An art center in Escondido is standing by its decision to display a controversial piece -- a black and white photo of police officers in riot gear with the acronym APAB spray painted over it, in front of a row of dancing pigs.
The piece is featured in the California Center for the Arts Escondido (CCAE) exhibit called “Street Legacy SOCAL Style Masters,” which opened last weekend. APAB is generally accepted as an abbreviation for "All cops are bastards."
The piece drew the ire of Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara, who called the piece "incredibly disrespectful," but the CCAE said Wednesday it won't edit the display in any way.
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"The Board voted to continue CCAE’s support of the Street Legacy: SoCal Style Masters exhibition and of the installation in question without removing, covering or otherwise editing it," a statement from CCAE Chair Sara Matta said.
The art center did, however, agree to coordinate public discussions between curators, artists, city leaders and community groups "to further public education and foster the respectful exchange of ideas," according to Matta's statement.
NBC 7 reached out to the artist, Richard Wyrgatsch II, otherwise known as OG Slick, before reporting on the controversy on Monday but did not hear back.
The CCAE says the Street Legacy: SoCal Style Masters exhibition features aspects of graffiti, street art, skateboarding, surfing, tattoos, hip hop, breaking, punk, lowriders and custom culture.
Mayor McNamara questioned the art piece's place within the exhibit.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘What does that have to do, thematically, with all the other things we’re talking about,” McNamara told NBC 7 on Monday. “I understand you can have controversy and you can have discussions about things, but we need to be civil, and I thought this was incredibly disrespectful,” McNamara said.
The co-curator, Dr. G. James Daichendt, is a professor of art history at Point Loma Nazarene University.
In part of a statement issued through a university spokesperson, Dr. Daichendt wrote:
“Censorship of an image or idea that does not correspond with our own personal view is a dangerous practice. In this case, censoring Slick’s artwork demonstrates that one perspective in the community is more important and powerful than another.”
McNamara said Escondido doesn’t oversee the art installation - it contracts with a nonprofit organization that hires the staff that runs the Center for the Arts. The mayor says the city provides the building and approximately $3 million in taxpayer dollars for operations. That’s equal to a third of the center’s budget.
The art piece was a last-minute add to the exhibit, according to McNamara, although city leadership was aware of it and warned exhibitors about using it.
“People who knew about it, in leadership positions, had talked to the center and said this is not a good idea,” McNamara said.
Prior to the CCAE confirming its commitment to displaying the piece, McNamara said art center decision makers could be replaced if necessary.
“You certainly make a point that we have to be careful. None of us believe in government censorship, but we do believe in good management and good common sense," he told NBC 7.
The “Street Legacy” exhibit features almost 100 artists. It's a tribute to the rich history of street counter cultures expressed through multiple art forms.