Protesters spar over political art
Associated Press | July 29, 2005
By KATHLEEN HENNESSEY
A display of political artwork in the state Department of Justice sparked dueling protests and a culture clash Thursday.
Rival protesters shouted "No to censors" and sang "God bless America" outside the Attorney General's building, where a painting of a star-spangled map of the United States being flushed down the toilet now hangs as part of an exhibition of art by lawyers on legal themes.
The California Republican Party, along with conservative bloggers and a Sacramento talk radio host, have called on Attorney General Bill Lockyer to remove the painting from the exhibit.
The piece, titled "T'anks to Mr. Bush," was painted by Berkeley-lawyer and anti-war activist Stephen Pearcy.
Lockyer has said he does not endorse the art, but he would not remove it.
"Some would like me to act like a Soviet-style government censor. ... I will not, my office will not, engage in such censorship," he said in a statement Thursday. "We have to keep faith in the First Amendment and the free marketplace of ideas."
The exhibit was presented by Lockyer's office and the California Arts Council. It was funded by private donors.
Members of the American Civil Liberties Union rallied in support of Lockyer's decision.
James Schwab, 26, head of the ACLU's University of California, Davis chapter, said he came to stand up for the right to dissent.
"I understand if some find it offensive, but I still have to defend it," he said.
In protest of the exhibit, the conservative activist group Move America Forward and Sacramento Talk Radio 1530 KFBK organized an "I LOVE AMERICA" exhibit of "pro-American" art on the sidewalk.
Cheri Douglas, a management consultant from Sacramento, contributed several of her paintings to the show, including two renderings of photographs she said she found on the U.S. Department of Defense Web site. "Heros' Prayer" depicts World War II veterans reflecting in silence and "Hero's Kiss" shows an Iraqi child kissing an American soldier.
Douglas called Pearcy's painting "crass and vulgar" and said she did not believe political art belongs in a public building.
"I believe art should be inspiring and uplifting," she said.