Greenville Public Art Kerfuffle: County Strips Funds, City Stands Firm on Wings Show | Greenville Politics
GREENVILLE – The sculptures can be found at two of downtown Greenville’s iconic attractions, Falls Park on the Reedy River and the Peace Center, Greenville’s vibrant performing arts venue.
Nine bronze figures arrived in April to a warm welcome from city officials – a celebration of the arts, Hispanic culture and the city’s growing place on the national stage. Greenville is the first location on the East Coast to host the Wings of the City exhibit by renowned Mexican sculptor Jorge Marin.
A set of swept-back wings located at the base of Reedy Falls is her most Instagram-ready piece, with a catwalk for photos. The new downtown office building of the exhibit’s main sponsor, Bank of America, is prominently visible in the background. On busy days, lines are formed to take pictures.
Several of the sculptures wear wings, others beak-like masks as they pose, eyes haunting. Others are engaged in athletic feats squatting or ready to spring from the top of a ball. In a video posted by the City of Greenville, Marin, speaking in Spanish, said he hoped visitors would see the characters with a reflection of the “spirituality that characterizes human beings.”
The sculptures almost immediately arouse passionate reactions. Some saw the winged creatures as angelic, others as demonic.
Hundreds of people left comments online on the opening days of the exhibition. Others wandered the park through Falls Park early in the morning, snapping photos and looking at them for a few minutes before continuing their exercise.
It was not until May 10 that public reaction to the sculptures spilled over into local government.
A Greenville County Council finance committee stripped $ 7,500 in funding recommended by the county’s hospitality industry to go to the Hispanic Alliance which is said to have further marketed the exhibit. There, by a 4-1 vote, board members Joe Dill, Butch Kirven, Willis Meadows and Dan Tripp voted to instead donate the money to another arts organization, Artisphere, which had just wrapped up its 2021 festival on Main. Street the previous weekend.
Meadows, the council chairman, said council members had received numerous complaints about the sculptures from residents and that he did not believe the county council should support the exhibit. Dill also said he received emails about the sculptures and complaints about nudity.
An online petition launched by Jessica Saravia, a resident of Greer, called for the removal of the sculptures because “8 of the statues are naked men, 1 with her genitals clearly defined.” The petition has collected over 1,100 signatures as of May 14.
The sculptures are mostly nude but none in the park or outside the Peace Center clearly show the genitals. One of a completely naked man standing between two circles in a Renaissance or Classic style common to Marin’s work, is located inside the Peace Center, visible behind the glass entrance.
The action of the council committee sparked a backlash for public art from the Town of Greenville and other members of the community. A competing petition to preserve the artwork had received nearly 6,000 signatures on May 14.
Kirven said that although he voted against the money to market the exhibit, he supported the Hispanic Alliance and the wings of the city.
“My vote was to avoid jeopardizing the entire grant list and finding another way for the $ 7,500 to go to the Hispanic Alliance,” Kirven said.
The finance committee’s recommendations came after the county’s lodging tax advisory board narrowed down a list of grant applications from projects across the county that were seeking funding through county hotel tax revenues.
The full board is due to vote on the committee’s recommendations on May 18. They are placed on the council’s consent agenda, which is normally reserved for matters that are not debated by the council.
Several board members said on May 14 that they were not aware of any efforts to add funding to the Hispanic Alliance. Kirven said he didn’t expect an alternative funding proposal to be ready in time for this meeting.
The biggest issue Dill said he raised with the Hispanic Alliance grant application was that it was a City of Greenville project that he said did not benefit the county as a whole. while Artisphere, he said, attracts artists from all over the county and visitors stay in hotels across the region.
The Wings of the City exhibit proved to be an inflection point between new and old Greenville – and a familiar divide between city and county.
At the Greenville City Council meeting right after the county committee vote, those opposed to the exhibit applauded the public’s comments at what was the first in-person council meeting since March 2020. But they did. was greeted with a brief reminder that the council’s vote was unanimous to accept the exhibit and a statement of support was posted on the city’s website the next day.
On May 14, Mayor Knox White told The Post and The Courier that thousands of people have expressed their pleasure at the sculptures and that any funding decision should be made after seeing the sculptures.
âIt’s a decision the county has to make,â White said. “We just hope they take the time to get an accurate representation of the artwork.”
Saravia, who launched the Change.org petitioned to remove the statues, addressed city council and said she was embarrassed to bring guests downtown.
âIf these sculptures were real people, they would be arrested for indecent disclosure,â Saravia said.
The hearing ended with sharper words of condemnation from Allison Saravia, who invoked anger to offend a Christian God.
“I am someone who loves and highly honors marriage,” she said. I keep myself pure for marriage, and that means 100% to keep my eyes pure. I thank God that someone warned me about the statues, because if I had gone downtown without knowing it would have robbed me of my innocence, and you would have been responsible for it.
She equated the statues with pornography, which she attributed to a weakened respect for marriage, a “movement toward homosexuality” in the country, and acceptance of pedophilia.
âYou don’t know how much that would crush my mind,â she said. âDo you care to make hundreds of people cry and no more bitter tears? You say it’s only art, but if an artist were to paint a nude photo of you and place it on the streets of the downtown Greenville, would you still be hiding behind the lie that this is only art?
She told the council members to destroy the statues and repent “because if you don’t, God is going to have to bring you down.”
Councilor Dorothy Dowe told the crowd that not only has the council unanimously approved the exhibit, so has the City’s Public Places Arts Commission, a panel of citizens that examines public art.
âThis exhibit is a celebration of the constant evolution, resilience and inclusiveness that is happening in our community,â said Adela Mendoza, Executive Director of the Hispanic Alliance. âEach of the sculptures represents qualities inherent in our humanity, such as strength, compassion and our infinite capacity to reinvent ourselves. We hope people will visit the exhibit and remember our ability to develop our own wings and take flight to achieve our dreams. As we recover from a global pandemic, together we can and must reinvent our common future. “
While the takedown petition called for keeping Greenville’s public art “rated G for Greenville,” the competing petition called for making the public areas of the city’s downtown area “rated C – for Cultivated.”
âGreenville is trying to build a reputation as a cultural destination. Allowing these people to have a world-famous art installation removed from our city would be an embarrassment, âthe petition reads.
The day after the county committee vote and comments to city council, the city of Greenville announced that it continued to fully support the exhibit.
The pro-art petitioners declared victory and began raising funds to replace Hispanic Alliance marketing dollars “in case our elected leaders don’t vote with the majority of their constituents.”