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Black artist’s words removed from billboard called ‘tragically ironic

Pennsylvania

Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 4/5/2018, 10:28 a.m.
A controversy is brewing over the removal of a Black artist's message — “There Are Black People In..

A controversy is brewing over the removal of a Black artist's message — “There Are Black People In The Future” — from an art installation atop a building in East Liberty, Pennsylvania, reports the Tribune Review near Pittsburgh. Larimer artist Alisha Wormsley's message was one of 34 that have been posted, one at a time, on a large billboard atop the Werner Building at the intersection of South Highland Avenue and Baum Boulevard since 2013. Building owner We Do Property Management had the message removed, according to Pittsburgh artist and Carnegie Mellon University professor Jon Rubin, who created the installation dubbed the Last Billboard. “Last week, The Last Billboard's landlord, We Do Property, forced Wormsley’s text to be taken down over objections to the content (through a never-before-evoked clause in the lease that gives the landlord the right to approve text),” Professor Rubin said in a statement. The message went up in March. It was unclear why We Do Property objected. The company's website directs callers to Caryn B. Rubinoff, principal of the Rubinoff Co., downtown, which shares the same Liberty Avenue address as We Do Property. Rubinoff did not return a message seeking comment. The Rubinoff Co. manages, leases and maintains about 2 million square feet of office, flex, warehouse and residential space in the Pittsburgh area, including the Koppers Building, downtown, according to its website. In a statement, Rubin said, “I believe in the power, poetry and relevance of Alisha's text and see absolutely no reason it should have been taken down. I find it tragically ironic, given East Liberty's history and recent gentrification, that a text by an African-American artist affirming a place in the future for Black people is seen as unacceptable in the present.” The decision touched off a firestorm of controversy on social media. Dozens of people have posted supportive comments on Wormsley's Facebook page, which contains a repost of Rubin's statement along with a photograph of the billboard containing her message. The thread has generated hundreds of shares. Funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation, the billboard has included other one-line messages in the past.