It boggles the mind that officials in a city named for St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, would award $1.45 million in public art commissions to a man who once filmed a dog murder and called it art.
Yes, Tom Otterness has apologized numerous times, but that stain will remain with him forever.
It’s a stain that San Franciscans should not have to share. No matter how cute his cartoonlike sculptures may be today, they will always be a reminder of Otterness’ heinous act of animal cruelty in 1977. His contracts for public art in the Central Subway Moscone station and San Francisco General Hospital should be terminated immediately and Otterness barred from consideration for future contracts.
The question is why the San Francisco Arts Commission awarded this contract in the first place. Board members say they were not aware of Otterness’ dog-killing past. But Otterness is a major artist — a simple Google search would have revealed the controversy that has followed him for years.
Or someone could have placed a call to the San Jose Arts Commission, which paid Otterness $932,500 to install whimsical animal sculptures at Happy Hollow Park and Zoo in 2008. The SJAC staff report discussed Otterness’ controversial past, but the commission decided to hire him anyway after he assured them that after a while “the issue of the person who created it and his personal history fade into the background.”
A larger question, considering that Otterness lives in New York and other commissioned artists are from out of town, is why San Francisco tax dollars are being lavished on artists with no connection to this area, especially when the Bay Area is renowned for its arts scene. The Arts Commission received 460 applications from artists for the Central Subway projects, and more than 175 of them live in the Bay Area. Some local artists were chosen, but with more than 175 to choose from, why the need to send local tax dollars out of the area at all?
Another issue is whether, in these tough economic times with government at all levels strapped for cash, it makes sense to spend roughly $14 million for art in a 1.7-mile subway that may only be seen by 35,000 daily riders. Just 4 percent of San Francisco residents may ever enjoy what will be the largest one-time investment of funds for public art in The City’s history. Nearly $3 million of the Central Subway public art fund will be spent on administration alone.
The lack of vetting on the part of the Arts Commission and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is laughable, if believable. If this is any indication of how taxpayers are dollars spent by City Hall bureaucrats each day, it is no wonder we have an economic crisis.