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City paints over 'The Empire Strikes Black' at MLK Jr. Park

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For more than a year, the hundreds of doodles and messages scrawled mostly in chalk in the concrete amphitheater at Martin Luther King Jr. Park were an enduring reminder of the civil unrest in Rochester in the summer of 2020.

That June, the city commissioned artist Sean Dunwoody to paint the concrete bowl black with the aim of turning it into a giant streetscape chalkboard for Black Lives Matters demonstrators to voice their minds.

"Since people are gathering here, to give them freedom of speech, to talk about Black Lives Matter and other issues that are concerning their heart and soul, I said, 'Why don’t we give them a canvas, an area of which to express themselves?'" Dunwoody told WROC-TV (Channel 8) at the time.
Ricardo Adams comforts Sarah Adams, an East High 8th grader, after she read a poem about racism and police during the protest at MLK Park in the summer of 2020. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Ricardo Adams comforts Sarah Adams, an East High 8th grader, after she read a poem about racism and police during the protest at MLK Park in the summer of 2020.
The art installation, known as "The Empire Strikes Black," elicited mostly chalk, and some paint, renderings that reflected the rage, sorrow, and hope of protesters and that indelibly clung to their concrete canvas through rain, sleet, and snow.

But in a sign that City Hall is turning the page on that chapter of the city's history, the administration of Mayor Lovely Warren in recent days authorized city employees to paint over the messages.

Crews could be seen painting the amphitheater on Wednesday afternoon, by which time all of the messages had been erased.

Murals of Daniel Prude, and musicians Mikaela Davis, Danielle Ponder, and Moses Rockwell, were left untouched.
"The Empire Strikes Black," featuring hundreds of chalked messages from the community, was painted over last week. - PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • "The Empire Strikes Black," featuring hundreds of chalked messages from the community, was painted over last week.
City spokesperson Justin Roj explained that the city began painting the amphitheater before the Fourth of July holiday in preparation for public school graduation ceremonies scheduled to be held in the bowl.



The vast majority of the messages were expressions of positivity. Some contained expletives, however.

"It's one thing that's fine for the protests, and another thing for a graduation to be surrounded by expletives," Roj said.

Roj said only the fountain area would be permanently painted over in beige. The rest of the space at the park will remain black, and can still be chalked on.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.
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