The village of Catskill, a place that has always invested great value, not to mention great pride, in its arts community, dropped the ball this time.
Village trustees decided Tuesday to stretch a Black Lives Matter banner across Main Street instead of going for a painted mural that was originally proposed. It was a missed opportunity for Catskill to make a bold statement against systemic racism.
The Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition first requested the mural — the words “Black Lives Matter” painted in huge block letters — on June 14. The group also requested a mural on Second Street in Hudson. Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson last week committed to the mural.
In Our Own Voices, a social-justice organization in Albany, requested a mural on Lark Street on June 9.
The village’s answer, that it would not respond to demands but would rather be invited to a conversation, was misleading, according to the Housing Coalition. The Coalition said it reached out to the village on several occasions before the mural was even born. The Coalition said it offered to supply the paint and hire local artists, but didn’t get a chance to explain the plan in detail because the village did not give the green light to proceed.
In its decision, the board of trustees gave several reasons it supported banners over the mural, including any mural or signage would need to go through an approval process by the planning board; the banner would be more visible and receive more exposure; the banner is mobile and more inclusive; the banner will be more durable than paint on the street, which will fade; the mural would interfere with the daily vitality of the town; it would have a much more detrimental impact; the lettering could cause confusion for drivers.
One of the main arguments cited against the mural was the disruption it would cause to businesses for the two days the street would be closed. This from a board that wanted to close Main Street for two days over a weekend.
Painting “Black Lives Matter” on Water Street adjacent to the low-income Hop-O-Nose housing complex in Catskill would have served only to marginalize the issue and hide the message from people who should see it. A mural painted by an artist was the ideal solution. And the ideal places for such a work of art would have been the wall of the art gallery on Main Street where another mural celebrated Thomas Cole, or the building at the corner of Main and the municipal parking lot where boxing champ Mike Tyson was once saluted as a local hero.
The board of trustees offered several answers, but added together it didn’t make this decision right. In this case, we think the board revealed a lack of imagination. It was not limited to a banner and three words. We are living in a moment of great social and cultural change. The people deserve more from their leadership.