COLUMBIA — Artists for Justice showcased musicians, writers and visual artists responding to police violence in its inaugural event Monday in Peace Park.
Monica Hand, a local poet, brought local artists together with MU English graduate students in the wake of Michael Brown's fatal shooting by police in Ferguson. Musicians and poets performed on a stage while people painted, wrote and danced with hula hoops in the crowd. Organizers also set up tents for attendees to create group murals.
Opening act Jemerson Creek, a down-tempo electric rock outfit, compared today's political unrest to that of the early 1960s, noting the impact of positive music in that climate.
"We were going to do only sad songs or only angry songs," frontman Grant Withers said, "But we decided that what the world needs is happy songs."
Other artists also tried to draw on the historical context of Brown's death. Blues performer T.J. Wheeler began his performance by saying, "History has a funny way of sliding and repeating itself, and we are in the era of the new Jim Crow."
Artists for Justice spokesman Kenneth Bryant, sitting in the shade of a voter registration booth, emphasized that the group sees art as a tool of social change.
"Politics have a place, and rallies have a place, but art has a place, as well," Bryant said. "That's why we're here."
Bryant said Artists for Justice is focused on treating the underlying causes of violence and civil conflict, which he said are based in fear.
Columbia hip-hop artist NicDanger performed a song about feeling alienated as a black man in the Midwest. He said the song was written before Brown's shooting, but the events in Ferguson have justified his viewpoint.
"It's just adding to it," he said. "It's crazy to see that happen and to know I wasn't wrong in how I was feeling."
Treasure Redmond, one of Artists for Justice's first performers, recently spent time in Ferguson. The St. Louis-based poet said the work she read Monday was inspired by Fannie Lou Hamer, a '50s and '60s civil rights activist, and Trayvon Martin, who was killed in a 2012 shooting in Florida.
Bryant said Peace Park was the obvious choice of venue because of its symbolism.
"We don't want to be against; we want to be for," he said. "We want to be for peace, for justice, and for civil rights."
Supervising editor is Adam Aton.