Artists create images of hope and unity to replace boarded up store fronts

Pigment International
3 min readJun 8, 2020

“Paint the City” project creating free murals for business owners

(CHICAGO) — Artist Barrett Keithley is working to replace images of desolation and destruction with images of hope and unity. Keithley enlisted over 75 artists to paint murals on nearly 15 boarded up buildings over the last week. He and his partner Missy Perkins conceived the “Paint the City” project to help the city move forward as peaceful protests, ignited by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, sparked looting across Chicago. Their stated mission is to create inspiring works of art that support equality and show that Black Lives Matter. Keithley and his group of artists have painted 10 buildings so far, mostly on the south and west sides, and they anticipate doubling that this week.

“Paint the City” is our way of helping our city heal,” said Keithley, a self-taught artists who grew up on Chicago’s South Side. “We want to help restore our community, and transforming boarded up buildings into an art gallery of sorts is one way to do that.”

Once a business contacts the team, they meet with them to decide what they’d like on the building. It could be something of the owners choosing or they can give the artists license to create. Keithley says most people are just looking for something uplifting. Most importantly, these are local artists contributing to their local community. And residents are supporting their effort by dropping off food and refreshments to the artists while they work.

Keithley says the long-term goal of “Paint the City” is to create equal opportunities and resources for Black people within the art community and support local businesses. Turning outdoor spaces into galleries, he says, is one way the arts community can rebound post COVID-19.

The service is free to business owners who may contact Missy Perkins via email at They have also started a GoFundMe campaign “Paint the City” to cover the costs of supplies and provide artists’ stipend. The goal of the campaign is $10K and so far, they’ve raised just under $2K.

About the Artist

Barrett Keithley is a self-taught artist born on Chicago’s South Side. His passion for art began when he was a child reading and writing poetry. His early influences were poems and writings by Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. Like Hughes and Baldwin, Keithley conveys stories within his body of work. He paints stories about growing up in the area of the south side known as the “Wild Hundreds” that depict the lack of opportunities and resources within his neighborhood. He combines the negatives and positives of his upbringing to construct his own original style of painting. Keithley chooses to use characters that are abstracted, frontal, and flat. In addition, at times he will combine a realistic image to depict complex themes in a pattern technique. He uses colorful imagery to showcase themes such as poverty, death, prosperity, and tranquility.



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