WASILLA - The cover has come off a controversial piece of public art at Wasilla High School.
Days after the "Warrior Within" was installed in front of the school Jan. 29, WHS Principal Amy Spargo had the 12.5-foot-high sculpture covered after fielding concerns from some students and parents that the work resembled female genitalia.
It had been covered until about 6 p.m., Friday while the school continues to work with the artists, Meadow Lakes residents Jim Dault and Shala Dobson, to educate students and the community about their artistic interpretation of the warrior spirit.
Spargo said she's putting together a committee of community members, students, parents and administrators to review the piece. In the meantime, the tarps are off in preparation for this week's parent-teacher conferences, she said.
"It was already scheduled to be uncovered for the parent-teacher conferences," Spargo said.
Dault and Dobson said Friday afternoon they didn't know about the plan to uncover their work, but that they are pleased with the development.
"I think it's great, that's what it's meant for," Dobson said. "We're very happy. That's what we wanted to have happen, and we wanted to do the presentation so they could understand the symbolism of the ‘Warrior Within.'"
The $100,000 artwork was commissioned through the Percent for Art Program, a state law that requires the expenditure of 1 percent of capital construction costs of public buildings for permanent installation of artwork. A Percent for Art committee comprised of Wasilla High staff, students and administrators made a final recommendation, which was then approved by the Mat-Su Borough School District School Board.
That committee process wasn't inclusive enough, Spargo said, adding she thinks public debate is healthy.
"Where this goes is going to depend on the Wasilla High community, and I really believe everyone needs a voice," she said. "I want the kids to have education when they look at it. I don't want it to be defaced, I don't want it to be a big joke."
That education will happen Feb. 24, when the artists will give presentations to the student body about the symbolism of the art. Part of that includes information about the shape of the sculpture's shields, Dault said.
"Those shields are in the same shape Zulu warriors use," he said. "A warrior's greatest battle is within himself, and for a warrior, patience has a great reward. Everyone has to answer to the warrior within themselves."
While Spargo is re-opening the committee process, not everyone agrees with her assessment the original Percent for Art committee wasn't inclusive enough. In fact, "Warrior Within" wasn't the first concept the artists pitched to the committee, Dault and Dobson said.
They first presented an idea for a sculpture featuring a pair of Olympians with their arms raised in victory spelling out a large "W," Dobson said. But the committee thought that idea was too literal and the artists were asked to come back with something that was more symbolic.
"They wanted something more cerebral that would make you think," Dobson said.
The decision to uncover "Warrior Within" was also hailed by Howard Bess, a Valley community activist and Palmer Arts Council board member. The council's board met Wednesday evening to discuss what it viewed as censorship of public art.
"I'm very glad she did it," Bess said of Friday's unveiling. "It was the point of view of the board - unanimous - that the covering of it was unfortunate. As far as the artwork itself, there really needs to be public education and discussion. Good artwork will always produce both wonder and discussion. Negative comments about it should simply be seen as part of the community discussion."
While the future of "Warrior Within" is still in doubt, Bess said he believes the school should support the public process that already has concluded and leave the sculpture where it is.
"My personal hope is they leave it right where it is," he said. "The idea of removing it completely, I don't think that would be a good solution. Let the artwork speak for itself."
As for Spargo, the principal said she's keeping an open mind and that she believes the publicity and public debate sparked by her decision to cover the sculpture can be healthy.
"The whole idea with the ‘Warrior Within,' that's something we're thinking about for (education opportunities) with the kids," she said. "If that's what ends up resonating with kids, then I would say it would be a huge success. But, kids these days, they think what they think."
So, what's the future for the sculpture?
"I really can't predict at this point," Spargo said. "I am surprised there has been such a strong response both ways, but not alarmed. I'm happy to facilitate the process."
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Contact reporter Greg Johnson at email@example.com or 352-2269.