America's Finest?

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Date: 1993

Region: North America

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Public Art

Artist: Deborah Small, Elizabeth Sisco, Scott Kessler, and Louis Hock

Confronting Bodies: Rep. Bill Lowery, Police Officers Association, Metropolitan Transit District Board

Dates of Action: 1993

Location: San Diego, California

Description of Artwork: Posters placed on city bus benches alluding to recent shooting victims of the San Diego police with the headline America's Finest?

The Incident: Controversy erupted when San Diego's Installation Gallery placed artwork on city bus benches, alluding to a recent shooting involving the San Diego police department, with the headline America's Finest? The installation, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, drew the fire of the San Diego Police Officers Association and U.S. Rep. Bill Lowery (R-CA). Both complained that federal money had been misused to create political art that denigrated police. The Police Officers Association and the Metropolitan Transit District Board asked the advertising firm that placed that artwork to have it removed. The firm refused on First Amendment grounds. "[The art] may be controversial," said a spokesperson for the firm, "but life is controversial." Considerable public controversy followed. During the run of America's Finest?, benches were vandalized with pro-police messages. Several San Diego residents also started a T-shirt counter-campaign contending that the "real targets" were the police. Another local group, the Stamp Out Crime Council, placed their own bench art wishing the police a happy holiday. Representative Lowery insisted that the National Endowment for the Arts investigate the grant and determine whether it was proper to use NEA money to "purchase commercial advertising to make a political statement." After investigating the terms of the grant, the NEA determined that it was "in conformance with the guidelines existing at the time."

Results of Incident: Posters were vandalized along with broader attacks continuing upon the NEA.

Source: People for the American Way