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Community Project Generates Controversy

04 October 2011  
Kristen Anthony works on her senior project.

It's a community project that has generated a surprising amount of controversy.

The construction of a bench in Granite Creek Park, being overseen by Prescott College student Kristen Anthony as her senior project, has generated some controversy lately. Anthony says she designed the project to try to bring the community together and was somewhat surprised by the objections now being voiced. The project was undertaken with the cooperation of the Parks and Recreation Department and mostly constructed with donated materials. With the consultation with Parks and Recreation, a suitable tree was chosen and the design was made to preserve the tree and provide for its future growth and health.

All park users and community members were invited to assist in its decoration by applying parts of a mosaic. Anthony says she was prepared to exercise a degree of censorship if inappropriate material was proposed or appeared, but that no one tried to place anything radical on the bench. Although from an artistic standpoint, some might consider the result a little busy, there are many elements of coherence and beauty.

The controversy seems to be centered around the presence of some religious symbolism. There are several crosses, a Star of David, and a yin/yang symbol. They represent only a small portion of the space on the bench. There are also many hearts, animals, trees, flowers, mountains, a rainbow, abstracts, and a large chess/checkers board. The Parks and Recreation Department has asked Anthony to stop work until further clarification can be obtained.

Anthony stresses that she had no political or religious agenda when she began the project. She had noticed similar structures in Nepal which were used as gathering and meeting places by people there. She wanted to provide a place for people to come together instead of being isolated. She said she found the most amazing aspect of the work so far were the amazing positive images people contributed. Over 100 Prescott citizens and a few visitors have expressed themselves on the bench so far.

One of the objections made to the project concerns the presence of a peace symbol. Some people consider this an anti-Christian symbol. In fact it was designed for the British nuclear disarmament movement by Gerald Holton in 1958. Eric Austen adapted the design to ceramic lapel badges and it gained wide use over many parts of the world as a sign of peace.

The symbol is a combination of the semaphore signals for the letters N and D. In semaphore N is formed by a person holding two flags in an upside down V, and D is made by holding one flag straight up and the other straight down. The original drawing of the symbol by Gerald Holton is housed in the Peace Museum in Bradford England. More information on various symbols of peace can be found in the Wikipedia article on peace sign origins.

Apparently the origin of the supposed anti-Christian meaning of the peace sign was an article published by the John Birch Society in 1970. They claimed that the symbol had Communist, anti-Christian and Nazi associations. This claim has often been repeated since but has no basis in fact. The symbol was originated by Gerald Holton for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and has become a widespread peace symbol.

Anyone can stop by the bench, easily accessible from the road through Granite Creek Park, and judge the project for themselves.

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