Josef Palermo

Josef Palermo at a site visit, St. John’s Episcopal Church, August 2021 Photo by Imagine Photography

Reclaiming Our Time at Black Lives Matter Plaza

On Breonna Taylor’s birthday, June 5, 2020, Mayor Muriel Bowser inaugurated Black Lives Matter Plaza, after the DC Department of Works painted the words “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in 35-foot letters along a two-block section of 16th Street NW, just north of the White House. Since then, that section of 16th Street outside of the White House has hosted countless peaceful demonstrations for racial justice, a candlelight vigil for Congressman John Lewis, and even outdoor screenings of films amplifying Black stories.

Over time, however, Black Lives Matter Plaza has become known as a site of trauma for many local activists who continued to bear the brunt of the same police brutality they were there to protest, and today the site, redeveloped into a mixed-use zone with separate lanes for pedestrian and vehicular traffic, has been largely abandoned except, in Palermo’s words, “by selfie-taking tourists.”

The goal of Reclaiming our Time is to reaffirm the principles upon which Black Lives Matter Plaza was founded through a practice of listening, research, and public programming. The first phase of the project has been conducting listening sessions with Black women leaders of the local activist community.

The second phase of the project includes collaboration with a scholar at the National Parks Service National Capital Region, Dr. Roneva Keel, to create a body of research and online exhibit that traces the through lines that connect various “occupy” movements in D.C. through oral histories, community listening sessions, art, and other artifacts of the movement. The goal of this phase is to interrogate how first amendment spaces are controlled by local and federal authorities and, through surfacing this history of foregoing movements, bring together audio and visual material that connects the recent history of protest at BLM plaza to this longer story.

The last phase of this project will take the form of a curated series of programs inspired by the three stages of trauma recovery: Safety & Stabilization; Remembrance & Mourning; and Re-connection & Integration. Ultimately, this project aims to reclaim BLM Plaza as a public space for collective healing, communal wellness/care, and liberatory education through design informed by the collaborative engagement of those at the frontlines of the Black Lives Matter movement in the nation's capital.

About Josef Palermo

Josef Palermo
Photo: Imagine Photography
Josef Palermo is an artist, producer, and arts organizer living and working in Washington, DC, where he creates immersive intermedia art experiences presented through radically accessible exhibitions. His work explores the universal aspects of human existence, utilizing both new media and traditional visual art forms combined with performance, installation, and experiential design.

Partners: Occupy DC, Good Trouble Co-Op, Earl’s First Amendment Grill, Kyanite Kitchen , The Liberation Library, Bartenders Against Racism, The Palm Collective