COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Artwork in downtown Columbus is becoming a conversation piece. 

Several hours before protests started at the Ohio Statehouse, artists were busy making their own statements with paint and plaster. For canvas, they used plywood set up to protect downtown businesses from vandalism.

“Sometimes it’s hard to say what’s on your heart or what you’re thinking. So art is always just a great way to express that,” said Janai Rakes.

Rakes and fellow artist Alek Shabazz are among close to two dozen local artists working with CAPA and the Greater Columbus Arts Council to create murals on plywood boards around downtown.

“We just want people to be inspired not to just sit at home and be unproductive,” Shabazz said.

Families and individuals used the quiet morning ahead of Saturday’s protests to see the murals, take photos and start conversations.

“It is a beautiful sight to see,” said Brooklyn Pipkin. ”It shows what you can do in a bad situation. It shows all of the joyous times in something that’s hard.”

Pipkin, 15, joined her mother and grandmother at the murals. The teen said recent unrest, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody, has encouraged her to open dialogues about race.

“[My peers have asked], ’What’s different between me and you?’” Pipkin explained. “Having those conversations is uncomfortable, but sometimes you have to be uncomfortable to get comfortable.”

Rakes and Shabazz said the conversations starting during 10 days of protest in Columbus is an encouraging sign of real progress in the fight for racial equality.

“Our relationships, our friendships, our families will be tested on whether or not people as a community can truly come together to overcome something like this,” Shabazz said.

The art can be found on streets surrounding the Ohio Statehouse and on social media with the hashtag #ArtUnitesCbus.