An anti-war exhibit sparked an emotional debate Monday night among Ventura City Council members over city financing for its organizer, the Ventura Arts Council.
The Ventura chapter of the Eagle Forum of California, in a letter read by city resident Kathleen Parsa, criticized the arts council for its weeklong display at the downtown Momentum Gallery of works depicting local artists' opposition to war.
"It is particularly unsettling to realize the Ventura City Council has helped fund, with tax dollars, an exhibit of anti-war and anti-Christian sentiment," the letter said.
Parsa also submitted petitions against the exhibit with about 500 signatures.
In response to the letter, Councilman Gary Tuttle told Parsa that the arts council was funded by the city but that the exhibit did not represent the city's point of view.
But Councilman Jim Monahan agreed with Parsa: "I think the taxpayers' money should be spent wisely, and I applaud the Eagle Forum for their comments."
The display of 23 artists' works, hastily organized by council Executive Director Maureen Davidson, included a papier-mache piece called "Johnny '91" that consisted of a bloody torso minus arms, legs and head, supported by giant crutches.
Parsa said she was particularly offended by a picture depicting Jesus in military attire and carrying a gun.
Bob Alviani, a Ventura bank manager, resigned as president of the arts council in protest, saying Davidson was using the exhibit to promote her own views.
Mayor Richard Francis stressed that the City Council, which underwrites about 40% of the arts council's $185,000 budget, does not have veto power over its exhibits.
"The city does not control the arts council," Francis said. "It is my understanding that the council hires the curator, who makes the decisions about exhibits."
The about 30 people in the audience appeared divided about the subject. About half applauded each view.
Resident Clara Davis supported the position of the Eagle Forum, a conservative national group formed by Phyllis Schlafly.
"We don't want this kind of garbage in the city," she told the council.
But Alan Quigg said the artists have the right to self-expression. "You can't tie the artists' hands behind their backs. Artists put things in impassioned ways."