Local artists transform a sign of hate into art with a different message.

One of them spotted a banner last week hanging on a heavily- traveled downtown Rockford bridge.

The banner read ‘Strong Families, Strong Nations’ and was found on the Jefferson Street bridge on the Fourth Of July. But under the message, the website of a nationally known neo-nazi, white supremacist group. The name of the group has been blurred out from the banner in our images.

Local artist Jenny Mathews was driving down North Madison Street when it caught her attention.

“I pulled over, called home, said the rest of my errands aren’t going to happen,” said Mathews. “I’m going to run back to the studio and get a pair of scissors, I’m going to go cut this down.”

Fellow downtown Rockfordians Mary McNamara and Tim Stotz helped Matthews take it down.

“This can’t stand you know, on the Fourth of July?,” said Stotz. “We didn’t fight in World War II for that to be hanging two blocks from my house.”

Matthews says a friend suggested they cut it up and give it to others to re-purpose. She posted a request for artists and got hundreds of responses.

“Probably 70 artists have picked up squares by now,” said Matthews. “I’ve shipped them to three states and five cities.”

One of those 70 artists is Bobbi Sorensen. She says she loves the idea of turning something so negative into a positive.

“What side of history do I want to be on?,” said Sorensen. “I don’t want to be on that side of history that’s turning a blind eye and saying that’s not my problem, I don’t want to get involved.”

Artists have already turned in finished pieces. All involved says the incident has made them pay more attention.

“We like to think our community is a bit immune from that and it’s not,” said Stotz. “It was a little bit of a wake up call.”

“If we’re not careful and we’re not aware, we’re not awake, we’re missing the spread of hatred,” said McNamara.

Matthews says she hopes to have all the pieces back by the end of July. Then, the artists plan on putting on an art show to display the work and donate the money raised to organizations fighting racism.