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Mural project brings PEACE to Willy Street

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Muralist Sharon Kilfoy (second from left, in pink) is leading a PEACE mural/mosaic/photo project at the Social Justice Center. It will be finished this fall. (Photo by Leslie Amsterdam)

A new mural honoring the life of Tony Robinson and others with connections to the Williamson Street neighborhood who have died through violence is being constructed by community members at the rear of the Social Justice Center on Willy Street on Madison’s near east side.

Work has already begun on the Social Justice Center’s PEACE mural/mosaic/photo project that will pay homage to those who have fallen through violence and will be depicted in the mural in happier moments of their lives..

Longtime Willy Street resident and muralist Sharon Kilfoy has been spearheading the effort. Previously, Kilfoy has enlisted volunteers to create numerous gorgeous murals in Madison and Dane County in schools and community centers including at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center, at the Social Justice Center, and at Centro Hispano of Dane County.

“The PEACE mural is something very personal for this neighborhood,” Kilfoy tells Madison365. “Tony [Terrell Robinson] was killed less than a block from my house on Willy Street here … and he was a Wil-Mar [Neighborhood Center] kid. He went to summer camp with [my granddaughter] Sirena [Flores] for 5 years. His mom went to high school with my kids.

“I think initially when Tony was killed I was like, ‘Wow, this is too close to home,’” Kilfoy adds, “But then I was like, ‘No, this is home.’ To me, this is what art should be doing. As artists, we should be helping people to heal, exposing issues of the day, and also celebrating the lives of those who have left us all too soon.”

The mural will be a celebration of life on Willy Street. It will depict no violence, no guns, no ‘RIP.’ It will show people in happy moments — skateboarding, sitting on the front porch, playing the guitar.

Kilfoy says that the project will give Tony Robinson’s friends and family a chance to put energy into something positive and a beautiful remembrance for others who have lost family members to violence. “We’ve had two potluck dinners where people have really come together. There have been a lot of kids have been showing up quite regularly to work on the wall,” Kilfoy says. “We had four generations of the Robinson family helping to prepare the wall.”

Sharon Kilfoy
Sharon Kilfoy

The lead artist for the mural will be Madison artist Kelty Carew who has worked on collaborative murals and public memorials professionally for more than 10 years. “Shady [Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores, Kilfoy’s daughter] will be doing a mosaic on the lower part with one of our camp kids. Tony’s siblings are still at Wil-Mar [Neighborhood Center],” Kilfoy says.

“Photographer Terry Talbot, who has been around this [Willy Street] neighborhood for a long time, will be doing portraits of the family and friends and loved ones in what we are calling the “HOPE.” Those photos will go in the front window of the Social Justice Center,” Kilfoy adds.

Funding for Talbot’s portion of the project was secured from the City of Madison Art Commission’s BLINK grant program.

“To me, this is what art should be doing. As artists, we should be helping people to heal, exposing issues of the day, and also celebrating the lives of those who have left us all too soon.”

“There are a lot of well-intentioned people in Madison who approach things like this — the excessive use of police force — intellectually,” Kilfoy says. “We’re hoping that this will make it more personal for them; more visceral. Our intention is to show Tony and others in a happier moment doing something positive … Tony skateboarding, for example. It’s a chance to hear stories of these young people and about who they were and what they enjoyed doing.”

Kilfoy started a gofundme to help with the costs. “I’d say that three-quarters of the contributions are from people who live within 3 blocks of here,” Kilfoy says.

Funds raised will be used for honorariums for the artists, for food and supplies for neighborhood and Wil-Mar youth who will work on the mural, and for related expenses. Kilfoy is moving fast and hoping to have a fall dedication for the mural.

“I know that it’s going to be beautiful mural when we are done but I think it’s important that we go through this process together,” Kilfoy says.