By Kati Weis

DENVER (CBS4) – More than 20 local black artists celebrated Juneteenth with the Black Love Mural Art Festival in Civic Center Park. Some of those artists told CBS4 they’re grateful they could contribute to the civil rights movement and the Juneteenth holiday with artistic expression.

“Gives me an opportunity to create something that’s bigger me, something that has a voice way louder than I could ever scream,” said Denver artist Ki’erre Dawkins.

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Ki’erre Dawkins’s nearly finished mural (credit: CBS)

His mural is one of 36 in the festival, all painted on boards around the statues in the park. Artists have been painting their murals all week.

Dawkins said he worked on his mural for 13 hours, and he invited the public to help him finish it, asking folks to place their fingerprints on the stars and stripes.

“The fingerprint is going to be an oath, because through all of this, we don’t really talk about the black on black crime aspect of it, but that’s basically because minorities really don’t have a lot of opportunities, so from the beginning you see a lot of people taking, because they can’t really afford it. So, your fingerprint is an oath to dedicate more time to give opportunities to minorities,” Dawkins explained.

Community members place their fingerprints on Dawkins’s mural at the Black Love Mural Art Festival. (credit: CBS)

Organizers of the event said it’s a way to celebrate the holiday representing the freedom of black people in America, and give artists a voice during this pivotal time in a modern civil rights movement.

“A lot of the artists are introverts, so they weren’t at the riots or they weren’t a part of the protests or anything of that nature, so we wanted to give them a larger scale mural so they can really speak on all of the things that are going on right now,” said Eryk Fisher of Rob the Art Museum.

The festival was made possible through a collaboration between Rob the Art Museum and IRL art.

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“I just hope that people continue to see the message of what people are fighting for. We just want everyone to be on the same page,” Fisher said. “There should be no reason why police address things differently… it’s a dynamic that needs to change. It needs to be an act of unison.”

For some artists, the festival was also a way to get a start in the industry.

Hermela Hailu, 18, just graduated high school in Denver. She hopes her mural inspires others.

Hermela Hailu stands in front of her mural at the Black Love Mural Art Festival in Civic Center Park. (credit: CBS)

“Black lives matter, black art matters, black businesses matter, they are what holds America together,” Hailu said.

Moving forward, these artists hope that long after the protests and hashtags are over, the conversations about improving race relations will continue.

“Actually take the time, and want to communicate with people, and want to learn people. So that’s what I feel like everybody can take from this, you want to come out here and learn, you want to take the time to look at all of the art, because we’re telling you about our culture,” Dawkins said. “Just come out and learn and ask questions, even if you feel uncomfortable, racism is an uncomfortable topic, and it should be. But this is the time to make it less uncomfortable.”

Dawkins said the murals will stay up until July 7.

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Organizers are asking for donations to help pay the artists and a team to break down the exhibit. Donations will also help pay for ancillary supplies the artists need. Additional money raised will pay for community art classes. To donate, click here.

Kati Weis