Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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The city of Albuquerque is facing backlash from a host of civil rights groups for including a painting by Proud Boys member Bradley Burris at a community exhibition curated by the city titled “Our Existential Space” at the South Broadway Cultural Center, a community center in the heart of one of the city’s oldest Hispanic neighborhoods. Burris is the head of the Albuquerque Proud Boys Chapter, a far-right extremist group classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

The city says that they were unaware of Burris’ affiliation with the Proud Boys before selecting his painting. The city’s Department of Arts and Culture does not have a policy in which they conduct background research on the artists before making exhibit selections. “Neither the Public Art Division nor the Satellite Galleries program research the background (criminal background, political affiliation, racial identity, etc.) of artists who submit artwork or proposals to open calls,” said Tanya Lenti, marketing manager of the Art and Culture Department. The department has a strict policy against featuring pieces that display racist or offensive themes but has yet to have a concrete policy towards racist or offensive artists. 

For many, it is difficult to believe that the city failed to recognize the outspoken leader of the Proud Boys New Mexico chapter. According to New Mexico Political Report, Burris organized the “Freedom First Flag Wave” rally in September 2019. Only 20 people came out in support of the rally, with an additional 100 counterprotesters. Members of the Hiwaymen, a neo-confederate group, were also in attendance to show their support for Burris. Earlier that same year, Burris hosted a Proud Boys podcast.   

“I am not buying that the gallery did not know Burris was a Proud Boy, I’m just not,” founder of People Requiring Equality within Systemic Racism (PRESS) New Mexico Barbara Jordan said. PRESS has condemned the city’s decision to feature Burris’ painting. In an email to The Paper. Jordan voiced the organization’s frustration with the city about featuring a painting by Burris.  

“We must call out white supremacy every time. I do support freedom of speech. I do, but not when you are displaying it at a building being funded by taxpayers’ dollars, at an exhibit that has the potential to influence our children to make them believe that white supremacy is okay. This is not the New Mexico that I fight for and have grown to love,” Jordan said. 

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) New Mexico chapter has also been critical of the city for featuring Burris’ work. “When you allow violent white men into these spaces into our community, you are telling us you don’t care about us. You are telling us that you support the same ideologies of hate and acts of violence that these types of individuals are involved in but never held accountable for,” The Black Lives Matter ABQ New Mexico posted on their Facebook page.  

The city is steadfast in its stance that they were unaware of Burris’ affiliation with the Proud Boys. “Artists were solely selected for the show based on their application, artist statement on their submitted artwork, and the relevance of that work to the show’s theme,” Lenti said. “There were 34 other artists in the show, many of whom have never been included in exhibitions at city facilities until now. Lifting up their works and creative voices is a central intention of open calls for artists.”

Still, many civil rights groups are demanding a formal apology from the city and gallery before moving on from the mistake. “The gallery needs to remove the work and offer a public apology to the BIPOC community. The gallery needs to come up with a plan of action to educate themselves on the bias they so blatantly displayed by allowing the work of Burris to be displayed,” Jordan said.

Southwest Contemporary, an arts and culture magazine, reported that the city closed the exhibit earlier this week due to the facility requiring urgent repairs. The exhibit opened on June 3 and was initially scheduled to run until July 16.