Niko Alexander is a graphic designer and artist with a special interest in typefaces. While much of his work in the U of M’s Athletics Department is based at a computer, he’s had a chance to paint murals in a number of sports venues on campus, including Williams Arena and buildings in Athletes Village.
On May 28, three days after the killing of George Floyd, Alexander learned that GoodSpace Murals-a south Minneapolis organization promoting community development-was working on a mural to commemorate Floyd.
So he packed up his brush box and some supplies and headed to 38th and Chicago to see if he could help.
When he arrived, the image of Floyd was mostly complete, and another artist was starting to sketch lines for the names of about two dozen people of color who have died at the hands of police nationwide-names that appear in the background behind Floyd’s face. Alexander offered to paint those names, and soon after he started was encouraged to continue. He worked on other parts of the mural as the one-day project continued.
He says he’s extremely grateful to have been part of a collective of six artists who had never worked together before, and now, a week out, Alexander is doing a lot of processing of that very heavy day.
"One of my favorite artists is Sam Cooke; I just love his stuff," he says. "I was in the middle of painting the names, and around the corner a woman was singing ’A Change Is Gonna Come’ through the megaphone. I was starting to cry as I’m painting. The power of that song... It’s hard not to get emotional when you’re down there."
He’s also keenly aware that he was contributing as an outsider-a native of Winsted, Minn., who now lives in northeast Minneapolis. When area residents decided they wanted to include the phrase "I CAN BREATHE NOW" beneath the image of Floyd, Alexander sketched the words but wanted others to paint them. "I was concerned about speaking for someone who’s not here anymore."
"I was hoping in some small way I could try and help," he adds. "I love Minneapolis. I’m not originally from here but I’ve lived here for a few years now, and I want Minneapolis to be a place where everyone can feel safe and feel welcome and feel part of a community that loves them."