2020 Difference Makers: Malcolm McCrae

Malcolm McCrae
Aaron Eisenhower ~ B Magazine

Editor's note: This is one of 12 Newsmakers stories in B Magazine. To read other stories about area Newsmakers, click here. And to subscribe to the print edition of B Magazine, click here.

"The more problems we have, the more murals we need," says Malcolm McCrae.

McCrae is a Cape Girardeau artist on a mission. Through his latest project, Pollination Station, he plans to spread positivity around the world, like bees spread pollen. It's the blueprint of Mother Nature, but also his motto for life: "Create. Share. Grow". And he's using a 40-foot, converted coach bus, to travel across the United States and make it happen.

But, of course, his story didn't start there.

McCrae was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, an '80s baby, raised in the projects during a time when hip-hop culture was really gaining momentum. His dad, Bankole Agbon a.k.a "Pops," was an art teacher at the Boys and Girls Club, in a high-crime, poverty-stricken environment. From a young age, and surrounded by a whole slew of creative mentors, McCrae was able to see the positive impact that art could have on a community.

Then, around the age of 12 after the divorce of his parents and later the death of his mom, McCrae and his dad found themselves living in an abandoned warehouse in Columbus, Ohio.

Knowing that art was a way to deal with his emotions and work through the pain, McCrae began shoveling snow and looking for ways to make money to buy his first airbrush kit. Soon after, the family started a screen-printing and airbrush company, and while the money was there, the passion was not.

"I realized that I have a responsibility as an artist to be truthful and be honest with my art," McCrae said. "Then, I was providing a service. Now, it's using art as my voice."

As an activist, author, speaker and educator, McCrae hopes to use his story to inspire and motivate communities, not just in Southeast Missouri, where he has lived since 2006, but across the world. He wants to encourage youth, especially those at-risk, to become a part of something, to create and to dream big.

According to McCrae, art is healing and magic, all rolled into one. Art is visualizing something in your head and creating something out of nothing. It's going deep inside of yourself and learning to make something beautiful out of the broken. And though the end product won't last forever, the blessing is in the process. It's something to be trusted. Which is why he and Pops, along with his wife Natalie, headed out on the bus -- during a pandemic and while the country is living in racial tension and a lot of unknowns -- because "we need art everywhere we possibly can."

The bus provides them the opportunity to get into neighborhoods that wouldn't necessarily be able to support their program. Being mobile allows them to go anywhere and bring art to the people and the communities that need it.

Currently, Malcolm is working on a few large scale mural projects in St. Louis, has signed with a local business in downtown Cape Girardeau, and has an upcoming art mural with Sikeston schools. He also hopes to head back to Milwaukee for a weeklong community project with youth from his hometown.

"My plan is to paint Cape Girardeau, yellow, purple, blue and gold," says McCrae, who admits that if it was up to him, "every building would be a different color."

And the way that Southeast Missouri loves Malcolm McCrae, they just might let him do it. Which is good, because he loves them right back. As for the future, he hopes that even in these weird times, art will be used as a bench mark to help us remember; a creative time capsule archived all over YouTube and Instagram, but captured in the hearts of a unified community.