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Hide your children! Lock away your property values for safekeeping! Stock up on spare bottles of locally produced vino and throw on a chastity belt for good measure! And if you don’t have property values to protect, kindly get the hell out and wipe down any valuable property you might have touched.

Public art is running amok! Splashes of color where there should be nothing but wilted, dehydrated hills! Giant heads cruising the neighborhood on bicycle sipping massive cups of coffee, taunting the neighborhood with their frothy steam! Fawns with antlers that coil in menacing fashion and freckles on their flanks that might as well spell out “HAPPIEST CITY IN AMERICA, MY FRECKLED ASS.” 

If you had the privilege of missing SLO’s Feb. 3 City Council meeting, then you might not be aware there was a mass outbreak of hysteria, led by Mayor Jan Marx and supported by yes-bots Dan Carpenter and Carlyn Christianson, over a painting on a utility box that the city commissioned around three years ago. Marx is on a mission, at the behest of former Supervisor and City Councilwoman Peg Pinard (one can only assume), who just so happens to live in the neighborhood, to have the painting removed and the artist brought up on charges of failing to paint a pretty plein air landscape. Which might not sound bad, but in America’s Happiest City, the latter charge is apparently punishable by public flogging during the Friday night concerts in the mission. 

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As part of her campaign against the offensive utility box, Marx first implied that the figure on the box is smoking pot and later insisted that people Google the artist’s name so that they can see “the kind of art that he does.” Based on Marx’s attitude and tone, you’d expect to discover images of a painter lying in the gutter with a needle sticking out of his arm and an “I Hate SLO” button pinned to his lapel. But the images that actually come up are overwhelmingly paintings of brightly colored women wearing antlers and elaborate headpieces, sipping coffee from a delicate cup and saucer, surrounded by small, strange animals. What any of this proves, or what Marx thinks it’s going to prove, is beyond me. The only disturbing element in all this is a small-town politician with the small mind to match trying to dictate what qualifies as art three years after the art went on display. 

Marx’s next stop on her campaign against Offensive Art Created by Offensive People is likely going to be the library. (Newsflash: Writing and substance abuse tend to go hand in hand, but I’ll bet even Marx is going to be bummed when she has to burn every copy of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings once she discovers that Oprah’s darling used to smoke pot.) Of course, by the time she’s done there won’t be anything left to read, but better that we should all become ignorant louts than potentially read something Marx considers objectionable. 

Then Marx & Co. can use the money the city would have spent on future art projects to rent a bus to tour us around all the major museums where we’ll burn anything that isn’t a pretty landscape. Of course, Thomas Kinkade’s work will have to go as well, despite apparently being Marx’s exact cup of artistic tea, because Kinkade was a known alcoholic, and we can’t allow people with substance abuse issues to have any kind of creative outlet. 

I’ve got to hand it to her: Marx has come a long way from the idealistic progressive who held a campaign dinner at the Establishment when she first ran for mayor. Given the opportunity today, she’d probably turn up her nose at the people who believed in her way back when and insist that everyone Google the Establishment so we know the kind of people we’re dealing with. Hint: One of them probably smoked weed at some point. 

Maybe it’s the lingering effects of that dinner all those long years ago, but I’m especially baffled by Marx’s insistence that the figure in the utility box is smoking something that “may or may not be tobacco.” The only smoke emanating from the box is the steam rising from a cup of coffee. But who cares if the painting doesn’t feature weed as she so obviously not-so-secretly suspects, because it’s not exactly a sweet little plein air painting, now is it? My question is: What the hell is Marx smoking if she sees a joint where everyone else sees a cup of coffee? My second question is: Where can I get some?

If we’re going to allow paranoid politicians to dictate what passes for public art—or worse, petition for the removal of a piece of public art because their buddy doesn’t happen to be a fan—then we might as well acknowledge that our new public art policy is going to consist of depictions of natural landmarks within viewing distance of the natural landmarks so that we get a double rainbow effect of natural beauty in America’s gee-golly happiest city. 

Unfortunately the City Council only chose to show some backbone when Marx proposed a ban on references to or depictions of drugs in public art—not because they objected to a public official imposing her artistic taste on the public, not because they thought their time would be better spent discussing the city’s actual issues, but because they wanted to ensure that the city’s beloved drug of choice (wine) wasn’t accidentally placed on the list of banned content. 

Because weed—even an imaginary joint that the mayor hallucinated in a painting of a cup of coffee—is an icky, uncivilized drug for icky uncivilized people who like paintings of bicyclists, while wine is a civilized drug for wealthy people like Marx and Pinard. 

How do I know they’re wealthy?

They can afford a house in SLO. And they can afford to dictate the public art placed within a mile radius of that house.


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