Replacing the Columbus Statue: Deliver Black Dreams' Call to Action

A new initiative supports Black artists and racial equity.

Donna Marbury
Deliver Black Dreams mural in Milo-Grogan

Art is a means to an end, says Marshall Shorts. While many remember the Harlem Renaissance for its poetry and portraiture, Shorts recalls the artistic movement as a direct response to the brutality Blacks faced in the U.S. “Whenever there is turbulence, Black people have historically responded with culture,” says Shorts, a Columbus-based artist. 

To that end, during a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the global protests ignited by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Shorts conceived the Deliver Black Dreams initiative to foster creativity and support Black artists. In response to despairing times, Shorts says, art can give the community hope. “It’s not just, let’s make something pretty, let’s tell these stories. Our art is a call to action,” says Shorts, the lead artist of Deliver Black Dreams, which is spearheaded by the Maroon Arts Group and supported by the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the city of Columbus. 

Deliver Black Dreams amplifies several art projects created by Black artists in Central Ohio. This includes the preservation of Art Unites Cbus murals, art painted on plywood that protected Downtown buildings during the racial justice protests in the spring and summer of 2020. In addition, at least three large-scale murals highlighting the initiative will be directed and painted by Black artists from the community. 

Art Unites Cbus murals in the King-Lincoln Bronzeville neighborhood

“Conversation is one of the most important roles that public art plays in our community,” says Jami Goldstein, vice president of marketing, communications and events for GCAC. “We’ve long positioned ourselves as a convener, collaborator and connector in the community. A huge part of that is financially through grants, but also by giving voice to artists as they seek to be a catalyst for change and dialogue.” 

The initiative’s first project was completed in November—a 5,000-square-foot mural with the words “Deliver Black Dreams, It’s for All of Us” amid a bouquet of rainbow-colored fists. Funding by Deliver Black Dreams allowed for six Black artists to be paid at scale for the project, located on a Fifth Avenue retaining wall leading into the Milo-Grogan neighborhood. Artist Lisa McLymont, who designed the mural and led the mural team, says that the Black art community is broad and talented, but rarely gets opportunities to do large, highly visible projects. 

“I would like to see Black art coveted in the larger community as much as art by others,” McLymont says. “That is shifting for me and a few others, but I’d really like to see this happening for more Black artists of all ages and interests.” 

Art Unites Cbus murals in Downtown

Though Black artists are being commissioned in response to the events of 2020, the art world is still mostly composed of white voices. Eighty-five percent of the art hanging in the nation’s top museums is by white artists, according to a 2019 study by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Association of Art Museum Directors. Shorts says Deliver Black Dreams will offer programs and opportunities that create a pipeline of Black talent. 

“I would love to see a line item on the city budget called Deliver Black Dreams,” Shorts says. “The logic is if you free the least amongst us, everybody in the broad spectrum is liberated, too. But it’s something that all of us have to take part in, not just Black people.”