A group opposed to a controversial statue in the Overland Park Arboretum said it wants a grand jury to decide whether the statue is obscene. They took their case to city hall Tuesday night.
"We have gone too far. This is a strategic moment, an important question for Overland Park and Johnson County so the die is cast – we go to court," Phillip Cosby said.
The protesters met with Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlachat 5 p.m. to talk about being allowed to speak at a city council meeting to voice their concerns about the controversial statue.
Even though the mayor decided to deny their request to let them speak since they aren't residents of Overland Park, the group is still moving forward with plans to have a grand jury decide if the art should stay or go.
Students in a summer art camp traveled from Ottawa, KS, to the Overland Park Arboretum Tuesday to check out its new sculptures, including one that's stirring up controversy.
"When we go look at it, we're just going to check it out, we're not going to make a big deal about it. It's just art," the teacher told the students before entering the arboretum. "Can anyone tell someone what their art has to looks like? No, so it's all up to whoever makes it."
The students, who range from third grade to high school, got permission from their parents to see the sculpture in the arboretum. They each had different reactions to the art piece, which shows a headless woman with her breasts exposed taking a picture of herself.
"I think the message is that they trying to get girls to realize you don't have to take pictures of yourself in an inappropriate way," student Caroline Webber said.
"I honestly do not want this here and I don't care if they take it down or not. If I see it, I just walk right by it. I don't care to see it," student Bobby Harshaw said.
A local mother and members of the American Family Association of Kansas & Missouri want the statue removed.
"It's promotion of obscenity to a minor is what it is. And so it's harmful to children," Cosby said.
Cosby, the group's state director, said his group plans to collect 4,000 signatures to have a grand jury seated in Johnson County to review the case.
Those against the statue said it's inappropriate for children. Local resident Joanne Hughes was the first to publicly speak out about the offensive nature of the sculpture. Not so much because the woman is nude, but rather because the piece gives emphasis to aroused breasts while apparently taking a picture of herself, suggestive of sexting.
The group also points out that the arboretum is a family-friendly place for people to go and don't believe it is a place for such images.
"The only thing that will stop this grand jury process is the day they box that statue up and put it on a truck and it's off the property of Overland Park Arboretum. Where they send it is not my problem. It's toxic. I don't know who would want it, but that's not my problem, that is their problem," Cosby said.
Some, like resident Larry Cummings, believes taking the issue to a grand jury is going too far and is a waste of taxpayer dollars.
"I think the money could be spent elsewhere, in education or something else. [It is] a lot better than trying to decide whether a 4-year-old shouldn't see that (motions towards statue)," he said.
The sculpture, titled Accept or Reject or The Choice, is part of an international art exhibit. The artist is from China. Eleven pieces were donated as a gift to the arboretum by Chinese artists and are part of a new International Sculpture Garden.
But the city said the sculpture depicting the woman in such a way is part of the artist's message.
"The piece is saying focus on your mind, heart and soul. When we meet somebody, don't focus on that other stuff. Focus on the mind, body and soul," said Sean Reilly with the city of Overland Park.
The city said it currently has no immediate plans to remove or relocate the sculpture, but have posted two signs on walkways leading to the garden saying that parental guidance is encouraged around the art.
The city plans to keep the sculptures in the arboretum for three to five years and then move it to the Kemper Farms where they believe it will be permanently housed.
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