Preserving history, promoting dialogue
‘Let’s Talk About It’ captures art in Madison calling for racial justice and equality
American Family-led pictorial book features artists, murals on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin.
In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, American Family Insurance asked community leaders in Madison, Wisconsin, how the company could help the fight for racial justice and equality. Local Circuit Court Judge Everett Mitchell responded quickly: As a part of ongoing social justice efforts, find a way to preserve the images and emotions of this moment so they are not forgotten.
That was the beginning of “Let’s Talk About It,” a pictorial book of the city-commissioned murals that continue to line Madison’s State Street, a landmark pedestrian street with small stores, restaurants and theatres, connecting the state’s Capitol with its flagship campus.
The 100-plus murals, some spanning up to a quarter-block, were created primarily by area artists of color and commissioned by the City of Madison Arts Commission. The artists used the plywood covering the windows of downtown businesses following Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer, as their canvasses. The death sparked weeks of protests for racial justice in Madison and across the nation.
Preserving art, highlighting artists
“These are powerful and historic pieces of art for our city, region and country,” said Karin Wolf, program administrator at the Madison Arts Commission, and lead on the mural project for the city. “They tell a story we all desperately need to take in and remember. This book helps accomplish that by giving the artists greater visibility and preserving their art. This was a great concern since preservation of the murals themselves is not guaranteed.”
Most of the images are accompanied by photos of the artists and their thoughts about their work. The book begins with a foreword by Judge Mitchell and concludes with poetry by former Madison poet laureate, author and artist, Fabu. Photos for the book were taken by several local photographers including Amadou Kromah and Hedi LaMarr Rudd.
“I gained important relationships with other Madison artists,” said Anwar Floyd-Pruitt, a local multimedia artist who created two murals as part of the project. “I was excited to have such a large canvass to work with – but it was a balance of that excitement with the seriousness of the moment. I’m grateful the moment is being captured as part of Madison history.”
Commitment to racial, social justice
The American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact coordinated and designed the book, in addition to funding its printing and distribution. Copies of “Let’s Talk About It” have already been provided to the artists and will be given to other interested parties and organizations who want it, including schools, nonprofits and libraries, free of charge.
“We took Judge Mitchell’s words to heart,” said Nyra Jordan, social impact investment director at the institute and project director for the book. “We embraced this book as not only an opportunity to preserve history, but also as a way to promote discussion and action that addresses systemic racism.”
The book is just one example of American Family’s commitment to racial and social justice. In addition to philanthropic support across the communities where we do business, the company has also invested in numerous partnerships and social good startups to help close equity gaps and support marginalized communities. Another project Jordan leads is focused on “fair chance” hiring for formerly incarcerated individuals. “We want to help people understand that not everyone’s experience is the same, and build empathy around that idea,” Jordan said.
The book contains all the State Street murals, with permission from the artists, as well as the artists’ commentary verbatim. “Everyone involved felt deeply that authentically and accurately preserving history required being comprehensive,” Jordan said. “We know the art and words in the book will elicit different opinions and emotions but excluding or editing them would be counter to the purpose of the book.”
“I believe it’s critical that we record for history the raw emotions and authentic narratives of those who have endured the legacy of racism as well as the real pain of conscious and unconscious bias their entire lives,” said Mitchell.
Additional support for the artists
In addition to its involvement in the book, American Family offered the mural artists access to a free business accelerator program for visual artists that helps them with copyright law, compensation models, mentorship, networking, and other support. A total of 19 artists participated in the program, Fellowship.art, which is run by gener8tor, a regional startup accelerator.
Jan. 26, 2021 update: Please note, we had a limited supply of books and no longer have them available.
About the American Family Insurance group
Based in Madison, Wisconsin, American Family Insurance has been serving customers since 1927. We inspire, protect and restore dreams through our insurance products, exceptional service from our agency owners and employees, community investment and creative partnerships to address societal challenges. We act on our belief in diversity and inclusion by constantly evolving to meet customer needs and preferences. American Family Insurance group is the nation’s 13th-largest property/casualty insurance group, ranking No. 254 on the Fortune 500 list. The group sells American Family-brand products, primarily through exclusive agency owners in 19 states. The American Family Insurance group also includes CONNECT, powered by American Family Insurance, The General, Homesite and Main Street America. Across these companies the group has more than 13,500 employees nationwide.
About the American Family Institute for Corporate and Social Impact
The American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact is a venture capital firm and partner of choice for exceptional entrepreneurs who are building scalable, sustainable businesses in a long-term effort to close equity gaps in America. It also recognizes that capacity building and supporting organizations and experts that have been working toward social causes are equally important in making a positive impact within our communities around the country.