Broken glass littered the sidewalk outside 4Most Gallery March 27 after someone threw rocks through the window. Inside, a painting of a blazing jailhouse set against a natural scene showcased the exhibition’s goal: a society without prisons.
Kayla Burnett has a one year fellowship with UF teaching art students, curating exhibitions, using studio space as the 4Most artist-in-residence. The attacks felt personal, they said.
“Students should be allowed to speak on whatever beliefs that they have,” Burnett said.
Florida Prisoner Solidarity announced on Instagram March 28 the windows had been smashed. The vandalism came about two weeks after UF took down banners that hung on the outside of 4Most Gallery as part of the exhibit. The banners were bed sheets painted with “ALACHUA JAIL HAS BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS,” “ABOLISH GPD” and “ABOLISH PRISONS.”
The 4Most Gallery, located on Southwest 4th Avenue, operates as an off-campus UF space for the artist in residence — now Burnett — to curate art shows. Burnett has complete autonomy over the artists they choose to showcase. They also teach a class to 30 to 40 freshmen in the attached WARPhaus as a part of the fellowship.
The gallery housed an art exhibit called “Burn It Down: Communications of Resistance,” by Florida Prisoner Solidarity, a prison abolitionist group, March 10 to 29. The exhibit featured artwork by prisoners, letters from inmates detailing the conditions of Florida prisons and artwork by members of the organization.
Alex Greene, an organizer with Florida Prisoner Solidarity, said she believes right-wing activists are behind the vandalism.
“We have political messages that a lot of people don't agree with because they believe we should continue enslaving people in prisons,” Greene said.
UF doesn’t know the motive behind the attack, UF spokesperson Cynthia Roldan told The Alligator. However, UF affirms its support for the First Amendment rights of the artists whose exhibition was targeted.
“As a public institution, UF is committed to providing and supporting First Amendment protections for our students, faculty, staff and other members of the university community,” Roldan said.
A statement to students and faculty from Elizabeth Ross, an associate professor and the director of the UF School of Art and Art History, said UF removed the banners because they may have been misconstrued as UF’s speech. The artists and curator also didn’t seek approval to install artwork on the roof and exterior walls, violating rules outlined in the SAAH Faculty Handbook and the SAAH Graduate Handbook, she said.
SAAH didn’t have specific guidelines prohibiting Burnett or the artists from installing the banners, but it did cross the line for some existing policies in the handbooks, Ross said.
“It has become clear from this situation that we need to offer more support for the 4Most Resident, including clear processes and guidelines for curating shows in the gallery,” she wrote.
After the banners were removed during spring break, Florida Prisoner Solidarity decided to end its showcase early after having one night open to the public. The group blocked off the windows with paper as it reorganized its showcase, Greene said.
“When the gallery reopened, we were planning to just continue our show, but we believe that the integrity of the show was drastically changed without the banners,” Greene said. “So, we decided that we wanted to do something different.”
For the last day of the exhibition, Florida Prisoner Solidarity decided to showcase the four rocks thrown through their window and the glass it broke through. The three pedestals listed their creator as: “artist unknown.” On a wall, Florida Prisoner Solidarity released a statement calling the banner removal a violent act of censorship.
“We use the word violence here with the explicit intent of highlighting the institutional repression of a part of [UF’s] own body, transgressing its own sacred mission to provide sanctuary for free thought and expression and reifying the violence of the state once again,” the statement read.
The group put up a plank to cover up the hole the rocks left behind. Someone later spray-painted “F-CK OFF FASCISTS” on it. Greene isn’t aware who wrote it.
At the closing ceremony, UF placed a sign with an arrow pointing to the spray-painted message, reading “THIS IS ARTISTS’ SPEECH, NOT UF’S SPEECH.”
Contact Allessandra at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ainzinna.
Allessandra is a third-year journalism major with a minor in English. In the past, she has covered local musicians and the cannabis industry. She is now the Student Government reporter for The Alligator. Allessandra paints and plays guitar in her free time.