There is incredible, uplifting art sprouting up all around Ferguson

Protests against racial injustice in Ferguson, Missouri—and now, across the world—have dominated headlines in recent weeks. Amid all of the tension, the anger, and the hurt, there are some quiet stories of people working together to rebuild and regrow in the wake of both tragedy and unrest. One of those stories is Paint for Peace, an initiative that paints the boards that cover broken windows of local businesses in and around Ferguson—an area physically affected by the unrest.

Coordinated by Natasha Bahrami, owner of Persian restaurant Cafe Natasha in St. Louis, Paint for Peace helps connect local artists with businesses looking to spruce up their storefronts while waiting for repairs. It’s a stunning display of community, of resilience, and of hope. We were so thrilled to talk to Natasha about this inspiring project and how it all started. Here’s what she said:

Hello Giggles: How did you dream up this project?

Natasha Bahrami: The damage happened in the middle of the night and there was glass everywhere. The haphazard boards just made it look more devastating than it needed to be. The thought was that if we used the boards as canvases, artists could express what was going on in St. Louis and shed a brighter outlook.

It was really necessary for our mental recovery. The business owners and neighbors were all emotionally affected by the night’s events.  The South Grand and neighboring Tower Grove East District came together to gather artists for the cause.

HG: How did you coordinate the painting initiative? Does it have a name? Who is participating?

NB: Well, as we posted the news about the damage to the businesses, all supporters sent their dedication to help us rebuild it. So as business owners, we sent a call out to other business owners and artistically inclined friends to spread the word. We gathered artists to the district to have free reign over our boards, to paint a brighter depiction of what our city and our community is really about.

The South Grand and Tower Grove East coordinated an organized effort and spreadsheet for artists to sign up and allocated work to all the businesses effected. It was a collective group effort that fostered an outpouring of volunteers and artists immediately.

One of the main coordinators, a fellow business owner and artist, took the effort and named it #PaintforPeace and drove the collective from Grand (after all was fixed and painted here) all the way to Ferguson, where the damage was more severe.

HG: How is the painted windows project funded?

NB: In half a day, the Paint for Peace social media pages had almost 2000 followers – all supporters, helpers and volunteers that were able to follow the course of the projects and show up where help was most needed. They put together a Paint For Peace fundraiser to help pay for paint and supplies to help clean, board up and paint these storefronts and damaged property. The neighborhoods also put collective efforts to fundraise on their individual outlets.

HG: How are small businesses and consumers responding to the painted window boards?

NB: As a business owner, I know I was overwhelmed by the support. It was such an emotional time and the artists, volunteers and supporters transformed a destructive time into an expression of beauty, tolerance, community, unity, and hope when many of us were losing our hope.

As a business owner who personally watched in heartbreak as my windows were smashed, the outpouring of my community from complete strangers that came to clean, board up and paint these intricate and meaningful works of art on our façade has diminished our anger and hurt. It’s allowed us to heal through this expression of beauty in the world.

We cannot express how much this has affected our lives for the positive. I moved back to St. Louis in May and despite the pain of these weeks, I have never been more proud of my community.

HG: What has the overall community response been? What changes have you noticed in the Ferguson community in recent weeks?

NB: We stay close to Ferguson – the windows are starting to go back in and the rest of the world seems to be going back to normal, but the lives of these business owners continue to be disrupted. We are making efforts to bring business back to these districts. But as we visit these business owners (myself one of them) we see that there is a glimmer of hope – that the community will come out and support and help us to continually rebuild as the smoke of the last few weeks clears.

HG: What is your favorite story from organizing this initiative?

NB: In South Grand and Ferguson, there were all walks of life gathered to help, children painting and dancing, artists using the boards to heal and release anger and hurt, as we as business owners were beyond ourselves seeing how the community flocked to support us. It was a beautiful movement of expression and healing that has brought our whole community together.

As people were having debates sitting in the homes on their computers, away from the reality, these artist volunteers and supporters were in the streets – helping hand-in-hand to rebuild our community. We have only grown stronger for this.