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Say Their Names collective requests project support from parks

Jamie Lusch / Ashland TidingsJohnna Hockensmith, of Texas, takes a photo Friday of the Say Their Names installation at the Ashland Railroad Park.

ASHLAND — The Say Their Names collective requested support from the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission on Wednesday as a permanent art installation project at Railroad Park moves forward.

APRC owns property on which the collective hopes to erect artwork honoring and celebrating Black lives.

Collective member Jessica Freedman said the group recently scheduled a work party to maintain the fence, with organizational help from APRC volunteer and special event coordinator Sulaiman Shelton.

The existing temporary installation in Railroad Park — installed June 28, 2020, marking the anniversary of Black exclusion laws passed in Oregon and reinstalled in August after vandalism — has “proven able to humanize and actualize the emotions of people who may not have another outlet or realize they need another outlet,” Freedman said. “It has inspired people to other social justice action in our community.”

Mid-1850s laws prohibiting slavery and banning free Black people contributed to the region’s status as a “white utopia” historically, she said.

A permanent installation offers a platform for continued education and progression on ongoing community issues, represents an important message about the city’s identity and will work harmoniously with the planned HUB sculpture honoring Chinese railroad workers, Freedman said.

Many people continue to seek ways to heal after Aidan Ellison’s murder Nov. 23, 2020, and reflect on the “short-lived lip service” that followed the incident — an unfortunate template of the Black experience in the U.S., she said.

Perpetuating the unanswered question of whether Black lives matter in Ashland makes it harder to attract people of color to live, work and visit here, Freedman said.

Freedman presented four artist proposals to APRC, including a painted mural on the ground along the bike path, with designs laid into the text “Black Lives Matter.” The community will have an opportunity to weigh in on preferred designs, she said.

Freedman requested support from APRC as the collective begins a campaign to raise $100,000 for the project through grants, city support and public donations.

Commissioner Rick Landt said with HUB sculpture installation slated to begin this fall, the Railroad Park site may soon become crowded, and encouraged exploration of other parks with more space to accommodate some of the sculpture proposals, “with room to breathe and stretch out.”

The bike path mural suits Railroad Park’s available space ideally, but other designs may have a more powerful effect elsewhere, he said.

Collective member Tia Laida Fe said the group aims to keep the “living” fenceline installation intact so long as the community is willing to maintain it, in addition to the larger proposed pieces of artwork.

Actively maintaining the fence — where T-shirts, artwork, flowers and posters remind passersby to remember the names of the victims of inequity and racism — is a way for white community members and business owners to show solidarity, while the permanent installation responds to what the Black community has said would be uplifting, she said.

“Clearly the Say Their Names memorial is honoring, it also seems like it’s an exercise for the white community,” Laida Fe said. “I think that having both then holds both up, and keeps the white community with this opportunity to keep showing their love and their care and their desire to make change in that way.”

Commissioners generally articulated support for the project, with some outstanding concerns about the placement of artwork, preservation of open space and suggestion that the collective consider other venues.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.