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Billboard that takes aim at Scout statue is under fire

Updated: 2013-09-29T04:25:04Z

By BRAD COOPER and LYNN HORSLEY

The Kansas City Star

A downtown billboard featuring a gunman taking aim at Kansas City’s iconic Scout statue is stirring up a lot of buzz.

Native Americans say it’s offensive. Others think it’s “nuts,” “strange” or in “poor taste.”

“I understand art,” said Moses Brings Plenty, community outreach coordinator with the Kansas City Indian Center and a member of the Oglala Lakota nation.

“For me, there’s a way to deliver a message without desecrating or being disrespectful to a nationality,” he said.

The two-piece billboard, located at the bustling corner of 19th Street and Baltimore in Kansas City’s Crossroads District, is getting plenty of attention.

Artist A. Bitterman wrote on his website, noweiwei.com, that he put up the billboard after the piece was accepted and then rejected for the Missouri Bank Crossroads “Artboards,” a program that commissions artists’ works to be displayed above the Missouri Bank at 125 Southwest Blvd.

The co-director of the Charlotte Street Foundation, which works with the bank on the project, told KCUR radio in July that it was the first time any commissioned work had been withdrawn. Charlotte Street has worked with Missouri Bank on the endeavor since 2008, the radio report said.

Neither Bitterman nor representatives for the bank could be reached Saturday.

Bitterman explained the billboard on his website. Headlined “Discover Kansas City,” the billboard “represents a conversation with history, and invites the viewer to examine the ways in which the past intersects with the present to define our sense of place.

“The superficial provocation in the piece — that the artist is victimizing the indian — functions as a visual trope to draw the viewer into a deeper train of thought,” he wrote.

Bitterman wrote that if someone sees a gunman shooting an Indian, “then that person is looking through the lens of an expired narrative that once fueled a settlement culture.”

Others are bewildered by the billboard’s message or think it’s out of step with Kansas City.

“That’s not how Kansas City should be represented,” said Annie Kulik, who works at a restaurant across the street from the billboard. “It just shows hate. It doesn’t represent ‘Discover Kansas City.’”

Randy Klein of Leawood looked over the billboard Saturday afternoon as he went into a nearby restaurant.

“That’s an iconic statue up there. Having someone point a rifle at it seems kind of strange,” Klein said. “It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”

Leo Jackson of Kansas City was equally perplexed. “I think it’s in poor taste. It looks out of place to me,” he said. “I can’t figure out what the message is at all.”

To reach Brad Cooper, call 816-234-7724 or send email to bcooper@kcstar.com.

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