'No different than a Confederate flag’: Local BLM artists respond to Tampa's new ‘Back The Blue’ mural

“Honestly, I don’t think they care how it looks just the fact that they got it executed."

click to enlarge 'No different than a Confederate flag’: Local BLM artists respond to Tampa's new ‘Back The Blue’ mural
Photo via Ray Roa

When photos of the new ‘Back The Blue’ mural—stationed on Madison Street outside the downtown Tampa police headquarters—started circulating, the internet roasts began pouring in. Yes, it's poorly done. Yes, it is unclear whether or not it reads ‘Back The Blue’ or ‘Bock The Blub.’

According to city spokesperson Ashley Bauman, there was an application for a permit to paint the mural, but that application had not completed the approval process. 

One of the mural organizers, Kristen Krutz, told the Tampa Bay Times that they knew the mural didn’t have a permit, but decided to go through with it anyway because Tampa has Black Lives Matter murals “all over the city.” 

“The reason why we decided to proceed without a permit is because Black Lives Matter has murals all over the city that say Black Lives Matter, and they were not permitted,” Krutz said to the the Times. 

However, Tampa’s BLM murals were approved by the city, and were part of Mayor Jane Castor’s Art on the Block program

In an effort to gauge their reactions to the ‘Back the Blue’ incident, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay reached out to artists who were commissioned by Tampa to create the series of Black Lives Matters murals. 

“We can sit and critique the quality of this piece—but art comes from the heart. It is something that is a direct extension of intent, of what is inside. It is a product of representation. This ‘art piece’ is no different than a Confederate flag painted in the middle of the street,” explained Tony Krol, one half of the Illsol artist duo alongside wife Michelle Sawyer. Illsol joined The New Roots Collective in creating a piece at East Cass Street & North Jefferson Street—a half-mile walk from the Back the Blue “art.”

“Also, there are specific guidelines for street murals that every other street mural in Tampa follows, these are vision zero guidelines—and specifically a motorists or pedestrian has to be able to make out the clear markings on the street—the mural that was painted over the weekend didn’t follow any of those guidelines. What makes it even more bizarre is that it was completed at night. For people who support the law, or law enforcement that was a pretty shady way to go about it—maybe because in their hearts they knew all along it would backfire,” Krol told CL. 

James Vann was commissioned by the city to do a mural on the same weekend as Illsol; his is at East 21st Avenue and North 15th Street in East Tampa. Vann is a retired NYC police officer and local muralist. Although he isn’t against the idea of the “Back The Blue” mural, he concedes that the timing seems suspicious.

“I personally think the timing is in conflict with the message of Unity at this time. I've painted the police mural in their honor,” he said. “I thought the Unity street murals were installed for cops and civilians.”

Cam Parker, who has continued to be an outspoken BLM advocate and worked on a piece in Tampa Heights—at Franklin Street and Henderson Avenue (pictured above)—for the Art on the Block initiative said that naturally he’s not a fan, and that his overall feeling is of confusion and embarrassment for not only the city of Tampa, but the state of Florida as a whole.

“It's embarrassing for two reasons. The first of which being, we’re being roasted globally across Twitter and Reddit, as a city and pretty much as a state. It is also embarrassing because the people who did it actually think it looks good. And they’re literally complimenting each other ‘Oh my god it looks great, we need one in Orlando,’” Parker told CL. 

“Honestly, I don’t think they care how it looks just the fact that they got it executed. And got it executed without a permit so now this brings us into vandalism territory.”

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