America's Children: Victims of Adult Vices

"The Children, Victims of Adult Vices" is effective public art that forces us to confront our vices and how they jeopardize the future of humanity. This group of sculptures features thirteen bronze figures depicting adult vices such as alcoholism, drug addiction, war and prostitution. The vices form a semi-circle behind two small, innocent, golden children, a girl and a boy who are blindfolded with hands outstretched toward each other into the unknown. The central adult vice figure, who looms above the children from a pedestal raising it above the other vices, is 'Indifference'.

Viewing the sculptures places us in the unnerving position of completing the semi-circle and forces the question, who am I to these children? Am I endangering them? Am I indifferent to their well-being?

Where is this provocative, challenging and compelling public statement? Who would finance such a critical analysis of the human condition? Is it in Washington, D.C., near the seat of our federal government, as a counterpoint to the monuments we have made to our Founding Fathers and our highest ideals? No. Remember the uproar John Boehner made over the inclusion of "Fire in the Belly" at the Smithsonian last year? Eric Cantor called the video piece, created in the 1980s by artist and AIDS-activist David Wojnarowicz, who died from the disease at age 37, "an outrageous use of taxpayer money and an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season." That video was promptly removed.

Is it farther from the beltway in Los Angeles? No, it's not in L.A., where the new director of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Jeffrey Deitch, censored a mural he commissioned from artist Blu for the current exhibit "Art in the Streets," white washing it before the public got a chance to see it because it featured caskets draped in dollar bills that he deemed offensive to nearby veterans groups. Now is not the time in America for public art critical of the establishment.

This public art was created by Mikhail Shemyakin, an artist famous for having been booted from his position at The Hermitage in St. Petersberg in the 1960s for failure to support the communist agenda in art. Censored no more, he has produced a timeless testament to future generations who deserve more than our Indifference to their well-being. The piece was commissioned by the Russian government in 2001 and stands today in Moscow.

But art like this is much needed in America where we have come to confuse criticism in the public realm with a lack of patriotism. Love of our country must include awareness of how we fail to meet our mark, so high in this land founded on principles of freedom. The Children could probably speak to societal flaws anywhere, but they speak urgently to problems we face right here in America, though we may not collectively admit them.

American children are indeed at great risk of harm from "adult vices." At the top of the list is addictive substances. Recent news reports of a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reveals that ¾ of American teens have tried drinking, smoking, or using drugs. A full 20 percent of those teens, 1.6 million in number, already qualify as addicts by clinical standards. And because young brains are still developing judgment and impulse control, trying addictive substances before the age of 18 makes people 6 times more likely to become addicted adults than those who wait until they are 21.

Another adult vice that is harming our American youth is prostitution. The FBI's Innocence Lost National Initiative conducts cross country sweeps to rescue children from being sex slaves. Since 2003, 1,600 children have been rescued. Despite common ignorance of this problem, it is American home grown crime.

And who is fighting our wars and dying because of them? The most common age of death for soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom? 21, followed most closely in age of death by 22 and 20 with a high number of 19-year-olds. 42 American 18-year-olds have lost their lives in these military operations to date.

A test of umbilical cord fluid found babies are exposed to 232 chemicals already in the womb and yet our Toxic Substances Enforcement Act has only banned or restricted only 5 chemicals since it was enacted in 1976, and trade secrets allow manufacturers to dose us with chemicals we don't even see listed as ingredients. Who are these laws protecting? Not our children.

"The Children, Victims of Adult Vices" demands reflection. Are we protecting unfettered corporate finance of our elections as free speech while we censor challenging art? Are we protecting corporate greed over the the public good? How are we investing in our children with our resources, time and attention? As parents, do we spend time with our children discussing values and planning for the future? Do those of us who are purveyors of popular culture push adult sexuality and intoxication to minors to increase sales? As consumers, do we make safe choices for our children? When we vote with our ballots and our wallets, do we protect our children's environment, their mental and physical health? Do we give priority to education and youth programs? Do we send our young people to war too readily and care more about the price of gas than their futures? Regardless of the price of gold or the price of oil, children are our most precious resource, our future. We can't afford to be indifferent to them.