TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (March 17) - When artist John Sims sees the Confederate flag, he sees "visual terrorism ," and a symbol of a racist past. When Robert Hurst sees the flag, he is filled with pride as the descendant of a soldier who fought for the South during the Civil War.
Their differences have flared into a war of words, catching a local museum in the middle.
Hurst walked into the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science this past week and saw an exhibit by Sims, including a Confederate flag hung from a noose on a 13-foot gallows in a display titled "The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag."
Hurst asked the museum to remove the display, along with 13 other pieces by Sims.
The museum, however, announced Friday it is standing by Sims' work, on display since Feb. 26, because it wants to inspire dialogue in the community about a symbol that engenders a diversity of strong responses.
"There's a balance between the nature of the art that we show and the outcome that we seek, which is to promote dialogue and conversation, and have you maybe think of something in a slightly different way," said Chucha Barber, the museum's executive director.
Hurst, commander of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter, said Friday he has lost respect for the museum, calling the display of Sims' work "offensive, objectionable and tasteless."
"They're alienating a large portion of the population around here," Hurst said. "Maybe they just wanted to cause some controversy."
He called Sims an "irrelevant individual" with no artistic talent.
"There are some people who have great talent, and they rely on that talent to be successful. There are others who don't have great talent, and they have to rely on a gimmick," Hurst said.
This is not the first time that Sims and the Sons of Confederate Veterans have sparred. In 2004, Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania drew protests from the group when it displayed the same gallows.
Barber said she was not aware of the confrontation in Gettysburg, but said it probably would not have changed her museum's decision.
Hurst says he has discussed the possibility of taking legal action against the museum, although he's reluctant to give Sims more publicity.
Florida statutes say it's unlawful to "deface, defile or contemptuously abuse" the Confederate flag, but say it's also illegal to prevent the display of the flag "for decorative or patriotic purposes."
"I think that we're well within the statute," Barber said.