As protests against police violence and institutional racism continue in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, many in the music industry are finding ways to offer their support. We have seen campaigns to raise awareness like #theshowmustbepaused and contributions from artists including large donations and new creative work. Now lighting directors are adding their voices by bringing powerful lasers to project messages at protest sites.
Dustin Klein, who has done projection mapping for Papadosio and The Mantras, posted a photo of his George Floyd memorial in Richmond, Virginia late Wednesday night. Choosing a controversial statue of General Robert E. Lee as the backdrop, he projected a photograph of George Floyd with the words “NO JUSTICE NO PEACE.” The letters “BLM” were also projected onto the Confederate hero’s horse.
The statue has been seen by many in Richmond as a symbol of racism, and its base had been covered in graffiti by protestors long before Klein arrived with his equipment. After transforming the defaced monument into a memorial for George Floyd, Klein wrote, “Is it just me, or is the Robert E Lee Monument starting to look less and less like a symbol of white supremacy?” He added, “The VA governor is set to announce plans for removal later today <3” Sure enough, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that the statue would be removed “as soon as possible.”
Portland lighting designer and musician Brett McConnell followed Dustin Klein’s example Friday night, using his laser rig to project the names of black people killed by police onto Revolution Hall in Portland, Oregon. The location is one of the sites where massive groups of demonstrators have gathered night after night before marching across the Willamette River into downtown Portland. It also happens to be a venue frequented by bands like Railroad Earth and moe. A crowd listened to speeches by female black leaders as McConnel cycled through a long list of names, projecting each one in three spots on the side of the building.
As coronavirus continues to put most of the live music industry on hold, these two lighting designers have found a new and noble use for their talents. By memorializing George Floyd and other victims, their powerful displays amplify the voices of protestors and illuminate the problems of institutional racism and police violence.
As artists and activists continue to speak out, many are compelling people to get involved by attending demonstrations and donating money to help the cause. Some of the most named are the Official George Floyd Memorial Fund, Minnesota Freedom Fund, The Bail Project, and Black Visions Collective. Head to those websites to donate and for more information on their mission.