It may be a small drop in a very large bucket, but artist Kyle Holbrook believes his Stop Gun Violence mural project could help bring about change in America.
The Pittsburgh-based Holbrook was in St. Petersburg Aug. 5, painting his signature image – a hand making a peace sign – on an otherwise graffiti-splattered wall outside boarded-up 917 Arlington Avenue N
Florida was the 42nd state on Holbrook’s cross-country tour; a week later, he was painting in New Mexico. Then Montana. And he’s still not finished.
He’s the Johnny Appleseed of spray paint.
“I do some murals that are really elaborate,” he explained. “I’ve done 20-story high murals and all that. But these are meant to be small enough for people to get a selfie with, but large enough so that people can see them. They’re taller than the average human, eight feet high.
“So it’s still highly visible, but also not too elaborate. We want the message to be really clear.”
In 2002, Holbrook formed a nonprofit, the Moving the Lives of Kids (MLK) Community Mural Project. MLK has undertaken hundreds of mural projects – 800 and counting – in more than 96 cities in the United States, the Caribbean and South America.
“We want to turn blight into something positive,” he said.
In collaboration with schools, churches, juvenile justice homes, after-school programs and more, MLK’s outreach mission is “to create high aesthetic standard public art that engages youth, artists and families of all races, ages, genders and ethnicities in the beautification of their communities through education, inspiration, employment, activism and empowerment.”
Although most MLK murals include images of historical figures, designed to instill pride and commitment to community among young people, the image Holbrook solo is leaving around the country is simple and direct.
The St. Pete location was chosen, he said, because “we wanted to do the murals in close proximity to other murals – there’s all those cool murals in the Edge District. The whole point is to take advantage of the selfie culture, and the popularity of murals. And use that to spread this message.”
Holbrook himself has a personal stake in the endeavor. “It’s also something that’s, unfortunately, been part of my life, where I lost friends from a really young age – and consistently throughout the last three decades,” he said.
There are plenty of other people, he admits, doing the “real work” towards ending gun violence – people “probably a lot smarter than me.” He allowed himself a small laugh.
“Those are some of the real solutions,” Holbrook quickly added. “But I think a mural can help by bringing awareness to it. That’s why we decided to do something in all 50 states, because that makes a larger statement and draws more attention to the issue. In that way, I think it can be impactful.”