March 22, 2021 

The inside story of the Seattle Storm’s new mural

How the artists, the team, and people behind the artwork came together

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Photo courtesy of the Seattle Storm

On the corner of Queen Anne Avenue and Mercer Avenue in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood is a Cajun-Creole restaurant called Toulouse Petit Kitchen & Lounge. The establishment is just one block from the Seattle Storm’s new Climate Pledge Arena and is also home to the team’s new mural. 

Seeing the connection between art and basketball may be difficult. Yet, the mural is befitting of a franchise with a deep connection to the city. This piece of art is meant to embody both Seattle and the Storm from its design to the artists who painted the mural. 

Muros, a global art activation agency, approached the Storm after their championship season and reading about their social justice efforts about creating a mural. The agency has created murals for many organizations, including professional sports teams like the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Clippers, and Houston Astros. 

Each piece is a custom job. This is because Muros takes the time to understand what the client wants to accomplish and helps identify local artists to bring their vision to life. Muros then works with the team, the artists relay ideas and elements of the piece to get to a place where the artists’ unique styles are reflected. Select players may also have input into the creation of these pieces.

Meet The Artists

From left to right: muralists Zahyr and Mari Shibuya. Photo courtesy of the Seattle Storm

When it came to the Storm’s mural, Muros curated a list of potential local artists. Mari Shibuya was an artist Muros has had on their radar for a while, talked to gauge interest, and determined there was a fit. 

Once Mari was on board, she asked another local artist named Zahyr to join. Mari had long admired their work from afar and the prospect of collaboration was appealing for her. The opportunity to work with each other was appealing for both artists. 

“Mari is an incredible artist and thinker who is well-respected in the community. Because it was Mari, I said ‘hell yeah’ and jumped at the chance to work with her and learn from her,” said Zahyr. The Storm mural was the third mural for them but this was the first they created that was non-freestyle. 

Storm guard Jewell Loyd remained stateside this offseason and had the opportunity to meet the artists and see the mural’s progress.

“I actually met the artists. I walked by with my dog and saw them working just talked to them for a bit, saw their work progression. They’re both super kind-hearted people and have such positive energy,” Loyd told The Next. “They were blown away by painting us and get to know us from a different perspective, and paint that picture for everyone who was watching. They were really great. I’m glad I met them and got to see them do their work. It was pretty cool.” 

Artists On And Off The Court

Photo courtesy of the Seattle Storm

The Storm’s mural features Loyd, Sue Bird, and Breanna Stewart in the “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Her Name” t-shirts from last summer’s Bubble. You will also see elements of Seattle, like the Space Needle, four WNBA championship trophies, and the team’s new logo. 

“They [the Storm] asked my opinion once it was made about the things that we liked. I kinda did the basic, ‘I like this, I like that,’” Loyd said. “Honestly, it was the artists that they worked with and the rest of the team that had a little more say to it.” 

When the Storm agreed to a mural, they had not initially planned to reveal the new logo this way. The first creative brief the artists received had no logo. The second brief contained the social justice elements the team sought. In fact, a commitment to social justice is inextricably linked to the Storm and WNBA as a whole. 

From the 2016 Minnesota Lynx’s donning Black Lives Matter shirts for games to the league dedicating the WNBA restart to justice for Breonna Taylor, WNBA players have long been at the forefront of these issues. The league has come a long way from fining Lynx players for wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to supporting Storm and Liberty players for walking out during the anthem. 

There are many of these examples from the WNBA, but the Storm’s social justice efforts last summer resonated with Mari and Zahyr. 

Both artists admired the Storm players’ dedication to justice for Breonna Taylor as the police who killed her remain free. The team’s fight for justice made this opportunity especially appealing. 

“How they [the Storm] move on and off the court,” said Mari about what she admires about the team. “It’s imperative for the future of humanity we address the systemic racism in this country and damage caused, particularly on Black and Brown bodies in this country. If we don’t stand in solidarity, then the system will continue.” 

