Off Limits

When Miguel Flores learned there was a sudden vacancy on the walls of the nearby Diedrich coffeehouse at 1201 East Ninth Avenue -- where art shows are usually booked a year in advance -- the 25-year-old Capitol Hill resident jumped at the chance to fill it. His exhibit went up June 3, along with an artist's statement that noted he enjoyed riding his bike and "making inflammatory statements." Which got only hotter when he heard four days later that at least one of his pieces -- an eight-foot portrait of Saddam Hussein -- had to come down.

Seems the "pseudo-liberals" at Diedrich decided it was offensive, Flores says. Not that he hadn't warned them in the rest of his statement: "With my paintings, I hope to focus on iconic imagery and the impact they have in contemporary culture and media. The two images I have used here are those of Saddam Hussein and Ariel Sharon. In using Hussein as a subject matter, I am not seeking to either vilify him or heroize him, but rather I am asking the viewer to analyze how the image affects them and how that effect has changed over the years.

"Our government and our media have transformed Hussein, and what this particular image represents, from ally to mass murderer to imminent threat. Now, however, one can not help but see his image and be reminded of an old man cowering in a holeŠ. Still, some might look at his image and become enraged, while others will simply find it comical. Either way, we must all be aware of the vulnerability of our own opinions and the role the government and the media can play in defining them. In the days leading up to our invasion, our leaders tried to convince us of his role in the September 11 attacks and his plans to amass nuclear weapons. Now, as the dust settles, we see him for what he truly is: a brutal dictator, a pathetic old man, but no more a threat to our own security than ourselves.

"Acting as counterbalance to Hussein is quite literally a &'rosy' portrait of Ariel Sharon. Many will walk in to this coffee house and not have the same knee-jerk reaction to his image as they might to the image of Hussein, which helps prove an interesting point..."

You get the idea. The only thing that might have gotten customers more riled up would have been showing Saddam in his undies.

Rather than simply take down the offending piece, Flores took down the entire exhibit. Next time, he says, he'll scout the venue a little more closely -- so that he won't get hung for hanging iconoclastic art. As for Diedrich, management would rather have customers get a jolt from the java, not the art. We'll take that coffee light.

Scene and herd: On June 7, anyone who was anyone in Denver media was at Donkey Den -- although not to enjoy the Tuesday half-price low-carb items. No, they were digging into a meaty story: a proposed boycott of the restaurant/club at 1109 Lincoln Street because of its references to Tijuana and a certain sex act that most reporters had a difficult time describing during the family hour (which is why Off Limits offered a clinical definition in this space last week). But by June 11, all was, if not forgiven, then at least settled, with owner Tosh Berman promising to remove the offensive menu items and language. Ain't that a kick?

On the Record

In September 2003, Colorado State Library launched, with librarians fluent in Spanish and English available 24/7 via IM, answering such questions as "What party is Bill Owen with?" and "Who is your state hero?" Last week, after the national Library Journal lauded AskColorado coordinator Sharon Morris for her efforts, we got her live and asked a few questions of our own.

Q: What's the most common question AskColorado receives?

A: We get questions about driver's licenses, teaching licenses or fishing licenses. We get asked a lot about legal questions, law and genealogy and Colorado history, and health-related things. We help students out a lot with their homework.

Q: What's the craziest question?

A: AskColorado is an anonymous service, and a lot of kids use it, so we get a lot of weird ones. This is one that I found in the last couple of days: "Are the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat and the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat the same species?"

Q: Are they?

A: When I looked up the transcript, the librarian had to determine what was meant by species, since that has a technical, scientific definition. The person meant are they the same genus, and they are.

Q: Can people ask whatever they want as many times as they want? Are there any boundaries?

A: The boundaries are that we help with information, but we don't offer advice. People can ask anything, and they do. Because basically we're here to assist them with information and research. If we get something that's hard, we have a network of librarians around the state, so we can get people who are specialists.

Q: What do you specialize in?

A: I get the hard ones. I got a question about some ranch brand from the 1920s, and I had people e-mailing me from all over the state to find out this information.

Q: How long does it take for someone to get a response?

A: It's live chat, so our sessions for general information and kids' questions average fourteen minutes. For college research, our average is more like 22 minutes.

Q: Couldn't a college student just IM you for all the details of a research paper?

A: It depends. We're obligated to provide what we call "instruction." In other words, we don't just provide the answer, we show them how we found the answer so they can learn to search better on their own. The service is extraordinarily popular. In the first months that it started, we were getting 2,000 questions; now we're well over 4,000 questions a month. So people are using it because it helps them save time, and they feel more confident that a professional is helping them. Or maybe they're just lazy.


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