Nightmare on Flagler Street

While observers such as Clearwater and Cano might view the unplanned-for addendum to Ruscha's work as something akin to painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa, Urbizu and members of the children's room staff see the in-house work as a definite improvement. "If you look at the children's rooms in libraries around the country, they tend to be more vibrant," insists Urbizu. "Unfortunately, that wasn't taken into account ten years ago."

Vivian Donnell Rodriguez, current director of Art in Public Places, stakes out a middle ground on the issue. "Sometimes people do something like this because they don't appreciate the artwork, sometimes it's because they just don't know," she says. "It would be naive to expect that everyone will have the same appreciation of an artwork. Clearly they should have contacted us, but they just didn't know." A year has passed since Campos executed her mural, yet Rodriguez has not spoken to Ruscha about it; she did, however, mention the situation to his assistant. After receiving complaints from Cano and others, she sent photographs of the new mural to Ruscha about two weeks ago. For now she's taking a wait-and-see attitude. "I'd rather not make a decision for Ed," explains Rodriguez, who adds that the only thing that she legally could ask the library to undo would be the portion of the mural that covers the lunettes, and not the lower part of the wall. "I'm waiting to hear what he [Ruscha] says. He'll probably say remove it." (Ruscha was installing his new project at the Denver Public Library and could not be reached for comment.)

Meanwhile, another case of children supposedly frightened by artwork has been reported at the North Dade branch of the public library, where a large mural commissioned by Art in Public Places more than a decade ago has been cited as the culprit. It seems that images of huge clowns in the painting, done by an artist named Craig Rubadoux, look more like big bogeymen to some impressionable young readers.

"I don't know much about the mural, but I can tell you it's scary," confirms Bernie Smith, a North Dade Regional library employee reached by phone at the branch.

Rodriguez is aware of the problem and says she'd like to commission a new work for that library, one that would reflect the interests of the area's black community. She notes, however, that currently no funds are available for such a project.

The fate of artwork in a library's children's room might strike some people as a tempest in a teapot. But Rodriguez says such controversies over older Art in Public Places projects, which illustrate the delicate balance between the rights of artists and the comfort of their audiences, ultimately have influenced changes in the current public art process.

"In the past, Art in Public Places programs were working with the museum as a model A they were ostensibly amassing an art collection for a city," Rodriguez explains. "As they have matured, they have found their own specific niche. There's more of an emphasis on process and on community input. The opinions of the community are considered more. It's not just art being made in a studio. The audience has become as important as the person who is creating the work and as important as the object itself.

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