Virginia intersection that was once scene of a hate crime is now a symbol of unity
An intersection in Charlottesville, Virginia, got a temporary makeover this week as part of an effort to change the narrative of the location from a place of hate to symbol of unity.
Jake Van Yahres grabbed some white chalk and started working his magic at the Downtown Mall early Friday morning, trying to makeover the spot where two years ago a man drove his car into a crowd of counter protesters at a white nationalist rally, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
Charlottesville native and artist Van Yahres was living in San Francisco when the killing occurred, and he told CNN he remembered watching the news and feeling helpless and frustrated.
‘Charlottesville isn’t the hate-filled place’
Van Yahres said he was bothered by the conversations he found himself in the months after the killing.
When he told people that Charlottesville was his hometown, he said the conversation would come to a stop.
“That always bugged me, people always assume the worst of Charlottesville,” he said. “Charlottesville isn’t the hate-filled place that it might be associated with.”
After moving back to Virginia this year, he started coming up with ideas for his artwork that would flip the narrative.
“I’ve been looking at that crosswalk for about a year trying to figure out what I could do with it as an artist,” he said. “Like what if we could turn the message around in some way?”
Van Yahres said he thought August was the perfect time to chalk up his idea of interlaced fingers symbolizing people of different races coming together at the intersection because of the foot traffic associated with the city’s “Unity Days.”
Sidewalk artwork is a bookend for city’s Unity Days
The City of Charlottesville has been hosting themed Unity Days from May through August to unite the community through events that educate, inspire and honor community members to move toward economic and racial justice, according to the city’s website.
The pavement artwork was intended to be an exclamation mark as the city’s summer-long initiative comes to an end, Van Yahres said.
As for the medium? Van Yahres said he used chalk because there’s quite a bit of chalk artwork in that same area.
“I would love the opportunity to paint this permanently,” he said. “I’d be happy to make this happen with whoever I need to.”
CNN reached out to the City of Charlottesville for comment on the public display of art but has not heard back.
“All I’m trying to do is help out in a small way,” Van Yahres said.
Van Yahres has created a number of artworks revolving around political advocacy or social injustice.