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Say Their Names art installation moves forward

Local organizers are seeking ideas to make the Say Their Names memorial near Ashland’s Railroad Park more permanent. Ashland Tidings / file photo

Friday is the deadline to submit ideas for a permanent art installation to supplant the “Say Their Names” memorial at Railroad Park in Ashland.

The memorial was built in response to George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020 and has evolved into a multiorganizational effort to fund a permanent art installation as both a memorial for lives lost and a marker of hope for Black people alive today in Southern Oregon, said Kayla Wade, logistics director for the Southern Oregon Coalition for Racial Equity.

The call for submissions first opened March 9, backed by a collective of activists and organizers of the original memorial along the Railroad Park fence. Artists with “diverse and intersectional backgrounds” and any level of artistic experience are encouraged to submit their project ideas, according to Cassie Preskenis, a member of the collective.

“It has been a center for a lot of events focused on the Black community and general community gathering — it’s a really powerful symbol,” Wade said. “We want this to be a continuation of the current memorial.”

Recounting some instances of memorial vandalism in 2020, Wade said, “The silver lining out of that was the community showed up and replaced the memorial … every time it was destroyed it came back twice as strong.”

By fall 2020, discussions began to circulate about how to keep a memorial in place during wet weather, which spurred conversations with the city about creating something permanent, Wade said.

After interviews with artists about their visions for the project, the collective will submit three finalists to the Public Arts Commission in late April, Wade said. The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission and Ashland City Council will also provide input and approve or reject the project.

Wade said they hope to see a single finalist selected and announced by June 19, a prominent Black holiday recognizing the emancipation of slaves in the U.S.

The group voting on the top three submissions includes Wade and another SOEquity representative, two members of Black Alliance and Social Empowerment, two members of the Southern Oregon Black Leaders, Activists and Community Coalition and three community members.

“We are going to be setting up a process for community members to provide their input and essentially vote on our finalists,” Wade said. “We want to make sure that the project is a vision that has a lot of community buy-in.”

The collective seeks grant opportunities to cover the cost of materials and to compensate the selected artist for their work, Wade said.

More information and a project submission form can be found at www.soequity.org/say-their-names.