BeltLine art display featuring black men in prison is racist, man says

ATLANTA — A man says an art display on the Atlanta BeltLine featuring African-American men in prison is racist.

The photos were displayed briefly on the Westside Beltline Trail off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard before someone took them down. That person was Shawn Deangelo Walton, and Channel 2's Aaron Diamant spoke exclusively to him.

The exhibit featured a photo from the program called Canine CellMates that uses dogs to help prisoners. On Sunday, the director told Channel 2's Tyisha Fernandes the photos weren't intended to offend or disrespect anyone but without any context, the photos could be misunderstood.

“But for me, it’s personal,” Walton said. “For this community it’s personal.”


Walton removed the photo and put it in his living room, where he showed Diamant the kind of art he feels BeltLine leaders should have considered.

“More positive images of black fathers, of black children that are smiling, that are happy,” Walton said.  “I mean, isn’t that what the BeltLine is supposed to bring to this community?”

Art display on BeltLine featuring African American men in prison is racist, man says. 

And while the program’s director says the photos simply showcase the group’s work, local photographer Michael Reese, whose own work was displayed right next to it, says it just isn’t right.

“You are putting something in the community,” Reese 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.”

Either way, BeltLine leaders 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. The community is understandably and justifiably upset and for that we humbly apologize. We make no excuses and are in the process of investigating the process of how this occurred in order to take the most appropriate action to ensure this does not happen again. This includes seeking new ways to involve communities in the art selection process so that it is inclusive and respectful of their rich and vibrant history".

Meantime Walton replaced the banner he took with artwork he hopes will inspire.

“This gives more of an impression of education, progressive culture, dignity, and those are a lot of things about respecting yourself,” Walton said. “That’s the type of imagery that I would like to encourage.”

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