by DARIEN LAMEN
Prominent members of Rochester's arts community are calling on Mayor Lovely Warren to address what they characterize as the mis-use of two local murals in the City's State of the City marketing materials released earlier this month.
In a letter dated January 25, members of the Roc Arts United Steering Committee blasted the City for including photos of the "I am speaking..." and Daniel Prude memorial murals in its printed and digital promotional materials without crediting the artists, or seeking their permission.
The City's prominent use of the "I am speaking" mural under the subheading "Arts Equity" initiatives also misleadingly suggests it was funded by the City of Rochester, the letter says. In fact, the mural by Rochester/Brooklyn-based artist Ephraim Gebre was "made possible through crowdfunding, material donation, and the overwhelming generosity of the artist team," the letter says.
"It is unacceptable to feature a photo of this mural so prominently, without any request for permission, without financial support from the City of Rochester, and without credit given to the artists who created."
The signatories of the January 25 letter also condemned the City's use of a Daniel Prude memorial mural in its State of the City promotional materials. Artists Estee Cheng and Nikko Quiñones, and Project AIR collaborators Jessica Cheng and Alexa Guzman, say they created the mural in direct response to the City's mishandling of Daniel Prude's death at the hands of Rochester Police Officers in March 2020.
"The City’s use of these images re-contextualizes the artworks and misrepresents the artists’ intentions," the letter says, adding, "We strongly condemn the mis-use of these artworks in this manner."
A photo of the Daniel Prude memorial mural was also used in a City of Rochester Instagram post that has since been taken down.
Anger has been simmering in Rochester's arts community for years over the chronic underfunding of the arts, despite the fact that many elected officials are eager to use public art to advance major development projects in the Inner Loop, a process some refer to as "artwashing."
But this week's open letter to Mayor Warren is the latest sign that the low-simmering tension is boiling over into public pushback against the Democratic leadership of both County and City government.
In her January 7th State of the City address, Mayor Lovely Warren proposed establishing an Arts Equity Fund to address inequities in public arts funding. That fund would allocate 1% of funding from every capital project for infrastructure over $1 million to a fund for local artists.
The Roc Arts Steering Committee says they support such a measure. But they're pushing for local, democratic control over the allocation of those resources.
"We advise against spending limited City resources on an external advisor, and instead propose keeping these funds within the local art community," the letter says.
The City of Rochester has yet to publicly respond to the letter.
-- DARIEN LAMEN is news director/producer for Reclaiming the Narrative. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org