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Citing Significant Response To Its Removal, Landlord Says East Liberty Art Billboard Can Go Back Up

Photo by Jon Rubin
Alisha Wormsley's billboard in East Liberty that was removed last week

That work of billboard art in East Liberty that was taken down last week can go back up, according to a statement issued this morning by the landlord of the building the billboard stands on.

*This story will be updated regularly.

Eve Picker, owner of We Do Property, had ordered the curator of The Last Billboard art project to remove the message reading “There Are Black People in the Future” because some people had said they were offended by it. The message was written by local artist Alisha Wormsley. Picker also said the message violated the lease agreement because her tenant, Carnegie Mellon Associate Professor of Art Jon Rubin, had not sought approval for the message before installing it.

News of the removal spurred accusations of racism and censorship toward We Do Property. Today, Picker wrote that the emails We Do Property has received from people who “are not offended by the sign and are saddened by its removal … far outnumber the people who originally approached us about being offended.”

“We are giving the tenant full approval to reinstate the original sign,” read the statement.

Messages to Rubin and Wormsley seeking comment had not been returned at the time of this posting.

No word either on whether the announcement affects a planned April 18 public forum on the issue at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater.

UPDATE: This afternoon, East Liberty Development Inc., a nonprofit community-development group, issued a statement indicating that it was the party that started what it called a "firestorm" over the billboard when it emailed Rubin and Picker "asking about the meaning of the message in question and suggesting that the message was ambiguous and could be considered tone deaf given the gentrification debate underway in the neighborhood and the need to bring back" the mostly African-American residents of Penn Plaza, a housing complex razed last year to make way for new development.

ELDI wrote that its email "was prompted by concerns raised by individuals of color who were confused about the context and intent of the message."

ELDI said it never asked the message be removed, but only inquired how long it would remain.

Many in the community, ELDI said, are baffled by The Last Billboard, which sits atop a two-story building in the heart of the neighborhood, right near East Liberty Presbyterian Church and the neighborhood's branch of the Carnegie Library.

"No one in the neighborhood  knows why or when messages are changed, who the authors are or the context of the messages." Prior messages, by various artists, have included "We've Tried Everything" and "It's Time to Fight! And It's Time To Stop Fighting!"

ELDI suggested that "a sign should be affixed to the billboard directing people to a website that will contain background on all messages going forward."