Museum’s role in police mural draws criticism outside Detroit

He unveiled the mural outside the Sterling Heights Police Station with fanfare on 1 June. City Mayors in the Detroit Suburbs cut red ribbon To mark the installation of the artwork, which took three years in the making and depicts police officers bowing their heads and shaking hands in front of an American flag.

But in the week that followed, the work sponsored by the Detroit Institute of Arts has become a touchstone to controversy as critics denounce it as badly timed and outright pro-policing when they say that public discussion is about police. It should be about aggression. Some have called for it to be removed, and following backlash, the artist herself stated that she no longer considered it appropriate and that it is used by the museum, as part of an initiative working with surrounding counties. Paid for work. Tax dollars support its operation.

“I absolutely regret painting the murals,” artist Nicole McDonald said in an interview. She said it should be removed if it causes suffering to residents of the Detroit area. “DIA’s number one priority should be serving people in the city who are predominantly black; Instead, it represents principles of power that have historically been racist.”

As museum leaders across the country are challenged whether their institutions are systemically racist, the Detroit Institute of Arts has recently faced questions About whether it is doing enough to meet the needs of the predominantly black city in which it is located or the people of color on its staff.

The museum has protested that it is also required to provide programming for the three surrounding counties, which came to the museum’s defense in 2012 when they agreed to pay Additional tax to support the institution. About two-thirds of the museum’s budget is now written off with money from the three counties.

The mural in Sterling Heights, titled “To Serve and Protect”, was created as part of the museum “Partners in the Public Art” Initiative, it is one of the programs that runs a portion of the tax funds to fulfill a commitment to reinvest in the communities that pay them.

Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dvojkowski said he and his colleagues intended the work – which is a memorial to the three fallen officers – to portray noble values ​​such as service, family, unity and inclusion, and that it To show that “the police and the community are one.”

“After what happened in this country last year, I can’t think of anything more fitting than this,” he said. “The graffiti represents the police officers doing their job while protecting the community that loves their police department.”

But when the mural was promoted by the museum over the weekend, critics said it was a bad time and argued that the museum should be focused on addressing issues of police violence, not respecting police. Detroit-based artist Sherina Rodriguez Sharp said it represented “a graffiti painting on the history of colonialism and violence”.

Artist Javiera Simmons, who donated the artifacts to the museum, called its role “a great crime”.

“We are talking about dismantling the police and they are strengthening their relationship with the police,” she said. Simmons said she will decline future donation requests from the institution until she sees it assess its history of funding, whitewashing and evictions.

Following the uproar, the museum removed a social media post about the mural, originally designed to draw attention to the work, and a subsequent post that was used to explain that He had deleted the original post “out of concern”. Individuals who were being personally targeted in the comments.”

The museum said that ideas for public art like murals come from communities, not museums, and that its role was limited to helping to find an artist and funnel input from its community partners, in this case the City of Sterling Heights and the police. It said it earmarked $6,400 for the cost of the mural, and other installation costs were paid for by Sterling Heights.

In a statement addressing the criticism, the institute acknowledged that the diverse makeup of Detroit and its surrounding districts meant that different regions would have different perspectives on their art, and that the surrounding racism and police violence The national conversation had changed since the work. was painted.

“A broad and diversified sector supports the DIA with millage funds, providing more than two-thirds of our operating budget,” it said. “As a result, individual communities will have preferences that are very different from others.”

“Since 2018, the year this mural was painted, a lot has happened in our country and we understand,” it added. And respect that many members of our community are hurt and angry. To support healing, we will continue to invest in partnerships with community-based nonprofits leading and serving the BIPOC community in the tri-county area.

Michael C. Taylor, Mayor of sterling heights, a city of 130,000, defends the mural as a symbol of good policing.

“The reason we are pushing public art, using resources and taxpayer dollars, is because we want to change the conversation,” he said. “This graffiti is about the police department serving the community.”

Chief Dozakowski said the artist’s depiction of some officers of color was meant to show inclusion. Critics said they did not think the mural depicted a diverse police force.

In the workshops at the museum, 20-foot by 30-foot mural painted tiles created by Sterling Heights police officers and their families under the artist’s supervision. (Most tiles express symbols of peace and love, but depict a skull with a “Thin Blue Line” symbol that is used to show support for law enforcement, but some say the racial justice movement protest is indicated.)

At the installation on June 1, Macdonald spoke with a museum official and said the work was about peace and introspection. In an interview, she said she regretted including the American flag, which she believes may have been misunderstood by some as sanctioning police violence.

But critics said the involvement of the museum, which gave its approval to the artwork, was troubling.

“Fulfilling the wishes of the Sterling Heights local community,” said Kevin Beasley, a noted artist who completed his undergraduate studies in Detroit, “doesn’t mean you no longer have responsibility for the wider context.”

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