PULLMAN — A proposal to create some sort of street mural or public art work expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement was referred to the Pullman Arts Commission on Tuesday.

Several local residents spoke in support of the project during Pullman’s city council meeting. They said the mural offered a chance for the city to “stand on the right side of history.”

“Let’s be an example for other communities around the nation, and especially to all those students who are thinking of coming to Pullman,” said Jason Kennedy, a seven-year Pullman resident who has taken part in several recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

“This isn’t a white thing or a Black thing,” Kennedy said. “It’s a we thing. We’re asking that we stand together on this.”

Joe Hedges, who teaches painting at Washington State University, said public art projects are often controversial, but they also bring people together to have conversations.

Moreover, Hedges said, public art “can create a sense of community pride — particularly in communities where there may be some people who feel like their voices aren’t being heard.”

The proposed mural could be something as simple as painting “Black Lives Matter” or “End Racism Now” on a city street, as has been done in other communities around the country in recent weeks.

However, the group is open — even eager — to work with the council and the broader community to come up with a final design.

They also made it clear their support is not for the Black Lives Matter organization, but for Black Lives Matter as a civil rights movement, as a campaign demanding respect and equality for everyone, regardless of race.

“We’re not saying other lives don’t matter,” Kennedy said. “We’re saying Black lives matter right now, because that’s where the spotlight needs to be. We’re asking for once to be seen as equals and be treated as equals, whether in a restaurant or in a business or walking down the street.”

That came as a relief to some council members, who noted that they’ve received emails from local residents concerned about the Black Lives Matter organization and some of the groups it supports.

Council member Pat Wright, for example, thanked the speakers for presenting the proposal, but indicated it will be important to “differentiate between the grassroots group we have here in Pullman and the larger (national) organization that’s funded in a variety of ways.”

Beyond that, a majority of the council expressed support for the project.

Councilor Brandon Chapman noted the council authorized a “welcome wayside” two years ago, which includes a sign saying “welcome” in about 60 different languages.

“We have a welcome wayside,” Chapman said. “Now let’s do something that says when you get downtown, you’re still welcome.”

The location of the mural, as well as the final design and whether it would be permanent or temporary, are some of the considerations that still need to be addressed. Consequently, the council referred the issue to the Pullman Arts Commission for review.

Al Sorensen was the only councilor to oppose the motion. While fully supportive of the goal of treating everyone equally, Sorensen said, he’s concerned about creating a precedent that opens the door to other, less desirable art projects.

“I have nothing against anyone who spoke tonight, but I do have a problem with what this might do with other things in the future,” he said. “Anything we may or may not do with this needs to be thought out very carefully.

In other action, the council:

Approved amended public transit agreements with WSU, the Pullman School District and Spokane Falls Community College.

Because of the governor’s coronavirus stay-home order in March, as well as decisions to shift to remote learning, Pullman Transit experienced a decrease in ridership and cut service hours by 36 percent.

As a result, the city agreed to reduce the amount the three educational institutions are charged for transit services.

Approved a COVID-19 emergency payment plan for people who have past-due utility accounts.

The move complies with Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation requiring municipalities to provide support programs for customers experiencing economic hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The payment plan prohibits customer disconnects through at least Sept. 30, waives fees associated with late payments and disconnection/reconnection of service, and allows payment plans to be created for past due accounts.

William L. Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208)-791-9168.

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