“All three [Bird, Loyd, and Stewart] are artists in the way they approach their platforms, elevating what’s going on in the country, just like they are artists in the way they move on the court,” said Zahyr. “I think the Storm are powerful with what they’ve chosen to do with their platform and I respect what they do.” 

The Storm have remained adamant about their ongoing dedication to social justice. They have made it clear this was not a fad or a flash in the pan. Crystal Langhorne retired this offseason and will work more closely with Force4Change, the team’s social justice platform that will advocate for meaningful change in Seattle such as voter registration and amplification of Black women, LGBTQ+ leaders of color, and organizations serving Black communities. 

The mural is just one more example of the franchise’s ongoing commitment.

“That’s something we’re trying to do: make it a lifestyle, not just a movement. That’s been our whole thing in our talks with the owners down to the players, how can we keep paving the way. How can we keep moving forward,” said Loyd of the mural’s social justice emphasis. “It just shows the dedication they have to us and what we’re about and what we’re trying to do.”

Not Just Checking Boxes

Photo courtesy of the Seattle Storm

The Storm’s muralists being people of color is no accident. “Finding strong women [and people] of color is important for walking the walk,” said Muros’ founder Tricia Binder. 

It’s not about simply supporting people of color for the sake of it, but supporting talented people whose talents and abilities may be overlooked because of intentional or unintentional bias. 

“It’s not to check the box but to ensure representation,” said Mari, a biracial woman. 

Mari shared a story from last October when she and two Black artists were working on a mural on the busiest road in Renton, Washington. A white man drove by repeatedly yelling “All lives matter” and “God bless Trump” incessantly. The man stopped once more at the light, attempting to intimidate the group again. Mari approached the vehicle this time to attempt to have a conversation, but the man raised, cocked, and pointed a gun from the window. 

Fortunately, Mari was able to retreat behind the lift and the man drove away without physically harming anyone. The team vacated the site shortly after. However, this was a mentally and psychologically impactful moment for her and her team.

“That incident was important for contextualizing the lack of safety Black folks experience every day. The sense of safety structures and ‘Who do we call, the police?’ We need to make sure we don’t uphold systems that make people feel unsafe.” 

On Instagram, Mari elaborated on this event further by saying a city representative had met her at the site to tell her she received a complaint about the mural after adding interracial hands. She also mentioned that this was not the first time in 2020 that someone flashed a gun at her while painting. Still, Mari believes in the cruciality of representation in art. 

For both artists and the Storm, ensuring representation in all aspects of the mural was important. Ensuring representation within not only the art itself matters but also the creation because it provides the opportunity for the audience to see something new and exciting they have not seen before. 

“We’re Definitely In The Right City For This”

Photo courtesy of the Seattle Storm

Response to the mural has been positive so far. Eager passersby took the time to stop for photos and honk in support as they drove by. Given the mural’s proximity to the team’s arena, it could provide a rallying point for fans into the next season and beyond.

“The community seems very excited and involved,” said Zahyr. “When completed, [it would be great] if the team comes out to see it, Black folks and Latinx, folks at the cafe, the CVS, and others can come out and see it.” 

“I’m excited for the Queen Anne community. Art is so important and feels especially important now with how art activates a space,” said Mari. “I deeply hope this mural can activate Queen Anne for the season and provide a spot to rally around the team and work they’re doing.”

The positive response from fans is unsurprising. On-and-off-court excellence is something the team’s followers have come to expect over the year. Coming off another championship a new arena on the way, the timing is just right. 

“Our commitment and connection with our fans is very deep. We’re one of the best cities for sports and obviously, in attendance for the WNBA,” said Loyd. “ We know our fans care about the basketball stuff and what we do off the court. It’s pretty cool the fans are engaged by driving by and posting pictures. We’re definitely in the right city for this.” 

The connection between art and basketball may not be apparent, but the Storm’s mural complements the team’s values on and off the court while being embedded within their community. 

Written by Derek James

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