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The sole of controversy

By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor
Every silver cloud apparently has a dark lining.
I was in downtown Springfield last week taking photos of the giant painted sneakers. The reactions I saw from people were wonderful. Kids were stopping to carefully look at them, as were adults. A lot of people were taking pictures of them and many were posing in front of the shoes.
This is what a public art project, just like the one in West Springfield, is supposed to do create a positive buzz in a community.
Now in the history of public art projects, there have indeed been controversies when public dollars have been used. In this case, though, no tax dollars were used in the project.
You've probably heard that one artist participating in the project, Robert Markey of Ashfield, is angry that an image of a bikini-clad woman on a pole on his sneaker was painted over by the Springfield Business Improvement District (BID) because BID management and the sponsors of the event deemed the image as outside the parameters of the project.
This was a commissioned work of art. With any commission, an artist has to satisfy the vision of the people or organization with which he or she is working. If he wanted complete artistic freedom, he shouldn't have signed up.
The artists were to use the sneakers to answer the question, "What makes Springfield great?" Markey, like the rest of the artists, had to submit a design of the shoe for approval. Apparently the pole dancer wasn't part of the approved design.
And Markey, like the other artists, had to sign a document that relinquished any rights to the sneaker and the design.
In an e-mail to Gina Beavers of the BID, Markey at first refered to the image painted on the sole of the shoe as "kind of tongue in cheek." He then added he would use the "fuss" to "hopefully get more support and respect for the women who work [in the city's strip clubs]."
So which is it: a joke about strip clubs in the downtown or a courageous message fighting for the rights of exotic dancers? Mr. Markey, if you think painting a pole dancer on the underside of a five-foot tall fiberglass sneaker is striking a blow for better working conditions for strippers, please think again.
I support freedom of speech and expression, but I know the practical limitations. I can write anything I want, with the understanding of both libel laws and the fact I don't own this newspaper. I also know this is a commercial enterprise and what I write could have an impact on the people paying my salary.
Ah, the practical details that cloud philosophical ideals.
Markey can do what he wants, like any of us, in whatever medium he chooses, provided he understands the repercussions. It's a shame he had to do something that took the positive momentum away from a great project.
I suppose that is an art form as well.
***
Thom Hartmann is one of the smartest guys on the radio heard over WHMP at noon weekdays and he came up with a concept that blew me away the other day. The federal government is a huge economic engine. It buys tons of things. What if a law was passed that stipulated taxpayers' dollars could only be used to buy items made in the United States?
Our tax dollars are being spent anyway on everything from pencils to fighter jets, so why not encourage a renaissance in the manufacturing sector by requiring the U.S. government to buy only U.S. made goods?
Yes, I know that many manufacturing sectors would have to be resurrected and something like this would probably have to be phased in over a period of years, but it makes sense our tax dollars would go to American companies making products here.
This could be a rare instance of an issue on which many people could agree. How can you argue against keeping American tax dollars here in America?
This column represents the opinion of its author.


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