ASHLAND, Va. -- An Ashland artist’s wooden sculpture, that was inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests, has a prominent new home. Arthur Brill designed the Ashland Peace Project in the weeks following the death of George Floyd and the police reform protests that followed.
“'What can I do?' is the question I ask myself. What I can do is, I can attract attention,” Brill explained.
The sculpture stands at nearly seven feet tall and depicts a large two-toned peace sign. The hand sits on a fractured white pedestal in the lobby of Ashland Town Hall on Thompson Street.
One side of the sculpture includes the names of Black and brown people killed by police brutality.
Phrases like, "Be the change you want to see" and "faith" are written in different colors on the wood. The base reflects a column from the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.
“I couldn’t be more proud and more excited for this piece to be sitting there in the town hall lobby today,” Brill said.
Brill’s sculpture was moved to the town hall several weeks ago. His goal was to spark a conversation about tough subjects.
“Just ignoring it and pretending it’s not there is not a viable solution to peace,” he stated.
Originally, Brill’s sculpture started as just the hand that he brought to Black Lives Matter protests and other rallies last Summer. He invited people to write on the artwork.
“This is sort of a living breathing dialogue. This sculpture is a visual representation of that,” Brill explained.
Ashland Town Manager Josh Farrar and the town council helped fund Brill’s project through the new Arts and Culture Incentive Program.
The town provided grants to artists and their businesses to help attract them and relocate to the community. Brill and another local artist both received $4,500 while a third artist received $1,000 for a total of $10,000 in grants to the arts.
“The art dovetailed nicely with the movement going on and helped us engage in a conversation with the community,” Farrar said.
The town established an arts and culture district nearly a decade ago and wanted to incentivize artists to relocate and invest in Ashland.
“Artists come to Ashland,” Farrar stated. “That’s part of it, too. To make it known we are a welcoming community.”
A piano teacher provides free lessons to children who are members of the group Circles Ashland with her grant. That non-profit assists underprivileged families in Ashland and Hanover County.
Brill was also tasked with using the grant to facilitate public forums and education sessions.
“Regardless of where you lie in all of this, we need to talk,” Farrar stated.
Hanover NAACP President Patricia Hunter-Jordan applauded the artwork.
"We are grateful for what Ashland does," she told CBS 6 during a phone conversation Wednesday. "It’s a small portion of our county and we do wish that the remaining portion was as progressive as Ashland. It’s easy for us to work with Ashland and any concerns I've ever taken to [Ashland Police] Chief Goodman."
Hunter-Jordan hoped to make similar connections in other parts of the area.
"We are hoping to change and work for some reform in Hanover County. The things we have wanted to discuss we have been unable to do so, so we are just waiting for that opportunity to sit down and have some conversations," she explained.
The town has allocated another $10,000 worth of grants that would be awarded to artists and their businesses in next year’s budget.
Brill said his favorite phrase written on his artwork was from a six-year-old girl he met at a rally last Summer.
"Don't be mean to Black people," read the words written in black ink.
"I thought, 'How much simpler can you get than that?'" Brill asked.