A local man is upset over an art display on the Atlanta BeltLine that features African-American men in prison, so much so, that he removed the artwork himself.
Shawn Deangelo Walton said he feels the display, which was briefly exhibited on the Westside BeltLine Trail near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, is racist and portrays Black men in a negative light, local station WSB-TV reported. The exhibit featured a photo from a program called Canine CellMates, which uses dogs to rehabilitate incarcerated men.
Program director Susan Jacobs-Meadows spoke with the station Sunday, Sept. 3, and said the photo was not meant to offend or disrespect anyone. However, she acknowledged how the image might be misinterpreted without any context.
For Walton, who removed the photo and hung it in his living room, this is a personal issue.
“For this community, it’s personal,” Walton told WSB-TV, adding that he felt the BeltLine should have considered artwork that features positive images of Black fathers and children who are happy. “I mean, isn’t that what the BeltLine is supposed to bring to this community?”
Michael Reese, a local photographer whose work was displayed right next to the Canine Cellmate photos, agreed. Reese said the group should’ve thought about the impact the photos would have before putting them up.
“You are putting something in the community,” he said. “It’s like you have to do your broader homework of how it’s going to affect the community and how it’s going to be interpreted.”
BeltLine leaders have since apologized and in a written statement said:
“We have seen the photos that were installed on the Westside Trail and we are gravely concerned that those images were a part of this year’s Art on the Atlanta BeltLine exhibit displayed in the community. Art on the Atlanta BeltLine was created to make art accessible to everyone by bringing the exhibit to public spaces and in doing so, be respectful of the community. The photos that were displayed did not reflect our commitment to do that.”
Moving forward, BeltLine leaders said they will seek new ways to involve the community in the art selection process to ensure it’s inclusive. Meanwhile, Walton replaced the display he took with artwork he believes will be more inspiring to passersby.