A gallery of posters and other artwork supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement installed in a dozen locations around Rochester and its suburbs didn’t last a day in Fairport.
Within hours of the pieces going up in the early morning on Saturday, they were removed and the hunt to find them and the people who brought them down began.
The gallery was destroyed that afternoon by two men, at least one of whom was affiliated with a prominent business in the village — Fairport Brewing Company.
The company has since issued a statement saying the man was no longer employed, after images and videos of the men caught in the act were widely circulated on social media.
Village residents gathered Sunday to re-install the artwork and for an impromptu Black Lives Matter rally. About 200 people attended the rally.
CAUGHT IN THE ACT
The artwork, produced by a new group called Project A.I.R., was taped to a wooden sign listing the names of businesses at the entrance of the Fairport Landing commercial plaza, as well as a few other street-facing walls in the village.
- PHOTO PROVIDED
- Two men are caught on camera destroying Project A.I.R.'s artwork in support of the BLM movement.
Claudia Steblen, 19, captured the men on video while taking in the artwork with her mother. She posted her footage on Instagram when she returned home with a plea to help identify them.
“After they began ripping them down, me and my family began yelling, ‘Hey, can you guys not do that?’” Claudia said.
She said the men called back, “These people don’t have a permit to put these up.”
“We said, ‘It’s artwork, it’s about equality, about black people wanting equality,’” Steblen said. “And one of the dudes was like, ‘Oh, they don’t want equality.’”
Steblen’s mother, Kathy, recalled the men commenting that they did not like the message, that the artwork was ugly, and identifying themselves as Village of Fairport employees — a claim Fairport police later confirmed was false.
People who commented on Steblen’s post recognized at least one of the men as a Fairport Brewing Company employee.
The brewery on Sunday issued a statement on social media saying that an employee had removed the artwork. The statement went on to apologize and say the employee had been placed on “administrative leave.”
“Fairport Brewing believes in and stands with the Black Lives Matter cause,” the statement began. “FBC does not condone the action taken by the FBC employee removing BLM artwork from the community and we were distraught to learn what had taken place.”
The statement went on to read that the company’s owner, Tim Garman, was not involved and that the company had made a monetary donation to Black Lives Matter. The statement did not identify the employee by name and made no mention of the second man.
Another business, Fairport Kung Fu, also issued a statement on its Facebook page that read one of its “partners” was involved in the incident, and that it had terminated its relationship with that partner.
The relationship between the company and the partner was not clear. A message seeking clarification left at the company was not immediately returned.
This is the second bit of controversy surrounding Fairport Brewing Company this month. The company had taken heat last week after posting a now-deleted tweet asking which was worse: the pandemic-related lockdowns or the “riots,” an apparent reference to the unrest that has followed some protests.
A VISIT FROM THE POLICE
Fairport Chief of Police Sam Farina said that one of his officers, Chris Dinan, visited the Steblens’ home to gather a witness statement, after seeing the post on Claudia’s Instagram feed.
Kathy Steblen said Dinan told her that the men contacted police after also seeing the video and that he had spoken with them.
“He told them that they did not have the authority to take things down, and he did not want to censor my daughter,” Kathy said. “However, he said there was some risk that if something is done to their business, say someone were to damage something at their business, that it could have repercussions for Claudia. And of course we don’t want that to happen.”
She added: “I just hope this doesn’t cause a problem for us living in this neighborhood. We like living in Fairport, we just wanted to show [our daughter] some artwork, and were very surprised that people were taking it down.”
The Village of Fairport issued a statement on its Facebook page that touched on the incident and reinforced its code for signage.
“The Village of Fairport supports every individual’s right to free speech,” the statement read in part. “We want to ensure messages are heard and events are as successful as possible. The Village asks that in an effort to support this, community members not place signage and other forms of advertising on public property. This defaces the community and requires enforcement by our staff.”
Fairport Deputy Mayor Matthew Brown also issued a statement on his Facebook page addressing the incident.
“This weekend, the two white men who removed the BLM sign did so in broad daylight because they thought there would be no consequences,” Brown wrote. “They did so knowing there was a pretty good chance that anyone who saw them doing it would think it would be okay. They did it thinking, maybe rightly, that Black Lives Matter is something that no one in the suburbs cares about. If this is what they thought, then I have to ask: How and why are we allowing people to believe these things?”
Brown’s full statement includes an exploration of the history of the redlining that made suburbs inaccessible to “certain types of people,” its legacy, and points to the town’s upcoming re-vamp of its comprehensive plan as an opportunity for citizens to participate in shaping Fairport’s future.
SUPPORTERS LOUDER THAN DETRACTORS
Alexa Guzmán, who founded Project A.I.R., said that the art installations received mostly positive feedback.
- PHOTO BY ALEXA GUZMÁN
- Community members re-install posters in support of the BLM movement in Fairport on Sunday.
That was Sunday. On the same day that the community re-installed posters supporting the BLM movement, a "Fairport Supports Black Lives Walk" took place at 3 p.m. at Potter Park, hosted by BLM organizers. Guzman was invited to speak, followed by a march. All donations received during the event were donated to Project A.I.R.
- PHOTO BY ALEXA GUZMÁN
- Black Lives Matter organizers held a march in Fairport on Sunday, June 7, which was attended by about 200 people.
This is a developing story.
Rebecca Rafferty is CITY's arts & entertainment editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.