“The Museum of Broken Windows”—officially called “29 Million Dreams” for the $29 million the city spends daily on the NYPD—doesn’t need jagged glass to cut deep. The pop-up art show  of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) returned after five years in time for city budget season to address the NYPD’s daily price tag (and that number doesn’t include pensions) and how such spending affects over-policed groups like Black and brown New Yorkers. 

Doors opened in Lower Manhattan last Friday, April 28, and the show will run until the end of the week. 

“I think art is a beautiful component [that takes serious] issues like policing and police brutality [and] lightens the load [so] that message can come across,” said artist Russell Craig. “People become numb and this stuff becomes normal, but art makes you engage [with] these issues.” He likened the process to putting medicine in ice cream. 

The self-taught painter co-founded Right to Return, USA, a fellowship for justice-impacted artists. Many of their works are on display. Craig’s towering portrait of Breonna Taylor—who was killed in her own home by Louisville police—is probably the first piece visitors see when entering the Museum of Broken Windows.

“With ‘29 Million Dreams,’ the NYCLU and renowned artists invite New Yorkers to imagine what even a part of the fortune we spend on policing could do to create the thriving city we dream of,” said NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman in a statement. “As the Mayor and Council negotiate the city budget, they should break away from police-first problem-solving, visit the Museum of Broken Windows, and make our dreams reality.”

Co-curators Terrick Gutierrez and Daveen Trentman (left to right) Credit: Tandy Lau

Co-curators Daveen Trentman and Terrick Gutierrez told the Amsterdam News the exhibit connects a bloated police budget to issues like the killing of Eric Garner and the 19 detainees who died in or immediately after Department of Corrections custody last year. 

“There’s human consequence to policy and to budgets,” said Trentman. “Art [creates] more compassion and [draws] out the human consequence of those policies and budgets. Advocacy and policy work is so critical, but there’s also a pretty profound limit to what statistics can communicate.”

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“We came into curating this space [with] love and care,” said Gutierrez. “From my particular lived experience [of] being stopped and frisked when I was just 13 from South Central LA—I held that for 10 years—that trauma that was never addressed and I never could tell anyone because that’s just something that happens to you. 

“[We are] able to come into the space and have that informed experience to be able to ensure that we’re critical and careful about the way we diligently curate the shows.”

Photography gallery at Museum of Broken Windows pop-up. Credit: NYCLU

Columbia Journalism School professor Nina Berman—whose work was displayed at the inaugural 2018 Museum of Broken Windows—echoed the concept of art’s role in understanding the police budget.

“Are you really going to see when that flowchart is reported?” she said. “Is it higher or lower this year? It’s an easy thing to gloss over, so different approaches to storytelling are really essential. Whether you’re working in an artistic craft exclusively or [a] journalistic practice, where you’re trying to get your audience not just to understand the data, [but] understand the impact of those decisions, I think an art exhibition is certainly a start.”

What’s different this time around? Berman noticed a shift from a one-story gallery to two-story levels and commended an on-going partnership with Trentman’s Soze Agency.

“I like this collaboration. I actually would like to see more of it—when you have a civil rights group partnering with a PR firm that can actually curate a show,” she said. 

But Berman feared the exhibit’s trendy SoHo location won’t reach the city’s most-policed populations. Even the short walk from the #6 train station requires trudging past chic boutiques and NYU-enrolled hipsters. The NYCLU contends moving from the former West Village location closer to City Hall puts the message front-and-center to the elected officials passing by, potentially influencing their approach to budget talks and bringing such messages back to their constituents throughout the city.

Contributing photographer Kisha Bari said accessibility is the million-dollar question—or $29 million, and that word of mouth about the show is a start. 

“We’re still working hard to try and get people [who] may not know about what’s going on,” she said. 

“29 Million Dreams” runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until May 6 and is at 216 Lafayette Street. Admission is free.

Author’s note: Edits have been made to clarify the current museum’s size and partnership with Soze Agency existed in 2018. Additional context was also added about the show’s SoHo location. The exhibit has since been extended to run until May 20th since time of publishing.

Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.

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