Tina Burnside doesn't want people to think that George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police was an isolated incident. Co-founder of the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery, she sees it as part of Minnesota's history of systemic racism.
"A lot of people were surprised by George Floyd's killing, and we want people to know it didn't happen in a vacuum," said Burnside, a journalist-turned-attorney. "Even though Minnesota has this history of being a progressive state, there is a lot of racial discrimination and disparity that has happened to African Americans."
Burnside worked with co-founder Coventry Cowens, volunteers and community members to organize a series of exhibitions that resonate with this historical moment. The Minneapolis museum reopened Aug. 18 with four exhibits, each filled with artwork inspired by the movement, documenting it and reflecting on its history. "As time goes on, people will forget George Floyd or people will forget about what happened or people will have fatigue," said Burnside. "We want the energy to stay so that people can continue fighting for racial justice."
Located in a corner gallery on the fourth floor of the former Thor Construction building, now known as the Regional Acceleration Center, at Plymouth and Penn avenues N., the volunteer-run museum turned two years old in September.
Floor-to-ceiling windows bring in natural light. Because of the pandemic, chairs are gone and museum-goers must take a one-way, clockwise route through the gallery. Visitors get a temperature check and must wear masks.
The exhibition "A Reckoning: 100 Years After the Lynchings in Duluth," a collaboration with St. Paul-based publishing company In Black Ink, commemorates the events of June 15, 1920, nearly to the day of George Floyd's killing this past summer, when an angry mob lynched three young Black men who were wrongly accused of raping a white woman.
On the wall, there is a nauseating photo of the murdered Black men, surrounded by a mob of white people, many of them smiling. The photo, which was turned into a souvenir postcard (something that was common at that time), might remind a viewer of the viral video showing a Minneapolis officer kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.
"When people share videos of people being killed, it triggers a lot of anger and hurt, but nobody would believe what was happening to Black people if it weren't for those videos," said Burnside.
The museum also has premiered a video collection called "Un-heard" offering responses to Floyd's killing from 11 performing artists working in dance, spoken word and music.
Queen Drea's "Black on Black Love" muses on its title through flowing, chill beats. In the passionate spoken-word piece "Hold On," Joe Davis speaks to the camera, calling for collective healing and liberation.
Alexis Camille's bitingly funny, stream-of-conscience video "Minnesota Nice and Racist," filmed at home with her dog in the midst of the uprising, offers a raw emotional take heightened by the pandemic ("There's an influx of hate and joy and violence and healing").
Hannah Hagen and Sandrine Sugi's spoken-word piece "B.L.A.C.K." intersperses facts about being Black in America ("one in three Black men at some point in their lives are likely to be sent to prison versus one in 17 white men. Did you know?") with empowering and affirming words ("My Black brothers and sisters: You are important. You are needed. You are powerful beyond measure.").
Patrons can watch in the gallery or on the museum's YouTube page.
Elsewhere at the museum, "Gather in His Name: From Protests to Healing for George Floyd" is a compilation of photographer John Steitz's portraits from the unrest following Floyd's death. And a video by nonprofit media organization Unicorn Riot documents the first day of protests.
In the hallway facing the gallery, there's a bird's-eye photograph, shot by a drone, of a museum-sponsored mural on Plymouth Avenue that spells out "Black Lives Matter." The letter "I," painted by Donna Ray, includes a hawk symbolizing Floyd. She sees the hawk as a messenger bird for the spirit world.
"I do believe that we do come back as birds, and when we meet an untimely death we come back as a higher bird, like a hawk," she said in a video documenting the making of the mural, available on the museum's YouTube page.
The mural is still visible outside the museum, and though it's faded since mid-July, the video makes it feel fresh.
To keep that spirit alive, the museum is collaborating with Save the Boards to Memorialize the Movement to preserve plywood murals that once covered storefront windows. Volunteers can register online (tinyurl.com/y85j294p) and then show up at the Northrup King Building on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to move the boards. (They will be part of an outdoor exhibition in south Minneapolis next year.)
"We need to document history as the events unfold because I think that has a greater impact," said Burnside. "We want to keep the movement going."