CULTURE & ARTS
12/05/2014 08:38 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Artists Around The Country 'Won't Back Down' For Ferguson

A few weeks after Michael Brown's death rocked residents in and around Ferguson, Missouri, a small printshop in St. Louis took action. The graphic design studio, dubbed Firecracker Press, began hand printing posters emblazoned with the words "Promote peace in St. Louis."

Amidst protests and heightened police presence in the city, the posters were made available to customers free of charge. Not surprisingly, the shop "sold out" of the wood type creations, though the print continues to live on in photos across sites like Twitter and Instagram. "Tell the world you support the debate that’s happening in Ferguson, MO and in the St. Louis region," Firecracker wrote on its website. "Issues of inequality touch everyone… some more than others. Making posters is our small way of sharing our voice."

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Firecracker began offering its "Peace Posters" online, charging only for shipping and handling. "FedEx got its cut," Firecracker owner Eric Woods explained. "But we didn't make a penny off the posters. Some people wanted to donate money. And that money went to our nonprofit, Central Print." (Images courtesy of Firecracker Press)

Firecracker owner Eric Woods, the mind behind the design, is one among many artists who spoke out after the shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old three months ago. From street art to paintings, murals to illustration, artists have been quick to echo the nation's near constant calls for justice and clarity in the wake of Brown's killing. The landscape of West Florissant might be marred by isolated acts of vandalism and law enforcement crackdowns, but art is still flourishing.

"I was so upset seeing Michael Brown's mother on TV... that I felt I had to do something to express my grief and anger at the way the police handled the situation," painter Mary Engelbreit recalled to HuffPost over email. Her illustration, "In the USA," made headlines in August. The image depicts a black mother and her young son sitting over a newspaper headline that reads "Hands Up! Don't Shoot." Above the cartoon are the words: "No One Should Have To Teach Their Children This."

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Images courtesy of Mary Engelbreit

"Art has been used to express feelings about every kind of situation since people could make marks on cave walls," Englebreit added. "I was happy to be able to do something that helped the Brown family even in a small way. And it's not over. It will never be over until black lives matter as much as white lives."

Street artist Damon Davis agrees. "Artists play a vital role, telling these stories and keeping history alive," he proclaimed in an interview with Mic. Like Firecracker, Davis created a series of posters; his also inspired by the popular "Hands up, don't shoot" rally cry. Taped onto local businesses that have closed after an outbreak of violent protests in Ferguson, the massive photos showcase a simple pair of hands, raised in solidarity with the gesture Brown allegedly made when Officer Darren Wilson shot him.

"[The posters] are important for people who may be on the fence to see," he explained. "Maybe they'll change their minds [and start supporting us]. And for those who aren't on our side ... now they know we're still here. And we're not going to back down."

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St. Louis artist Damon Davis installs posters from his Push Forward Project on a boarded up business along West Florissant Street on November 19, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. (Photos by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Along with Woods' and Davis' work, an organization called Paint for Peace has been bringing art to the walls of Ferguson as well. Using boarded up businesses as canvases, the group aims to spread messages of hope and love with the help of local artists.

"St. Louis is a beautiful and resilient city. It is my home," Artbar STL owner and Paint for Peace founder Tom Halaska wrote in a message on Facebook. "I believe we are strong enough to come out the other side better than we started if people can listen, have compassion, and work to change what needs to be changed on so many levels. I have high hopes and expectations for our city. I know I won't be disappointed."


Some art projects that originated prior to the events in Ferguson have since been appropriated for the cause. For example, New Orleans-based artist Candy Chang has been encouraging individuals to replicate her "Before I Die" mural, first painted on a chalkboard on the streets of her hometown. The work prompts passersby to complete the sentence "Before I die I want to..." In Ferguson, a group of local teachers took up Chang's torch. The chalkboard posters have collected responses like "see equality for all" and "see systematic reform."

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Image courtesy of Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly

Artists outside of St. Louis have responded in kind. In particular, New York-based artist Molly Crabapple recently debuted a time-lapse of illustrations detailing the controversial police response to demonstrators over the past few months. The video was released days before a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Wilson in Brown's death. Crabapple has also lent her images to apparel company Teespring, which is selling hoodies in support of a Ferguson bail fund.

The power of the Internet has allowed works based in and out of St. Louis to reach national audiences. Firecracker's Woods estimates that around 500 posters left his shop, some shipped to individuals living as far away as California and New York. "The design was born out of frustration. Some people want to yell and protest, which we fully support. Other people, for whatever reason, they don't feel safe or they don't want to add to the chaos. And they wonder what they can do. They still want to contribute."

"Printers have a history of being rabble-rousers," he added. "We wanted to spread as much positive vibes across St. Louis and other places as we can."

The original "Peace Poster" is no longer in print -- the handset design, like many of Firecracker's creations, was meant for a limited run. But Woods has ideas for a new image. As the nation reels over Eric Garner's death, and yet another grand jury's decision not to indict a police officer in the death of an unarmed black man, frustration continues to be felt. But as Ferguson proves, art will thrive in the face of frustration.

Do you know of more activist art in your area? Whether you live in Kiev or Hong Kong, New York City or St. Louis, send your submissions to photos@huffingtonpost.com below.

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