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But Feuer, at least, hadn’t installed the piece before the commission backed away from it. DeVille wasn’t so lucky. Once the objections to “The New Migration” started, they didn’t stop. Some vandalized the sign erected to explain the project. “This building was a 12-step program!! How is this helping us? We were evicted for THIS?? Give me a Fu_king Break!!” wrote one detractor.
The commission wasn’t just fielding concerns from residents, either. “Given the negative feedback in the community and on social media, the removal is probably best,” Sheila Bunn, Vince Gray’s deputy chief of staff, wrote in a Sept. 11 email to the commission. Arts commissioner Marvin Bowser (brother of Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser) pressured commission chair Judith Terra to remove it in a Sept. 19 email to the other commissioners and Barry’s office. “I am going on record stating that your lack of leadership in addressing concerns brought forward by the Commission is appalling,” he wrote. “It’s just hard to fathom that a responsible city agency charged to promoting the city’s cultural economy could possibly conclude that New Migrations [sic] dropped in the middle of the fledgling Good Hope Road/MLK Ave Arts District is a positive, affirming action, or worth the taxpayer investment.”
There were some people in the city government, Thomas believes, who were scared of the political fallout a controversy like this could leave behind: “We like to think that the arts rise above politics, but that would not be an accurate statement.”
When complaints about art roll in, says Feuer, “the 5x5 organizers should be saying, ‘This is great. This is when it gets fun. This is when it starts getting good. This is how public art should function.’ ...If people with real vision were behind 5x5, they’d be excited about getting a reaction to the piece and getting people talking about it. They should be saying, ‘This is our moment to have a really awesome conversation about what the piece is about.’ Not to shut it down. That is disgusting.”