Giving: Marshall Shorts Says Public Art Can Promote Change

The Artfluential founder worked with Maroon Arts Group to create “Deliver Black Dreams.”

Micah Walker
Marshall Shorts

Marshall Shorts is always engaging with the community.  

The 38-year-old King-Lincoln Bronzeville artist and designer wears many hats—he is the founder of creative agency Artfluential, the Maroon Arts Group (a collective that promotes Black culture through art, education and community events), newsletter “Shut Up and Create” and co-founder of artist conference Creative Control Fest.   

In 2020, Shorts added one more thing to his list: Deliver Black Dreams, an initiative that uses public art as a vehicle to increase racial equity in Columbus. Launched last year, the project is a partnership between Maroon Arts Group, the city of Columbus and the Greater Columbus Arts Council.  

Deliver Black Dreams began as a voting campaign for the 2020 presidential election, but Shorts says it adapted its mission after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May of that year and the protests that followed in Columbus and across the country.  

He then began to think about the connection between Floyd’s murder, the police killing of Breonna Taylor, and public policies that had affected their lives. 

“Well, if Black lives matter … we must deliver Black dreams. And part of delivering Black dreams is making sure that the basic needs of Black folk, at the very least in this city, are met.” 

Three public murals have been painted for the initiative so far, with more planned for the future, Shorts says. Six Black artists worked on the first mural, which was completed in November 2020 on a retaining wall on Fifth Avenue in the Milo-Grogan neighborhood. The 5,000-square-foot painting featured the words “Deliver Black Dreams, It’s for All of Us.” 

The second one is located on Wilson Road on the city’s West Side, and the third mural is at Frebis Avenue and Alum Creek Drive in the Deshler Park neighborhood. Overall, at least 15 paid artists worked on the projects, as well as other artists, city officials and children who volunteered.  

“I want people to be able to wake up thinking about, ‘How am I gonna deliver Black dreams today?’” Shorts says. “You can be in any space; you don’t just have to be an artist. You can be an educator that works with Black youth. Delivering Black Dreams is for all of us to do, not just Black folk.”  

Through Deliver Black Dreams, Shorts has created a new program called PitchBlack, which funds Black-led creative projects in the city through crowd-funded microgrants. Shorts says Deliver Black Dreams has hosted three events, which raised more than $22,000.  

“That has gone directly into the hands of the people who have pitched,” he says. “Those projects range from apps for formerly incarcerated people, to . . . the most recent winner works with women who are incarcerated to help them get their physical training license.” 

Shorts hopes the art from Deliver Black Dreams can be an entry point to a bigger conversation on race and racial justice in the city.  

“We have to push our elected officials, push the powerful people in the city, these corporations, to acknowledge our [Black people’s] existence, but also to push them to create policy and reboot policy that’s harmful to our communities, so that our communities can all thrive.  

“And so, it’s bigger than art.” 

“I want people to be able to wake up thinking about, ‘How am I gonna deliver Black dreams today?’” 

This story is from the 2022 issue of Giving, a supplement of Columbus Monthly and Columbus CEO.