Saturday, October 19, 2013

POLITICS, PUBLIC OPINION & PUBLIC ART IN RED DEER



It was 1980, the 75th anniversary of the Province of Alberta. The Province set aside funds for each city to create something to commemorate that anniversary. The city of Red Deer chose to commission a series of public sculptures, as one of its projects. Dennis Moffat got himself onto the committee to select the sculptures. Dennis was a teacher in the local school district, and eventually ended up taking over an art class in the high school. He was also involved in city politics and served on city council for 27 years. The committee’s task was to run a competition and choose sculptors. Some of the finalists worked in the abstract constructivist manner. The sculptures were created in the city, where everyone was invited to watch if they were interested (I don’t think very many were interested), then the sculptures were placed in various locations on city property. Venomous letters to the editor spiked regarding the sculptures, especially the abstract metal ones. One idiot suggested shooting at them (no shortage of NRA sympathizers here!). A group of seniors named one of the steel sculptures, located near the senior centre, “Rusty Ridiculous”.  In 1982 one of the sculptures that had been placed on a grassy hill between two directions of a main thoroughfare was vandalized with paint. The city was forced to spend taxpayers’ money to sandblast and refinishing the sculpture.

Ten years later, Dennis (high school teacher, member of the city council, the committee to select the sculptures) decided to admit that he had led a group of his high school students to vandalize the sculpture.  Here is a portion of the interview he gave to the paper.

The night before graduation I told my (high school) art class if they wanted to go down in history, they should paint it, said Mr. Moffat recently at his downtown studio. I gave them some money and sent each one to a different paint store. We were very careful to spread out so no one could trace it back to us. Mr. Moffat told the group to meet at the old Beaver Lumber store at Parkland Mall that night and to wear black. They worked in pairs, one painting while the other watched for police. It was a real operation, he laughs now, remembering.”  Red Deer Advocate by staff writer Michelle Jarvie, Dec. 23, 1992

(Notice how he admitted not only organizing the vandalism and paying for it, but also thoroughly instructing the teenagers how to escape detection? A dedicated teacher, don’t you think?) Very few people condemned Dennis’ criminal act and their opinions fell on deaf ears. The school board didn’t care, the Minister of Education didn’t care, the justice system didn’t care, and the majority of the voters didn’t care (maybe because it happened ten years before and the statute of limitation had run out on destroying public property and contributing to the delinquency of a minor). Dennis continues to enjoy his status as a revered Red Deer artist, the owner of the Red Deer Farmer’s market, a retired school teacher on full pension and now, after losing an attempt to be re-elected a few years ago he is running for city council again. That’s politics! We’ll see if the voters of Red Deer remember any of this, or if it matters to them, on Monday.

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