Following the 2014 civil unrest in Ferguson, Dellwood, and St. Louis, plywood protected hundreds of buildings, many of them businesses. Hundreds of artists and volunteers transformed the plywood into artwork that is now on display at the National Urban League Conference at America's Center.
"I grew up in Ferguson. I lived there 26 years," said journalist and author Carol Swartout Klein. When Klein visited her former hometown in November 2014, she saw the artistic community making bold statements about peace, hope, equality, healing.
"Unity, brotherhood, truth, justice," said Klein.
People who make their living as artists, and people who became artists for a day, wanted to get their point across about a tragedy turned opportunity.
"I thought it was a remarkable story that we took a time in our city where there was so much pain from everyone and this beauty was created as a result of that," said Klein.
Klein began collecting and storing the artwork, in hopes of permanent displays all over St. Louis. She also created a childrens' book and a coloring book based on the plywood art.
"I found that teachers were having I a hard time knowing where to begin to start talking about this," said Klein. "Not only did the art transform the landscape, but it transformed the artists."
One of those artists was Ja'mel McClaine, a graphic designer who lived in Cool Valley, near the Ferguson border. "It was down the street from my house in my community, so every night you would hear the helicopters flying over and the police sirens and gunshots," said McClaine.
With a front row seats to angry protests, McClaine became an activist artist, creating "Save Our Sons", plywood art inspired by his young son. McClaine said he did what artists do: share their view of the world.
"If you was an artist and you didn't react to that situation could you really consider yourself an artist?" said McClaine. "Because every artist I knew, whether it was painters or rappers or whoever, they all reacted.They all had something to say."
The painting for peace exhibit is sponsored by Regions Bank in collaboration with COCA and other local organizations.
"The art sends a message and it's a message for all of us," said Mike Hart of Regions Bank. Unification, working together. We all want stronger communities."