For the last three weeks, peaceful protests around the North Bay and the rest of the country have brought tens of thousands of citizens to the streets to demand major changes to policing and to renew the call that “Black Lives Matter.”
Now, Sonoma County–based FTA (For the Art) Productions—formed by actor Carmen Mitchell and photographer Marcus Ward—is offering an additional way for locals to participate in these demonstrations through the Peaceful Protest Portrait Project.
FTA Productions kicked off the protest art project on Friday, June 5, with a Black Lives Matter curbside photo booth in Healdsburg, where approximately 75 people showed up with face coverings and handmade personal protest signs featuring messages of anger, hope and equality.
Ward took individual and group portraits of protestors that can be viewed online now and will be turned into a large mosaic collage at a later date in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
FTA Productions organized a second photo-booth event last Saturday, June 13, at Brew Coffee & Beer House in downtown Santa Rosa, in which more than 80 people showed up and made signs that continued supporting the BLM movement while also celebrating Pride.
“We provide the paper, pens, everything for people; they just need to come with a mask,” says Mitchell.
A third photo event in the works is planning to add voters’ rights to the protest messages.
FTA Productions co-founder Carmen Mitchell is a Sonoma County native who grew up as a competitive figure skater and ballet dancer, training at Snoopy’s Home Ice and the Santa Rosa Dance Theater respectively. Now working as an actor and singer, she recently formed the nonprofit Redwood Theatre Company in Healdsburg.
Out of work until the entertainment industry reopens, she found herself surrounded by other North Bay artists also stuck in the same predicament.
One of those artists is FTA Productions’ other co-founder, Marcus Ward, who works as a freelance photographer and dancer in the North Bay. For this project, the pair recruited coordinator Desmond Woodwar and videographers Alleya Torres and Eddie Melendéz .
“The definition of art is to hold a mirror up to humanity, it is a reflection of society,” Mitchell says. “This is very personal for me because I grew up in a Disney filter. For the first time, I feel like I’m tapping into powerful art that is more than just commercial.”
Mitchell notes that this project is not meant to replace the marches and gatherings that are happening every day, but to bolster those movements.
“We are trying to create a safe space where everyone is welcomed to participate in art without judgment,” Mitchell says. “There’s so many ways to take action, this was our way of hitting the pavement, and we’ve got some backlash hate from it, but it’s OK. We are trying to do better in creating community support and awareness through art.”