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Potemkin Village: Signs Urge Dallas to Keep the Homeless in its Heart. What Heart?

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As a community, we get horrible leadership from City Hall. Terrible. City Hall brings out the worst in us.

On Monday, Building Community Workshop (called bcWORKSHOP), a housing advocacy group, began installing plywood silhouette figures of homeless people around town with cardboard signs urging people to think about the homeless and to keep the homeless in their hearts.

One of the cardboard signs in the installations, for example, carries a Martin Luther King Jr. quote: "The well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst."

The cut-out figures are painted in black and white. From a distance they are an eerie evocation of skeletons and death camps, but in proximity they convey innocence.

So far the reaction of the city -- led by Dallas City Hall -- has been to knock down the cut-outs, trash them, batter them and carry them away to where they can't be seen any more.

I hope to God that's not an example of Dallas showing its true colors. I hope it's just City Hall egging on the assholes among us. Either way, art has just landed a major face-punch on Dallas.

Andy Sturm of bcWORKSHOP was measured in his remarks when I called him yesterday. He told me how, for example, The Friends of the Katy Trail had called bcWORKSHOP and asked that a set of cut-outs installed near the trail be picked up.

"They had taken down a little family grouping we had put there," he said. "Someone from the group that manages the Katy Trail said, 'Hey, we got your signs, and we would really appreciate it if you would come get them because they shouldn't be here.' I went over last night with my truck and brought them back."

I don't want to beat up on the Katy Trail people. I called them. They said they were afraid the cut-outs would "impair vision," and they told me all about the city's sign ordinance. I'm sure they were trying to do the right thing, and they're not assholes. But they also said they had seen city officials on television talking about how the cut-outs all had to be scoured from the landscape because they violate the city code.

Bullshit. Nobody should touch those figures. People should step back from those figures and clasp their hands over their mouths. Those signs are moral spirits talking to our hearts.

Sturm told me most of the signs are gone. But the workshop has a few left. I hope people will comment here and volunteer locations on private property where the figures can be erected. They must stand as what they are and should be -- powerful public art.

We need to get a bunch of those suckers up in time for the Super Bowl.

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