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S.L. OFFICIALS AGREE TO REMOVE METAL SCULPTURE FROM LIBRARY

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A metal sculpture meant to symbolize gun violence and the awful toll it exacts on modern youth is coming down.

The art piece erected last week on the north side of the Salt Lake City Library was supposed to make a statement on the gun culture and the violence it spawns. Instead it ended up illustrating how wide the gulf in understanding of other cultures is at times.After meeting with American Indians Tuesday morning, city officials realized the artwork's message had misfired and agreed to remove the sculpture some time this week.

The sculpture, titled "Sacred Ground," depicts a Plains Indian burial stand, built out of metal standards and rebar. A pile of guns, wrapped in a red sheet-metal blanket, lies on top of the platform. Red metal tubes, which symbolize feathers, hang from the platform.

Artist Tom Bettin and his students at Judge Memorial High School, who designed the sculpture, intended it to deliver a message about youth violence and guns.

But American Indians say the work trivializes one of the most sacred and honored rituals of the Plains Indians.

"I wonder how much trouble the Arts Council and the mayor's office would get into if they put (the angel) Moroni there and put those guns across his arms," said Michael Fast Wolf McBride, of Salt Lake City. "How many people do you think would be angry with them? How much feedback do you think they'd get?"

McBride, an Oglala Sioux Indian from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, said the funeral scaffold depicted in the sculpture is used in a sacred religious death rite to honor someone held in very high regard.

"When I saw the guns lying on top, it not only saddened my heart but made me angry at the insensitivity," McBride said. "If they had checked thoroughly with their so-called history books they write, they would have found some who still practice it, that it is done to honor someone held in very high esteem."

As it is, the sculpture sends the exact opposite message intended.

"By putting those guns up there, they are almost glorifying guns and gangs and whatever," McBride said.

McBride and other representatives of the First Nation Intertribal Council planned to meet Tuesday with city officials and ask them to remove the sculpture.

"If an open coffin was made with all those guns and weapons welded together, that would have been fine," said Millie Bitsue, office manager at Urban Indian Support Services and a member of the First Nation Intertribal Council. "Spiritually, that's the way the Plains people bury their dead. It just kind of desecrates the idea. It's just poking fun at what we think is holy."

Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini said that if indeed the sculpture is as offensive as has been suggested, it will be removed immediately. She planned to make that decision later Tuesday after city officials meet with First Nation and other leaders in the Indian community.

Some people don't see how the sculpture can be offensive.

"I haven't stopped to really look at it before, but I think that it's pretty interesting,"said Misty Pederson, 18, who viewed the sculpture. "With the guns and everything, I think they put it in an appropriate spot, right next to the courthouse and the police station."

Alaska native Gip Hadden, visiting Utah for a few days, snapped some photographs of the unusual sculpture while walking through the plaza.

"I think that this is pretty neat. Offensive? . . . no, I think it's great," he said. "They should turn it the other way so we can see the guns better."

But others were negatively impressed.

"It is degrading to the religious beliefs of the Indians. The gang members probably think they put up a monument to them,"said Shara Peguillan, who works in the court building near the plaza where the statue is displayed.

"That stuff is really sacred to the Indians. If they made a model of the (LDS) temple and welded guns to it, a lot of people would get really offended. They should take it down."

Co-worker Darlene Lunak agreed.

"I think it is disrespectful and degrading. Why shouldn't they be offended?" she said.

Earlier this year, Corradini invited high school art departments to propose art that would engage youth in discussions about guns and violence. A committee selected "Sacred Ground." The city planned to keep the sculpture on display for a period of time and then move it to another location or give it to the school.

The disabled guns welded to the sculpture came from the stockpile of weapons collected by the Salt Lake Police Department in its gun buy-back project.

"We designed this sculpture recognizing that everyone suffers from violence, both the innocent victims and the juveniles who are drawn into a destructive cycle," Bettin said in a statement prepared for a dedication scheduled for later this week. The Deseret News was not able to reach Bettin for comment.

No one raised concerns about the piece as it was reviewed and created, said Nancy Boskoff, executive director of the Salt Lake City Arts Council. Boskoff said she'd been reassured the piece wouldn't be offensive.

"Most people who saw the design felt it was a very strong piece, but obviously when you're working between cultures you have to be careful about what symbols you use," Boskoff said. "Many artists today are doing cross-cultural imagery. The constructive thing that will come out of this is that artists will follow through and make sure that when they borrow symbols from another culture that it's not offensive."