Artist Tom Otterness ‘interested’ in gaining community forgiveness through action

Brooklyn sculpture artist Tom Otterness shot and killed a dog on film and called it art in 1977 when he was 25 years old. But that act, which he has apologized for throughout years, continues to haunt his successful career and ignites debates whenever he is selected for public art commissions.

It’s no different in San Francisco. When residents found out about the incident there were calls to terminate the two city contracts awarded to the artist by the Arts Commission, which said it was unaware of his controversial past.

Some say Otterness needs to do more to be forgiven for the decades-old act, not just say he is sorry.

On Wednesday, the Arts Commission votes whether to terminate the art contracts with Otterness or let them proceed as planned.

Otterness is in talks with Rebecca Katz, director of the Animal Care and Control Department, about what he could do for “restorative justice.” Katz sent a Nov. 14 letter to the Arts Commission explaining that Otterness is working with her “and with other community leaders, here and in New York, to attempt reparation through a sincere and affirmative gesture in support of humane education and animal welfare.”

There were no specific details about what those acts might be in the letter. “I understand that Mr. Otterness is genuinely interested in having further discussions with our department and other community stakeholders regarding the types of projects that might provide ongoing attention to the importance of humane treatment of animals, to the impact of violence against animals on the community, and to serve as a memorial to all animals that have suffered from abuse,” the letter said.

Katz said she invited Otternesss to “continue conversations” to “explore options for actions and/or projects that would provide for an enduring way to honor animals and educate the public.”

Is this enough to soften the calls to rescind those arts contracts valued at more than $1.4 million? That remains to be seen.

Katz said that this “challenging situation” creates “a unique opportunity for restorative justice and a chance for Mr. Otterness to take meaningful action to benefit animals and the community that supports them.”

Otterness is seeking forgiveness in San Francisco, a town with more dogs than children.

The Arts Commission meets Wednesday, at 2:30 p.m., at City Hall, in Room 416.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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