Rodeo buzz drowns out arts festival?

Friday, February 1, 2002
The Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT)
By Bob Ward
SALT LAKE CITY – The controversy surrounding the Olympic rodeo may have livened local news coverage, but it hasn't added substantively to the 2002 Cultural Olympiad.


So said Raymond Grant, director of the Olympic Arts Festival. Grant's job has been to showcase American culture, specifically that of the Western U.S., with his artistic complement to the Olympic competitions. Protest and debate are central to American culture, and the animal rights groups' opposition to the Olympic Command Performance Rodeo has provided an unexpected dose of political theatre.

Grant acknowledged Thursday that the demonstrations have drawn attention to the Feb. 9-11 rodeo in Farmington.

"It's all good publicity until they spell your name incorrectly," Grant said.

The anima rights debate, however, started long before the 2002 Olympics and will continue long afterward, he said. The controversy over alleged rodeo cruelty hasn't advanced or changed as a result of this episode.

"It hasn't been a particularly intelligent debate," Grant said. "It's gotten boring."

For the last few weeks the Utah Animal Rights Coalition and other groups have followed the Olympic Torch Relay, staging demonstrations and handing out leaflets. Some protesters have pursued the relay in a customized moving van that shows videos of alleged rodeo violence.

As they harass the relay, the protesters have complained that they've been harassed in return by Olympic organizers and local police. A spokesman for the Utah Animal rights Coalition said Thursday the group is considering a First Amendment lawsuit.

"They're still getting all kinds of flack from law enforcement, particularly in Wyoming and Idaho", said Sean Diener of the UARC.

Meanwhile, all the rodeo-related hubbub seems to have drawn attention away from other Cultural Olympiad events of equal or more cultural significance. Grant's arts festival includes 60 performances and 15 exhibitions including new works by artist Dale Chihuly, the Alvin Alley American Dance Theater, Pilobolus Dance Theater and others that were commissioned specifically for the 2002 Olympics.

To Grant the rodeo debate has overshadowed the other events without even accelerating ticket sales.

"Our (rodeo) ticket sales have been slow and steady," he said. "They have tracked with the rest of the Arts Festival."

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