Artist responds to George Floyd’s death by encouraging conversation

A lot of things were born out of the death of George Floyd one year ago.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A lot of things were born out of the death of George Floyd one year ago.

People marched but they also talked and listened.

For many, these conversations were difficult, eye-opening and even draining. But they were steps towards understanding each other a little better.

For Shawana Brooks, a Jacksonville artist, curator, thought-leader and entrepreneur, it always comes back to art. How art can shape and spark challenging conversations?

A year ago, Brooks opened up her yard and created The 6 Feet Away Gallery.

“It became time to say: ‘Maybe I don’t know but I need to hear it from you,’” Brooks said. “We want to just say, ‘Hey, here’s a space. Come sit, let’s talk.”

The goal of her gallery is to provide a safe environment for growth and even mistakes.

“There’s no judgment if there are slurs that need to be said because you want to understand how that process goes,” she said. “I saw the space that we had and we just wanted to talk back to our neighbors and extend to the whole community around what does it mean when you say black lives matter how do we get past the politicizing of that word and really talk about how humanity is important.”

It was in response to Floyd’s murder, the pandemic and the fact that art galleries were shut down. Brooks felt this was what the community needed.

“How terrible it is to see something like that consistently in the news and the constant trauma. And I feel art always has a brilliant way of bringing us together so that we can be in conversation about how do we go forward and what comes next,” Brooks said.

What came next Brooks couldn’t imagine. The corner gallery opened less than a month ago at the Jessie Ball duPont Center with the help of a $150,000 grant. It currently features Kirsten Williams and her exhibition Like-Minded. The name, the art -- it’s all up for discussion.

“Whether we do get to be like-minded or we have more diversity, it’s all about conversations and dialogue and more than that comprehension because, if we don’t understand each other, we’re not going to get to that level,” Brooks said.

Brooks is leveling up and while she believes, like most people, that we still have a long way to go, she’s inviting you in to talk about it.

Tuesday from 1-4 p.m., 6 Feet Away Gallery is hosting a community conversation at the Jessie Ball DuPont Center: Difficult Dialogue around Art. Another session is scheduled for 4-7 p.m. Friday. The events are free and open to anyone who wants to talk or learn more about the exhibit.

About the Author:

Anchor on The Morning Show team and reporter specializing on health issues.