Last week, Discount Tire Company, which has more than 900 stores in 31 states, posted signs reading "Re-Elect Sheriff Joe Arpaio" in its stores in Maricopa County, where the controversial sheriff known for racially profiling Latinos is seeking a seventh term.
Community outcry came swiftly from both politically engaged groups and the arts community. Not only is Discount Tire one of Arizona's most profitable businesses, it's also owned by Paradise Valley billionaire Bruce Halle, one of the state's most prominent forces in the arts.
Halle is one of the world's richest men, according to Forbes Magazine, which puts his current worth at $8.5 billion. The 86-year-old and his wife, Diane, are significant supporters of Phoenix Art Museum, having donated substantial sums of money as well as art to the museum.
Both Discount Tire and Phoenix Art Museum representatives declined to comment on the signs.
Soon after word about the Arpaio support signs spread, One Arizona, a coalition started in 2010 in direct response to Arizona's anti-immigration bill SB 1070, began calling for a boycott against Discount Tire, which sells tires and wheels and related auto mechanic services.
Immigrant-rights group Somos America Coalition announced plans to hold an event called Public Forum: Boycott Discount Tires and Racism. It’s happening from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, August 9, at Painters Union Hall, located at 210 North 24th Street.
While the arts community hasn't banded together in quite the same way, some of its members are questioning why a noted collector of Latin American art might support Arpaio.
In 2013, Phoenix Art Museum presented “Order, Chaos, and the Space Between: Contemporary Latin American Art from the Diane and Bruce Halle Collection,” featuring more than 50 works — including Mexican artist Carlos Amorales’ Black Cloud comprising 30,000 black paper moths and butterflies.
This year, Halle's company is sponsoring Discount Tire Free Family Sundays at Phoenix Art Museum, which gives all visitors free admission during the second Sunday of each month.
The museum’s own collection includes a piece by local Latina artist Annie Lopez, recipient of the prestigious 2012 Mid-Career Artist Award presented by its Contemporary Forum support organization, which came with a cash prize of $5,000. It’s one of several dresses she created using cyanotype photography and documents from her personal and family history.
Diane Halle bought the piece, which was part of Lopez’s solo exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum in 2013, and then donated it to the museum, where it was shown again in 2015 as part of the "Hidden Histories in Latin American Art" exhibition.
Lopez learned about Discount Tire's Arpaio signs last week from her son, Adam Lopez Falk. “At first, I thought he must be joking,” Lopez says.
But it's not a joke. New Times stopped by Discount Tire stores in Mesa, Tempe, and Scottsdale last week and confirmed the signs were posted. In every case, employees told New Times the corporate office gave the order.
As of Monday, August 8, some locations had removed their signs. But Discount Tire officials did not say whether the removal was mandated.
Lopez, however, has plenty to say.
“I was shocked because I know that these people have a Latin American art collection, and this is so opposite of their public image,” Lopez told New Times by phone Sunday morning. “I always thought they were giving voice to people who had suffered through injustice.”
The signs are especially problematic given Halle’s connection to Latin American art, Lopez says. The Halles have collected Latin American art since 1995, according to museum materials for “Order, Chaos, and the Space Between.”
“Everybody has the right to speak their mind, and to post signs,” Lopez says. “But they have a public persona of supporting Latin American artists. That’s where the issue comes in it for me.”
Elected in 1993, the six-term sheriff first made a name for himself by creating an open-air jail called Tent City. More recently, a federal judge ruled that Arpaio and his sheriff’s department have racially profiled Latino drivers. “Arpaio symbolizes hate against people of my skin color,” Lopez says. “He is specifically targeting brown people.”
“To me, this whole thing is very hurtful,” Lopez says of the signs.
But it’s also ironic, because the Lopez dress Diane purchased and donated to the museum features cyanotype photographs of naturalization papers for Lopez’s maternal grandparents. They came to the U.S. in 1919 but didn’t get their naturalization papers until the 1960s.
“These are the people who would be targeted by Joe Arpaio,” Lopez says.
This isn’t the first time Lopez, who received the Artist Award during the 2016 Governor's Arts Awards ceremony in March, has spoken out on social-justice issues.
Back in 2013, for example, she showed a piece called Show Me Your Papers and I’ll Show You Mine in a group exhibition called “The Joe and Jan Show.” Curated by Robrt Pela (a longtime New Times contributor), it skewered both Arpaio and Jan Brewer, who signed SB 1070 into law in 2010 while serving as Arizona’s governor.
“I’m already thinking about how this will make it into my art,” Lopez says of the Discount Tire issue. “The things that hurt me the most always make it into my art.”
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