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NEA Grant Used for Bench Art Criticizing Use of Force by Police

October 31, 1990|MICHAEL GRANBERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — A group of local artists have spent federal grant money to rent 25 bus benches for ads that criticize the use of deadly force by the San Diego Police Department, triggering controversy and leaving the police chief and many others furious.

The art on the benches features the outline of seven human bodies silhouetted in black against a blood-red background. Within each human figure is a target, similar to those at police shooting ranges.

Police Chief Bob Burgreen called the ads a "cheap shot that will have no impact." But he said he would make no effort to remove them.

The artists donated their time to create the ads, but said the cost to produce them and rent the space--$3,662.50--was paid out of a $12,500 National Endowment for the Arts grant awarded in 1989 for the funding of "social-protest" art.

Noting the recent controversy surrounding the NEA and the feeling of many that tax dollars should not be spent on such projects, Scott Kessler, one of the four involved, said he and his colleagues "knew we were taking a risk."

"The risk is obvious, but, yes, the risk is well worth it," said Kessler, who noted that a childhood friend of his, Tony Tumminia, was shot to death in a confrontation with police.

San Diego police have wounded 14 people and killed nine in shootings this year. Among those killed were men wielding a garden tool, a trowel and a baseball bat. One of the men was unarmed.

The work of Kessler and fellow artists Deborah Small, Elizabeth Sisco and Louis Hock has triggered controversy before. One project aimed at combatting racism and completed by the artists in 1988 appeared on the back of San Diego Transit buses around the time of Super Bowl XXII, which was held in San Diego in January of that year.

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