Newport This Week

Local Artist Looks to Install Black Lives Memorial

This memorial in Portland, Oregon is one of the inspirations for Hilary Block’s Newport “Say Their Names” memorial.

This memorial in Portland, Oregon is one of the inspirations for Hilary Block’s Newport “Say Their Names” memorial.

The memorial walls will be a chain link fence.

Hilary Block, inspired by fervent marchers and a fellow artist’s work in Oregon, has asked the city of Newport for permission to create a “Say Their Names” memorial behind the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center (MLKCC).

The request was discussed at the Aug. 12 City Council meeting. It was continued from a June request because the council did not have enough information.

Block, a Newport photographer who owns a small photo shop in town, photographed the recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations statewide. She will partner with other local businesses with a display of stark photographs and flowers to make a memorial to those who have died in support of equal rights, eliminating systemic racism, ending police brutality, and lifting and supporting the Black community.

Block’s interest began in mid- June after photographing and participating in support of recent marches in Providence and Newport.

She also viewed images of the chain link fence in Portland, Oregon, which she called “the incredibly moving ‘Say Their Names’ memorial.” It was created by fellow artist Joy Proctor in honor of the Juneteenth holiday.

“I reached out to Joy when she offered to share her materials, photos, names, and virtual examples for others to recreate,” Block said. “I then contacted our local MLKCC about both volunteering for the center and collaborating on this memorial installation. They encouraged me to go bigger and further. From there, I pitched my ideas and a proposal to the city of Newport and mayor’s office, as well as some Newport art and history museums.”

The requested playground site is on city property and does not belong to the center.

“The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center supports this and all peaceful demonstrations in support of racial justice,” said Heather Hole Strout, executive director of the center. “While this memorial is not on MLK property, we are glad such a powerful installation will be so close by to spark meaningful and long-overdue conversation about race in America.”

Block’s exhibit is open to interpretation, which in part is based on the approved location, environment and whether it will be a temporary or permanent installation. When reached by Newport This Week, Mayor Jamie Bova said she had questions about the installation, maintenance and length of time, and needs further discussion with Block.

“I don’t think our own Newport citizens would destroy something as this, but rather with so many tourists and visitors from elsewhere, you never know,” said Block. “I’m more concerned that without proper permission or permit that the city might remove or take it down, as we had seen with prior installations [in other cities].

“I’m also considering the educational opportunity to best reach a diverse audience and raise awareness, and the importance of and symbolic nature of the memorial.”

Block said she “would hope that our Newport City Council understands the magnitude of this opportunity to both create something positive and enriching, but also to raise awareness.

“This display would serve both as a memorial but also as an interactive public art installation, which might include names, history and anecdotes surrounding [current] Black lives lost and historic figures highlighted within,” she said. “My hope is to diminish the socio-economic racial divides between the wealth and poverty in Newport, to garner more advocates to help fund and to better serve our community and outreach, for Blackowned businesses, for education and housing, too.”

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