Because neither the artist nor the city has been willing to share all of the documents regarding this issue, more so the city then the artist, it difficult to hold a discussion about this issue with all of the facts on hand. What we do know has been derived from the careful releases by the artist’s lawyer and her press release. The city on the other hand has been silent about the issue except to release a statement that indirectly sustained one of the controversies levied by Cabrera.
As a quick reminder, the city entered into an artist contract with Margarita Cabrera on October 2, 2012 directing her to create a public art piece to be installed on the Country Club and Memory Drive roundabout. The service agreement called for a budget not to exceed $70,000. In Section 2.82, the agreement clearly spells out that the city does not own the statue until it has issued a “final acceptance” for the artwork. This section is important, as you will see later in this post. (Service Agreement dated October 2, 2012)
For as yet to be explained reasons, the unfinished statue was abruptly removed by the city on March 13, 2015. The contract has built in language on how any deficiencies in either design, content or installation are to be addressed between the city and the artist. Most of them, if not all of the mechanisms, call for discussion and at least 30-days to correct any deficiencies in the artwork. The abrupt removal of the artwork seems extreme and is something that normal individuals would expect would happen only if there were extenuating circumstances, like a dangerous situation, that would warrant the abrupt removal of the artwork.
To date, no one has stated that the artwork was a danger to the community.
On an April 26, 2015 letter to city council advising them that she was preparing to sue the city, Cabrera alleges that she attempted to speak to the city official, who was at the site during the removal of the statue via her assistant’s telephone. According to Cabrera, the city’s representative refused to talk to her. Cabrera further alleges that the city has refused to let her see the remains of her statue.
Cabrera further alleges, in her April 26, 2015 letter, that city manager Tommy Gonzalez was the one that “ordered the sculpture removed because the design had been altered and because it was structurally unsound.”
Remember that there are mechanisms in the contract about how to deal with design issues each having a time frame to rectify and discuss. As for the allegation that the sculptor may have been “structurally unsound,” keep in mind that the city has yet to issue a statement to that effect.
On a follow up letter (May 8, 2015) from her attorney to the city, Cabrera adds that she and her attorney met with Sylvia Firth Borunda, the city’s attorney, on May 6, 2015. In that letter, Cabrera alleges that the city will allow here to install the public art in the Country Club roundabout if the artist removed “the gun fragments from the birds and place them in the base.”
Let’s focus on that for a moment. According to Cabrera’s attorney, the issue is not about the statue being structurally “unsound” but rather about the content of the art. There is some discussion that the placement of the gun parts violates the design specification of the artwork but the fact remains that the contract has a mechanism spelled out about how to address variations of the design. None of the contract mechanisms calls for the abrupt removal of the statue. Furthermore, and this is important, there is no allegation that the structure was a danger that required its immediate removal.
I realize that I am basing my discussion on only one-side of the issue but that is because the city has not offered any information on the danger that the piece may have placed the community in that it necessitated its immediate removal.
As a matter of fact, the city released a statement from Martin Bartlett, Lead Public Affairs Coordinator for the city on May 8, 2015. In that statement, the city states “The City of El Paso continues to be open to a resolution with Ms. Cabrera. The legal department is evaluating our legal options in light of Ms. Cabrera’s attempt to unilaterally cancel the contract with [the] City.” This statement was attributed to Sylvia Firth Borunda.
Margarita Cabrera held a press conference earlier on that date and the city issued its statement as a response. However, let’s look at what the city is publicly stating.
The city does not make any statements as to the appropriateness of the statue nor does it make any allegations about the artwork being a danger to the community. I believe this is important because of the mechanisms for dealing with differences in the artwork between the city and the artist I have been pointing out.
Because we do not have access to the complete set of documents, we have little to work with and we must rely on what we can infer from the publicly released documents so far. I expect to be criticized for basing my commentary on only “one side” of the issue but remember that only the artist has released documents and statements about the ongoing controversy. Therefore, we are left with how much credence we can give it.
For that, I am going to point you to the May 8, 2015 letter from her attorney. After writing that the city is willing to entertain reinstalling the statue, if the gun fragments are removed, her attorney levies another allegation against the city. Cabrera’s attorney writes “that it appeared to Ms. Cabrera and to me [attorney] that one or more individuals in the area saw the sculpture being erected during the week of March 8, 2015 and did not like that gun fragments had been welded to the birds.”
The attorney adds, “I further surmised that these individuals complained to the City and were influential enough to induce the City Manager to take immediate and illegal action to cut down the sculpture.”
Yes, I realize that this is supposition by the attorney and one-sided. However, it is all we have to work with and therefore we must look at the whole of the evidence and see what we can derive from it. The city is the one to blame for not being forthwith with its version of the issue.
Remember, if the content of the artwork is the issue then the proper and reasonable course of action by the city is notifying the artist that there is are issues with the design and implementing the mechanisms in the contract to rectify them. The immediate removal of the artwork is not part of the mechanism for dealing with content issues.
Finally and most importantly, Cabrera’s attorney added that a city official, Laura Gordon, told Cabrera’s attorney on May 7, 2015 that, “the City could issue Ms. Cabrera a check for the amount due under the Service Agreement and then the city would own the sculpture and could do whatever it wanted.” Cabrera’s attorney advised his client to terminate the agreement with the city.
Now look back at the city’s statement about the issue and you will clearly see that the city agrees that Cabrera is unilaterally terminating the agreement.
Cabrera’s version of the events may not be entirely correct, and some of it may be self-serving, however, the preponderance of the evidence we currently know is that the likely scenario is that the city unilaterally removed the sculpture illegally because of pressure from influential individuals in the community.
This is censorship.
There are those of you that are going to argue that I cannot draw that conclusion based on what we know. Therefore, let me point you to the relevant facts.
First, the sculpture was abruptly and unilaterally removed. Second, the city has not offered any evidence that the abrupt removal of the sculpture was an emergency that required immediate action. Instead, the city acknowledges that it wants to work with the artist to reach a settlement.
Therefore, we can only draw one conclusion and that is that the artwork bothered one, or more influential individuals in the community and the result is that they influenced the destruction of personal property because they did not like it.
Remember the part where I pointed out that the city does not own the sculpture until it finally accepts it from the artist. Therefore, the city’s removal was taking property that did not belong to it.
Anyone doing the same thing would be arrested for theft.
I know this is long but it is necessary to lay out the details to avoid the naysayers nitpicking to distract from the reality. Despair not; I’m finally tying everything together.
The issue seems to be the gun fragments. There is only one reason the gun fragments would bother the sensibilities of the well-to-do on the Westside and it has everything to do with the unpleasant fact that they betray the unsavory truth that El Paso is a major drug corridor into the US. The gun fragments remind El Pasoans of the many Mexicans that died to feed the druggies in the US. Finally, the gun fragments exposes that “it’s all good in El Paso” is nothing more than a blatant lie.