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Camas chalk murals defaced, repeatedly removed

Art created in support of Black Lives Matter movement

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter
4 Photos
Camas High School rising seniors Kiana Gouveia, left, and Eli McMillan, both 17, pause to chat Tuesday afternoon at Crown Park. The pair had been writing messages on the wall in chalk to support the Black Lives Matter movement, but the murals have repeatedly been removed.
Camas High School rising seniors Kiana Gouveia, left, and Eli McMillan, both 17, pause to chat Tuesday afternoon at Crown Park. The pair had been writing messages on the wall in chalk to support the Black Lives Matter movement, but the murals have repeatedly been removed. (Amanda Cowan/ The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Several public chalk drawings supporting the Black Lives Matter movement over the past month in Camas have either been defaced or scrubbed away entirely, creating a game of whack-a-mole between the chalk drawers and other city residents — as well as the city itself.

After one drawing appeared earlier this month on a wall at Crown Park, it disappeared before the cycle repeated twice more. Most recently, sidewalk art supporting the movement outside of the Camas Public Library was defaced.

“It’s kind of been a back-and forth between erasing it and coming back, but it’s definitely getting the word out there,” said Kiana Gouveia, one of the chalk drawers.

Gouveia and Eli McMillan, both 17-year-old rising seniors at Camas High School, created their first mural on July 6 at the park. Gouveia said she has seen students of color being treated unfairly at her high school.

“I don’t see a lot of support for people of color,” Gouveia said. “I just wanted to make the people of color in Camas feel loved and accepted.”

The drawing was quickly removed. Gouveia and McMillan returned to the site July 11 and made another drawing, which was removed again.

“It was definitely a wake-up call,” Gouveia said. “I was definitely upset, but it pushes me to keep doing things.”

The second time, Melissa Peake, who lives near the park, said she spotted another resident removing the drawing. Following a quick, testy exchange with the resident, Peake posted about the encounter on Facebook and invited others to join her in creating another mural.

On July 13, several city residents, including Gouveia, joined her.

“It was big and beautiful. We were all super proud of it, and it was taken down,” Gouveia said.

Early in the morning of July 15, Peake heard power washing at the park. The mural was being scrubbed, this time by someone wearing a yellow construction vest who appeared to work for the city.

“I was totally alarmed when the city took it down,” Peake said.

Peake said that when she reached out to the city, she was told city officials consistently remove marks from public structures. But Peake said she routinely sees chalk drawn on the wall that remains there for extended periods of time.

“It actually said ‘Trump 2020’ for a couple of months. But it never occurred to me to erase someone else’s chalk drawing,” Peake said with a laugh.

Camas Mayor Barry McDonnell did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Peake contacted the Camas Public Library, which is hosting an art walk with 150 sidewalk spots around the building for residents to create chalk drawings. Through Aug. 3, residents can sign up online to draw on one of the spots.

Peake asked if she would be able to create an illustration supporting Black Lives Matter. Library Director Connie Urquhart said the drawings would be acceptable as long as they didn’t include rhetoric such as hate speech or profanity.

“I said, ‘Of course,’ because what could be kinder than saying that someone’s life matters?” Urquhart said. “This is a particular time when people feel they need to express themselves, and we wanted to give them the platform to do that.”

By last week, up to 20 spots on the sidewalk referenced Black Lives Matter or racial justice.

But on Thursday, someone smudged the illustrations. Other, unrelated drawings were unharmed.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” Urquhart said. “It felt like someone wanted to erase the existence of Black lives. It seems dramatic, but that’s how it felt.”

In response, the library extended the event, which was originally scheduled to end Friday, and offered those whose drawings were defaced a chance to recreate them. Urquhart said that some, including those who didn’t originally make the drawings, have offered to help by creating more long-lasting chalk paint.

Gouveia said she is making plans for future public displays.

Peake said she plans to speak about the issue during a city council meeting Monday. She said she’s hopeful for a solution, such as permanent mural space.

“I’m hoping the city of Camas actually takes a stand for Black lives,” Peake said.

Camas, the second-largest city in Clark County with a population of more than 24,000 people, consists of more than 85 percent white residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“This is not actually about any of us because we are just a bunch of white people,” Peake said. “We’re just trying to bring awareness to our small, very white town.”

Columbian county government and small cities reporter

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