'Moonlight' Writer Will Help Young Liberty City Artists Tell Story Of Segregation Wall

Dec 7, 2017

A yellow wall divides Northwest 12th Ave along the east side of the Liberty Square housing projects.

The wall is no more than three feet tall at it's highest point and on the other side is a raised street making the wall only visible if you're in the housing projects.

The wall used to be much taller, a looming physical barrier of government sanctioned racial segregation  that like in many other parts of the U.S. separated black neighborhoods from white ones during the Jim Crow era.  

Tarell Alvin McCraney, "Moonlight" playwright and Liberty City native, grew up near the wall. Over time the wall was shortened, but never completely demolished. 

"When I first encountered it, it was higher." he said. "There were parts of it that was at least six feet high."

 

McCraney, 37, heard stories about the wall's segregation roots from his parents and his teachers, but that's not the wall he experienced. For him, it was a space for artistic expression where neighborhood kids left their mark with spray paint and markers, an unintentional community mural. It also doubled as a makeshift memorial for the lives lost to gun violence or fatal car accidents--stuffed animals, deflated balloons and "rest in peace" placards denoted that someone died there.

 

"The wall started to have many different layers of understanding," he said.

 

A new project called “Wall (In)" will invite young artists from Liberty City to explore the history of what was originally a segregation wall and what it means in the context of the community today and in the future as the Liberty Square Housing project undergoes an ambitious redevelopment plan that will demolish the existing row houses built in the 1930s for new modern buildings and amenities. 

 

McCraney teamed up with artist Chat Travieso--both New World School of the Arts graduates-- and Arts for Learning, a nonprofit, to bring this project to life.

 

"The idea is that people in Liberty City--community members, residents, people who work there-- can also take pride in the fact that young people who live here are creating projects that are thinking about history, but it’s also the future of the neighborhood."

 

During the the summers of 2018 and 2019, 25 high school students will be paid to research the wall's history and its connection to the community to create site-specific art projects. The project received an $80,000 grant from the Knight Arts Challenge and more than $300,000 from Art Place America.

 

McCraney said there is no one monolithic story about the wall. This will be an intergenerational story told through art about a community and it's future.

 

High school students who live in Liberty City can apply for Wall (in) here

 

See WLRN's conversation with Arts For Learning Miami and The Knight Arts Challenge below: