"Change is Coming," a stencil painted near the site of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota (all photos by and courtesy Heather Shirey)

The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota officer Derek Chauvin in May of 2020, now the subject of an ongoing murder trial in Minneapolis, sent shockwaves around the world, prompting mass protests against racism and police brutality. This social movement against racial injustice has also found expression in political street art across the globe.

Last year, a team of researchers from the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis launched the George Floyd and Anti-Racist Street Art database to record and map anti-racist street art in the wake of Floyd’s murder. Crowdsourced through an online submission form, the database now includes more than 1,800 images of artworks from around the world, ranging from graffiti and tags to stickers, wheat pastes, murals, and projections. The images are indexed by geolocation, date, source, and other relevant metadata.

 “Justice for George” spray-painted on a panel at Saint Clair Avenue in Saint Paul, Minnesota

The database was spearheaded by Todd Lawrence, Paul Lorah, and Heather Shirey from St. Thomas’s Urban Art Mapping Research Project. It received its funding from the university’s College of Arts and Sciences via an internal grant. 

In an email to Hyperallergic, the researchers explained that they had initially started working on a database of COVID-19 street art in April of last year, but the project took a different direction after Floyd’s murder the following month.

“The neighborhood where we had already been doing work, Midway in St. Paul, turned out the be the epicenter of the uprising in the city,” the researchers told Hyperallergic in a statement. “We were suddenly seeing art everywhere, and it was telling a story that we felt needed to be preserved.”

“Extend a Hand” painted on a panel at Saint Clair Avenue in Saint Paul, Minnesota

The database is intended as a resource for scholars and artists, but it’s open to all. The researchers stress that the image rights belong to the photographers and the artists, not the university.

“Street art matters because it represents the voices of the community, often providing a counter-institutional perspective, and so a crowd-sourced archive is in keeping with the goals of this art form itself,” the team said. “People have used walls to claim space, tell their stories, express their anger, show their vision for the future: our goal is to amplify these voices and experiences and to make sure that these textual and visual messages are not erased.”

The researchers are also conducting an analysis of the artworks in the database to examine “how the location of street art is shaped by a neighborhood’s cultural geography.” For example, they found that clusters of street art tend to be located near intersections, mass transit stops, and commercial real estate.

Stop Killing Us” tagged on a gate in Saint Paul, Minnesota

The analysis also showed that in Minneapolis, the street art near sites of clashes between police and protesters tended to be more visceral and confrontational, with messages like “Cops are murderers,” “Stop killing us,” and “Kill a cop save a life.”

“As the distance from sites of conflict increased, it became more common to find art promoting change, expressing messages of unity, and displaying messages from property owners with messages like ‘Change must come,’ ‘One Love,’  and ‘Justice for George,'” the researchers added.

The researchers called the database a “work in progress” that depends on input from the public.

“Our goal is to create an archive that is not simply a passive collection of images, but one that can go out in the world and do something,” they said. “We think of it as an activist archive.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...