Fred Poisson takes a photo of a mural on the side of Aura in Portland created by Portland artists Ryan Adams, Jason McDonald and Mike Rich. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The streets of Maine are alive with creative energy, day and night. Artists in Portland and across Maine are responding to the moment with street art, graphics, video projections and artful signs, banners and placards that are showing up in the arms of protesters in Portland, Bangor and small towns and crossroads in between.

Portland artists Ryan Adams, Jason McDonald and Mike Rich painted the likeness of George Floyd on a brick wall at Aura nightclub, along with a statement about rising in unity and the names of other African Americans killed by police in recent years. Buxton artist Eamon White made a computer graphic vector portrait of Floyd that former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz shared on social media, bringing White’s artwork an audience of 38,000 views and counting. And Portland projection artist Tina Marie Davidson is showing up nightly to share messages of solidarity and accountability on the streets and buildings of Portland. “Who is policing the police,” Davidson projected on police headquarters Thursday night. Before that, she demanded “Dismantle White Supremacy” on a downtown street.

Adams, 35, and his team made the mural quickly on Wednesday afternoon with spray paint, as the protests that began in Portland early in the week continued across downtown and spread into other communities. The portrait portion of the mural is 8 by 10 feet, and the words and names cover another 20-foot section of the wall. “This is a time for action, whatever that may be. Anything from protesting and organizing to caring for family and reading books and self-care. Anything on any level, this is a time for action,” said Adams, who was born and raised in Portland and lives here with his wife and kids.

A painter, designer and sign maker known for colorful geometric images that he shares on beer cans and brick walls from Maine to Virginia, Adams said he was moved to collaborate on the mural in a high-profile public place out of a sense of obligation, desire and an overwhelming need to respond to the moment. Empowered by colors, Adams has always expressed himself visually. The COVID-19 crisis, its impact on the African-American community and Floyd’s murder under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer have given purpose to his anger, sadness, exhaustion and frustration, he said.

A vector portrait of George Floyd by Buxton artist Eamon White. Image courtesy of Eamon White

“I do feel a level of responsibility to act during these times, as I feel most people do. Being that I am a native Mainer and African-American muralist, I feel responsible to use my skill set to bring attention to the things that I feel are important to be addressed,” he said. “Being able to spray-paint something large and fast is a skill set that can be used to make a very impactful statement pretty quickly. I have utilized that ability to express myself about previous issues concerning race in the past, and I have also used it to highlight individuals or topics that honor and celebrate people.”

White, 31, jumped on the computer after he heard about Floyd’s death and made a vector portrait, using a rainbow of colors – and deep, penetrating black for the eyes – to represent Floyd. An athlete and coach, White responded to former National Basketball Association player Stephen Jackson’s call for action. “He said, ‘Use your platform to make change.’ My platform is art,” said White, who played football at the University of Maine and Merrimack College and has coached across the region. He learned to paint from his father, Stephen White, and his late grandmother, Jane Murdoch, who lived in Damarsicotta. White studied studio art and new media at UMaine and got his degree in digital design from Merrimack.

Artist Tina Davidson projected images across Portland last week, including this message on Thursday night at Portland police headquarters. Courtesy of Tina Davidson

As an athlete and team player, White’s instinct is to bring people together. Art allows him to do that, and responding to this moment of cultural crisis enables him to do it in a powerful way. He chose to make a colorful portrait of Floyd to represent all people who have been oppressed, as well as the range of people outraged by his murder and standing up for change. “It’s a picture of George Floyd, but I wanted to represent every background. It’s a tragedy of one, but people can relate to it in a certain way if they’ve ever been called a (racial slur) or were treated wrongly by police.”

A protest sign created by the Artists’ Rapid Response Team, in use June 4 in Newcastle. Photo courtesy of ARRT

He was thrilled when Ortiz shared the image on Instagram. “It’s been reposted all over. It feels good when your ideas can help people,” he said. “We’re all part of this together. Like football, if one person does something wrong, the whole team falters. Everybody has to be together on this one.”

Natasha Mayers, who helps organize the Artists’ Rapid Response Team to make art for protests and demonstrations, said her group has made 25 signs and banners for recent demonstrations in Lincoln County, and artists are hurriedly making more for use across the region. “Our group responds to the important issues of the day and of the moment,” Mayers said on Friday. “It is what we are compelled to do as artists and members of the community. As one member wrote me this morning, ‘It’s profoundly sad that we continue to have to make these messages in 2020.’ ”

On Friday, that artist, Doreen Conboy, was making a banner using the plea from civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis, “We are one house, one people.”

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