Chad Eric Smith is the director of communications and brand management for Mural Arts Philadelphia, as well as the co-chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee at Mural Arts. Through his role, Smith is often involved in the process of creating murals with communities that reside in the neighborhood a mural goes up.
Because of his various roles within Mural Arts Philadelphia and his wide scope of experience, Smith offers a unique perspective of the relationship between art, communities, and change.
Editor’s note: This conversation has been lightly edited for brevity and conciseness. Opinions expressed by Smith are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the views and positions of Mural Arts Philadelphia.
Due to the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, abortion is a hot topic of the 2022 midterm elections. How do you think this might inspire Philadelphia communities to take action? And do you think this might inspire any new murals?
I hope that the overturning of Roe v. Wade might inspire Philadelphians, as well as all Americans, to vote this midterm election, resulting in Democrats maintaining control of the House and taking control of the Senate. It’s clear to me that the Republican Party believes in regression.
As Thomas Jefferson is quoted on his memorial in D.C., “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”
Whether or not Philadelphia communities take action that results in transformational change, I believe the overturning of Roe v. Wade will inspire new murals. Murals are more than paint on the wall; they reflect the zeitgeist of our times. While often temporary, they will remind visitors and residents alike what the community believes, which is essential.
Recently, school lessons surrounding critical race theory have been under attack. Some parties are trying to ban CRT from being taught, while other parties believe it is crucial for young citizens to learn. As local elections draw near, tensions around CRT are growing. How do you think this might inspire activism or murals that display why CRT is or is not important?
Exploring how laws, social and political movements, and media shape, and are shaped by, social conceptions of race and ethnicity is vital to our progress as a nation. As the great Maya Angelou once stated, “You can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been.” And since murals are a form of storytelling, expressing where we’ve been, murals must be one of the tools for progress.
Politically, I’m a registered Independent. However, I believe that Republicans are much better storytellers than Democrats. Republican leaders, unlike Democrats, understand that stories told are often as important, if not more important, than the substance achieved. That’s why they unify behind bad ideas told well. At the same time, Democrats can’t seem to rally behind good ideas due to slight differences of opinions regarding the minutiae and not knowing how to best shape the message. I hope that Democrats become better storytellers and embrace the power of art to get their messages across.
Our nation is crippled with racism and racial inequality. Since local elections are a perfect place to initiate change in our country, what are ways you would like to see elected leaders work together on issues facing our community/nation?
I am less optimistic that current elected leaders can work together than I am that community members can unite in selecting better leaders. Unfortunately, time and time again, especially in such a partisan climate, I am disappointed by the inability of elected leaders to work together on behalf of their constituents at large. I believe it’s up to local communities all over the nation to vote more competently and in a way that benefits each other, not just themselves.
How might those who have been historically underrepresented, marginalized, or minoritized feel about participating in the election or about the results? How can you uplift and support their perspectives and voices?
Of course, those who have been historically underrepresented, marginalized, or minoritized are not a monolith. However, generally speaking, I believe those who live in urban areas are becoming increasingly frustrated that those in rural communities are gaining more political power. I suspect it’s a feeling that rural communities have felt about the political capital big cities have historically had.
I think the Electoral College is part of the blame. The previous person to hold the office of the presidency was the first to do so with no prior military or government service; he also lost the popular vote. In order to uplift and support the perspectives and voices of those historically underrepresented, marginalized, or minoritized, we have to fundamentally change the system that was never created for those communities in the first place.
What kind of reforms would you like to see the 2022 local elections influence, in order to create a more inclusive community?
I believe it is time to abolish the Electoral College and remove the “punishment” clause from the 13th Amendment.
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