“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?”
Hamlet, Act III, Scene I
Hamlet’s soliloquy ran through my mind four days before the opening of Art In Odd Places. Without a permit from the NYC Parks Department and an audience eager to know the next move, my choices in proceeding with “Tourist-In-Chief” were stark; TO BE: Install without permission -or- NOT TO BE: Don’t install at all.
In my play, to be would guarantee arrest and likely blacklist me on future public art opportunities available in NYC; not to be might result in possible lawsuits and or cash refunds to Kickstarter backers and simultaneously break my obligations to Art In Odd Places. Although Hamlet’s question concerned his own existence -to live or to die- my choice was the life or death of my career as attached to the outcome of a single project.
By seeking a permit to dress the statue of George Washington in Union Square, I thrusted my project into the ‘slings and arrows’ shot at Hamlet or any modern-day struggler. I knew my bid to dress New York City’s oldest monument would come under fire. The slings, the arrows of administrative rejection hurt deeply. Yet to anyone following the permit process, the ‘outrageous fortune’ of my situation was clear: The NYC Parks Department intended to deny “Tourist-In-Chief” while it had permitted other parties to dress George Washington statue. Furthermore, the Department held its position even after “Tourist-In-Chief” received unanimous support from Community Board 5 Parks Committee.
My teenage graffiti impulse longed to ‘take arms’ and install by any means necessary; my past had certainly prepared me for such a risk. The public artist in me, the man whom considered “Tourist-In-Chief” a stepping stone in a future of larger, permitted artworks advised restraint: Demand your rights within the realm of law, “opposing” and “end them” not by bailing on Kickstarter and Art In Odd Places, or by illicit action, but by arming yourself with words and mediation.
Three days before Art In Odd Places, the NYC Parks Department granted me permission to install “Tourist-In-Chief”, thereby releasing me of making Hamlet-like choices. The credit is due to attorney Phillip Z. Kimball who successfully articulated my position to those of authority. Likewise, the credit is due to the NYC Parks Department, for allowing a citizen the opportunity to exercise one of America’s most sacred rights (Freedom of Speech) on a statue of America’s founding father.
This year’s Art In Odd Places festival inspired me to share my life and work to the public in ways that I ordinarily would not, and for that I thank AIOP and all those who stuck by me from start to finish, the “Tourist-In-Chief” team, especially my wife Caroline Reid.
Photos: ©Leon Reid IV 2011. Photographer: Becki Fuller