Artwork covering a Milwaukee County Transit System bus is causing quite a stir in the community.
The images on the bus show individuals being arrested by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, includes the message “Stop ICE” and lists what people should do if ICE agents come to their door.
It states: Do not open doors, remain silent, report the raid, fight back, organize resources, do not sign anything without talking to an attorney.
The artwork was created by a group of Milwaukee-area high school students as part of a project sponsored by the Milwaukee Art Museum.
The students were allowed to choose their project and then express themselves as they deemed fit.
The artwork is powerful. The problem is with the placement on the county buses, which are operated with taxpayer money. Lots of it.
Granted, the Art Museum did pay for the artwork to go on the buses. But the Transit System has to use some discretion. What if the young artists had chosen the opposite view, saying all illegal immigrants should be arrested? Would that have been allowed?
This reminds us of the incident in June, when Gov. Tony Evers flew an LGBT pride flag over the state Capitol and at other state facilities.
The issue is not with the message. The issue is with the placement.
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Flying a partisan flag on state property, or allowing an overtly political message on a public bus, makes that message government-sponsored speech.
It opens a Pandora’s box for any and all sorts of political causes to demand their ads run on the side of buses.
Yazmillie Reyes, a student artist involved with the project, said the goal of the project was to encourage more understanding.
An Art Museum spokesperson said in a statement: “All the content, including the written content, was created or sourced through research by the teens as they explored the topic and created the artwork. We hope the attention around this artwork can lead to conversations about how art can foster important conversations, and bring people together around tough issues in a constructive, positive way.”
The students should be commended for their work. Their work has generated a good discussion about art.
However, Milwaukee County Transit System officials shouldn’t have allowed it go to on public buses.
The outside of public buses shouldn’t be politicized.
The Transit System must revisit and revise its policy to exclude political messages.