getting involved with what we’re doing, and that’s what matters most.”

Putting together such a well-organized, large scale event as the Lift Every Voice Mural Tour in a matter of days would be an impressive enough story by itself. But in less than one month, they have successfully raised thousands of dollars from within their communities, completed six murals, and received city financing for the “Black Lives Matter” painting on the street in front of city hall. They’ve also already planned a similar painting for a large-scale building and received unanimous support to start a muralism art program in the city.

To quote Omé: “this is what movement building looks like.”

To get involved with the project, contact Dulce UpFront through either their Facebook @UpFrontDulce or Instagram @DulceUpFront accounts. Follow them for updates on new mural locations throughout July.

Mural in Chinatown. Photo by Jesus Sepulveda | @jsepulvedaphoto

Mural Locations

756 H St, Fresno (across from Grizzly Stadium – cross streets H & Inyo)

1243 Fulton St (behind La Maison Kabob)

Barrios Unidos 4403 Tulare Ave (across from Roosevelt High)

575 Divisadero St (Divisadero & Echo)

House of Ink 725 N. Fresno St (Belmon & Olive on Fresno St)

Chinatown 1540 Kern St. Fresno (Behind the building)

Vanessa Guillen Remembrance – 717 N Fresno (Fresno Power Equipment)

1830 Van Ness (Frosty Queen parking lot)

2383 S. Fairview Ave (Hinton Community Center)