Wisconsin’s Madison Central Public Library has found itself in the midst of intense controversy over a painting about police brutality. And library officials say the art will stay right where it is.
Mike Lroy’s piece “Don’t Shoot” features a black child holding a toy gun, facing off with several police officers. As political art goes, it could hardly be more timely. As Lroy’s explains, “For those who have had the privilege of ignoring these gross injustices, I hope to startle, shock, and interrupt your reality.”
As you might expect, police groups aren’t keen on the piece. In a joint statement, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association and the Madison Professional Police Officers Association say that while they have “utmost respect for the value of artistic expression and free speech,” they are “deeply troubled” by a piece that “only serves to advance patently negative law enforcement stereotypes.”
But the groups are not asking for the painting to be taken down; their statement points out that they “find this publicly-sponsored art display both offensive and indicative of terribly poor judgment.”
Madison Central Library Director Greg Mickells intends to keep the piece in the museum: “We do not endorse the content of the artwork, but we are a platform for community conversations.”
That is a very encouraging response–from both sides. This recalls a similar incident at a library in Long Beach, California. In January, artist Lethia Cobbs was asked to remove a piece about police brutality from an exhibit of dolls because it would be “too controversial”–a strange reaction, given that she was asked to produce an “edgy” exhibit.
In the end, the “Dollandia” exhibit went on display without censorship–a victory, for sure, and a reminder that libraries can serve as important public spaces for artistic expression and discussion.
Lroy says he hopes his piece will spark “genuine dialogue with others.” Let’s hope so.