As Mayor Eric Adams works toward finalizing the next city budget, with painful cuts for most city agencies while largely sparing the police, a free pop-up art show aims to remind him — and everyone — of the casualties of too much policing. 

The show presented by the New York Civil Liberties Union, entitled “29 Million Dreams,” is running from today through May 6 in SoHo, where work from more than 70 artists is on display in an exhibition that “asks what toll the city’s overreliance on policing has taken on our ability to deliver the real supports and solutions we need to have the thriving city we dream of.”

Those 29 million dreams represent the $29 million the NYCLU says the city spends per day on policing. 

The show, at 216 Lafayette St., is a second edition of the NYCLU’s Museum of Broken Windows, which began in 2018 as a yearlong pop-up with artwork that critiqued the “broken windows” policing strategy

An image in the show depicts how much of the city’s budget goes to the NYPD, April 27, 2023. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said the time is right for the new exhibition, “as New York City is being urged to adopt a budget that cuts schools, and health care, and libraries, and fails to fund childcare or the arts adequately, [while] we’re told that the police budget is untouchable.

“It’s not. And we want people to come here, dream with us and not see 29 million dreams deferred each day, something that we can invest in and realize,” she added.

Asked about the art show, City Hall Deputy Press Secretary Jonah Allon said the NYPD’s budget in the mayor’s proposal for the coming fiscal year “is $5.3B, which is less than $29 million per day.”

Shattered Lives

The show includes a rendering in acrylic on canvas of the face of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was shot and killed by police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, during a botched drug raid in 2020.

The piece is the work of Russell Craig, 42, a self-taught artist from Philadelphia whose work has been displayed at MoMA PS1, Columbia University and the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and is part of the Brooklyn Museum’s permanent collection. 

Craig was incarcerated for 12 years, during which time he developed his love of art and creativity, he said. He co-founded Right of Return after his release, which calls itself “the first and only national initiative dedicated to supporting and mentoring formerly incarcerated creatives.”

“I’m just glad people are drawn to the exhibit and drawn to the work,” Craig told THE CITY at a preview of the show on Thursday, ahead of its opening Friday. 

“What’s that saying? ‘If you build it, they will come.’ That’s what we did here, and that’s what I try to do with Right to Return,” he said.

Co-curator Terrick Gutierrez discussed his work, ‘Never Needed Police Departments,’ April 27, 2023. Credit: Stephon Johnson/THE CITY

Other artists whose work was displayed included muralist Donna Grace Kroh, visual artist Brandan ‘BMike’ Odums, painter Susan Chen, photographer Gabriel Chiu, and former Guggenheim Fellow Dread Scott. Also, on the walls inside are blown-up copies of news articles on posters, along with others showing facts and numbers about police violence.

The show also features “Never Needed Police Departments,” a mixed-media painting by co-curator Terrick Gutierrez depicting the floodlight surveillance that police often install in majority Black and Brown neighborhoods.

The floodlight in that work has a number on it that’s meaningful: 3,954 Kelvin, which appears in serial numbers in the piece. It’s a detail that Gutierrez , 28, said he wanted to “strip out from my narrative.”

That number represents “the temperature of the brightness of the light,” he said. “Anything above 3,000 Kelvin harms the human eye.”

Projecting the Message

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander projected last month that the NYPD will spend $740 million on overtime in the current fiscal year — or double the $374 million budgeted for that. 

That’s money, said Lieberman, that could have gone to funding essential services and avoiding cuts in other agencies.

The NYCLU’s “Museum of Broken Windows” at 216 Lafayette St. is the group’s second art show in recent years, April 27, 2023. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“Eric Adams, who used to be an NYCLU client back in the day, has chosen to jump on the bandwagon of promoting fear and cultivating support among the PBA,” said Lieberman, referring to Adams’ work with the civil liberties group when he was a member of the NYPD pushing to reform it from within, and to the expensive raises in the new contract Adams just signed with the city’s biggest police union.

“But it is not a service to the workers or community” to do that, Lieberman continued, noting that the NYCLU paid for a truck to circle City Hall all week promoting “29 Million Dreams.”

Asked about the truck, Allon from City Hall said he knew of no one in the building who had noticed or heard about it.