The group, Roc Arts United, wrote in a letter dated Jan. 25 that, according to the artists who created the mural, their work was “a direct response to the city of Rochester’s involvement in Mr. Prude’s death.”
“The city’s use of these images re-contextualizes the artworks and misrepresents the artists’ intentions,” the letter read. “We strongly condemn the mis-use of these artworks in this manner.”
The Prude mural, which depicts a black-and-white portrait of Prude against a backdrop of yellow and green silhouettes of people protesting and a city of Rochester logo, is located at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park at Manhattan Square.
A photograph of the mural was published in a 48-page booklet that outlined the mayor’s visions for the city and was a stand-in for a traditional State of the City address. The booklet was titled the “Equity and Recovery Agenda,” and the photo in question accompanied text under the headline, “Reforming our Police Department and Honoring the Life of Daniel Prude.”
The group’s letter also condemned the city’s use of a photo of the “I Am Speaking” mural of the late Rep. John Lewis on State Street because it did not credit the artists and, Roc Arts United claimed, lent to the perception that the city financed the project.
The mural was created by Ephraim Gebre, with the help of a team of artists, and was paid through a crowdfunding effort and donations.
“Equity starts with acknowledging artists,” the letter read, “and in both cases they were not mentioned or engaged.”
Roc Arts United, whose members include Rochester Contemporary Art Center Executive Director Bleu Cease, curator and educator Amanda Chestnut, and artist Kelly Cheatle, was formed in 2019 with a goal to represent the artist community.
Since its inception it has earned a reputation as a watchdog for artists’ rights and local government’s promises to the arts community.
In its letter, the group applauded the mayor’s promise in her State of the City to revive a “percent for art” ordinance that would allocate 1 percent of the cost of city capital infrastructure projects to fund the arts.
After criticizing the mayor, the group offered to advise her on the process for creating an arts commission. Warren has proposed establishing an arts commission to oversee the “percent for art fund” and engaging a consultant to aid in that process.
A lot of cities have an arts commission, but one has been absent in Rochester for decades.
“As a diverse group of working artists and community-invested arts professionals we believe that we are ideally positioned to advise on the process and ensure it is equitable, accessible, and transparent,” the letter read.
A message left for a city spokesperson seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Members of Roc Arts United are Albert Abonado, Jason Barber, Don Bartalo, Elizabeth Cameron, Bleu Cease, Kelly Cheatle, Amanda Chestnut, Shelancia Daniel, Quajay Donnell, Luticha Doucette, Hannah Lightbody, Thomas Warfield and Mona Seghatoleslami, an employee of WXXI Public Media, the parent organization of CITY.
Rebecca Rafferty is CITY’s life editor. She can be reached at [email protected]