“Telling the Stories of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community”

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“Telling the Stories of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community”

VIEWS: 294 September 20, 2023

City of Mesa Postpones Exhibition Featuring O’odham Artists

By Chris Picciuolo

Beginning on September 8, four artists, including Thomas “Breeze” Marcus (Tohono O’odham) and Douglas Miles (San Carlos Apache/Akimel O’odham), were supposed to have their artwork on display for a fall exhibition at the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum.

Now, the city says that the exhibition, titled “Just Cause: The Power of Contemporary Art in Civics Engagement,” is postponed until October, with a new opening date not yet set.

Mesa Public Information & Communications director Ana Pereira told O’odham Action News, “the postponement of the MCAM fall exhibit was always intended to be a pause to allow the City and its Arts and Culture Department to examine its processes after uncovering a lack of contracts with artists when questions arose about the text of an art piece.”

Representatives for the City of Mesa previously said in an official statement that the art piece “could be disparaging toward some City of Mesa employees.”

Pereira said the City communicated the postponement to all the artists as soon as there was an issue.

“We are reaching out to them all now to find ways to ease inconveniences from the delay and invite them back to the museum,” she said. “The City of Mesa and Mesa Arts Center value our longstanding partnership with Native American tribes.”

The art piece that caused a stir was by a well-known visiting artist and activist Shepard Fairey, best known as the designer of the Barack Obama “Hope” campaign poster of 2008. It depicts a police officer in riot gear with a flower at the end of his baton.

The decision to postpone the exhibition caused an uproar in the local art community, especially among O’odham and other Native artists. It even made national news. The National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona wrote a letter to the city on August 8 urging them to reinstate the exhibition.

The City of Mesa and Fairey have agreed on a solution to show Fairey’s artwork but include a disclaimer at the entry to the exhibition.

Marcus told O’odham Action News that he won’t be moving forward with any art-related projects with the City of Mesa in the foreseeable future. He said that, due to the postponement, he had to act quickly and send his works to other markets, because as a full-time artist, he needs to make a living. He spent an entire year working on these large paintings.  

“That’s a year of bills related to my studio space, plus the amount of money you have to put in to acquire art supplies,” Marcus said. “[The relationship with the City of Mesa] doesn’t feel repairable. It feels as if this was a personal attack or discrimination against Native folks, and in particular O’odham folks. It feels like an attack on the First Amendment.”

At the time of this article, Marcus is the only artist on the original lineup who will not be participating in the exhibition in October.