Monday, November 10, 2014

ArtPrize and Pit Bulls

Revised: November 11, 2014; 19:02 GMT
Revised: November 18, 2014; 18:04 GMT

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. October 10, 2014 – ArtPrize, the radically open, international art competition, tonight held the sixth annual ArtPrize Awards, announcing the winners of $540,000 in prizes. 
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This year's ArtPrize included 1,536 entries representing 51 countries and 42 U.S. states and territories. The entries were exhibited in 174 venues over three square miles. ArtPrize seeks to broaden the critical dialogue around contemporary art by awarding the world’s largest art prize, at $540,000. For 19 days news in Grand Rapids and much of Michigan was dominated by the ArtPrize competition.

But other news also came out of Michigan during this period. One of the entries, a three-dimensional installation titled Out of the Blue by Joan Marie Kowal, is a dramatic memorial to victims of fatal pit bull attacks. ArtPrize opened on September 24 and on Sunday, September 28, local pit bull advocates gathered at the installation, protesting the memorial and temporarily blocking public access to the installation.1

Then, four days after the the protest, Michiganders awoke to the news of the attack by 12 pit bulls on Steve Constantine in Detroit. The first reports indicated that Constantine suffered four amputations. Constantine watched as the dogs, in his own words, ate him alive.

Steven Constantine

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Among the pit bull advocates at the September 28 protest was Rachel Jensen, a Kent County Animal Control Officer. On October 3rd, the same day that news of the attack on Constantine stunned Michiganders, Kent County spokeswoman Lisa LaPlante released a prepared statement claiming that Jensen had not violated employee policy by protesting at the memorial for victims of pit bull attacks.

All Americans are sensitive to our First Amendment rights protecting protests in public spaces. But some protests are so repugnant, for example the protests by the Westboro Baptist Church at the funerals of fallen soldiers, that the public is unwilling to tolerate them. The protest by pit bull advocates at a memorial to victims of pit bulls bears striking similarity to the Westboro Church protests. Decency and common sense demand that solemn events, including Ms Kowal's Out of the Blue, must be protected. Artists often challenge us, as Ms Kowal has done and other ArtPrize artists have. Those who sponsor, promote, and love art are obligated to protect and defend the art they exhibit.

On October 7th a commentary by the Canadian journalist Barbara Kay was published on the nation's premier independent animal welfare web site.2 Accounts of the attack on Constantine appeared daily in Michigan papers until ArtPrize closed. The coverage continues and has linked Michigan pit bulls, Out of the Blue, the protest at the victims' memorial, and ArtPrize in an inseparable ménage à quatre. Kowal's Out of the Blue has received more national coverage than any other ArtPrize entry, including the winners. It has received more coverage, perhaps, than all other entries combined.

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Art has proven to be an excellent medium for developing social consciousness. In the 1980s the AIDS quilt galvanized the nascent AIDS movement and led to national awareness of the epidemic. Today, the lifesize red silhouettes of the Silent Witness National Initiative has dramatically increased awareness across the country for victims of domestic violence. Ms Kowal's Blue Crosses could form the basis of a similar public awareness campaign. ArtPrize is uniquely positioned to sponsor this movement.

The United Kennel Club was organized in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1898 solely to register pit bulls and thereby legitimize dogfighting. Today Michigan is witnessing the deadly and unforeseen aftermath of the UKC's folly. In recent years a human being has been killed by a pit bull every two weeks; Ms Kowal's Out of the Blue graphically directs our attention to these senseless deaths.  It would be fitting if a national movement to recognize the victims of pit bull attacks were to begin in Michigan under the auspices of ArtPrize.

for victims of domestic abuse

Out of the Blue 
2014 ArtPrize entry by Joan Marie Kowal

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1   A Facebook page (ART PRIZE: Don’t bully my bully) rallied the protesters. The page (now taken down) appeared at the following url:
2   Animals 24-7. The article was subsequently reprinted by SRUV.

ArtPrize Home Page
Out of the Blue; ArtPrize entry by Joan Marie Kowal

“Out of the Blue” ArtPrize memorial for dog attack victims stirs breed controversy
   September 25 , 2014; Fox 17 West Michigan
Michigan pit bull owners protest at ArtPrize entry
   September 29, 2014; The Marquette Mining Journal
Man attacked by pack of pit bulls
   October 3, 2014; 13 WMAZX
County defends animal control officer who protested ArtPrize memorial to dog-attack victims
   October 3, 2014; Grand Rapids Press
Man remains in critical condition after being mauled by a dozen pit pulls
   October 6, 2014; MLive
11 pit bulls that critically injured man in Detroit euthanized
   October 6, 2014; MLive
Lawsuit claims Michigan Department of Corrections investigator shot dog in Flint
   October 8, 2014; The Flint Journal
No criminal charges likely in pit bull attack on Detroit man
   October 9, 2014; Detroit Free Press
   October 11, 2014; Commentary by Barbara Kay on SRUV
Police seek felony charge against owner in vicious dog mauling
   October 22, 2014; Detroit Free Press
   The reports list a grim array of injuries, with arms and legs ripped to the bone and dogs "eating the flesh" off a naked man.
Police use taser when pit bull escapes leash, attacks dog
   October 24, 2014; Detroit Free Press
   October 27, 2014; Detroit Free Press
The dogs started attacking and eating me alive
   October 27, 2014; MLive

See Also:
Timeline of pit bull attacks in Michigan
Don't bully my breed, but we will bully the victims

32 years of logging fatal & disfiguring dog attacks
   Animals 24-7; September 27, 2014

Statistics quoted on SRUV are from the nation's authoritative source for current dog attack statistics, the 30+ year, continuously updated Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada.
View or download the current PDF

This page may also include information from Dogsbite and Fatal Pit Bull Attacks.

Google News: Today's pit bull attacks