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Controversial Public Art In Crossroads Comes Down Early

courtesy of the artist

The controversial work called The Scout was taken down Monday. The two-part image included the artist, known as A. Bitterman, standing on scaffolding taking aim at the Scout statue. It was originally commissioned as one of Missouri Bank’s Artboards. But, when it was "de-selected" in July, Bitterman looked into other options for public display.

He decided to lease two billboards, owned by CBS Outdoor. The billboards went up on September 23, across the street from Missouri Bank, at 19th and Baltimore, for an anticipated four-week run. The work started gaining lots of attention. As the Kansas City Star reported over the weekend, "Native Americans say it's offensive. Others think it's 'nuts,' 'strange,' or in 'poor taste.'"

"If anything The Scout is a gesture in defense of the native American," said A. Bitterman in a statement posted on his website noweiwei.com. In response to the criticism, Bitterman wrote:

"The one thing that can not be disputed in my image is the fact that the Scout is not an indian at all, it is a depiction of an indian, a sculpture, created by and for white culture, and it carries a historical narrative of what white people at the turn of the 20th century wanted the indian to be. The artist on the scaffolding is confronting that narrative."

CBS Outdoor sales manager Russell Adams notified Bitterman on Friday in an email that "the boards are creating quite a stir...We have had a tremendous about (sic) of phone calls here at the office, many not very pleasant for our office staff." Adams added that "my GM has asked our operations dept. to take the poster down on Monday."

Adams said Monday he was not at liberty to comment about the removal of the billboards; he referred calls to general manager, Tracy Holmes, who was out of town until Wednesday.

"I'm thankful. I'm very thankful, especially for the minds and emotions of the children," said Moses Brings Plenty, when he heard the billboards had been taken down. An Oglala Lakota, he grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and works as an arts facilitator at the Kansas City Indian Center. "I was affected by it."

"We've always been told to be ashamed of who we are. And in this day and age, we don't want our children to feel ashamed of who they are and their traditions and their culture," he added.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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