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Petitioners: Jail Cell Artwork In SoHo Park Is Insult To Italian-Americans

Petrosino Square Petition

Opponents are petitioning Mayor Michael Bloomberg to stop the installation of a jail cell replica artwork at Petrosino Square in SoHo. (Credit: Care2 Petition Site)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Some opponents have launched a petition demanding that Mayor Michael Bloomberg stop a replica of a Rikers Island jail cell from being mounted in Petrosino Square in SoHo, calling the exhibition an insult to Italian-Americans.

The petition, sponsored by Feast of San Gennaro board member John A. Fratta, said the park was dedicated in memory of NYPD Lt. Joseph Petrosino – who was described in the petition as “a hero who gave his life while fighting organized crime.” Petrsoino was also the founder of the NYPD Bomb Squad, the petition said.

Petrosino (1860-1909), served as leader of the NYPD Italian Squad, a group of Italian-American detectives responsible for fighting the organized crime groups whom they believed were besmirching their ethnicity. He was shot to death in 1909 in Palermo, Sicily, while on a top secret mission from the NYPD.

“Placing this here during Italian American Heritage and Culture Month is an even larger slap in the face to our Italian-American Community,” the petition said. It went on to call on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to stop the Parks Department from going ahead with the project.

As of shortly before 11 p.m. Wednesday, the petition had 46 signatures. Its creators were seeking 1,000.

On her Web site, artist Jessica Feldman described the art installation, called The Glass Sea, as a multimedia project with looping video and sound, bricks, sand, and handwritten texts detailing the schedule of jail workers and inmates.

Feldman wrote on her Web site that The Glass Sea (2010), followed her five-month residency on Governor’s Island, and was inspired by Governor’s Island as a military prison.

The project also draws correlations with Riker’s, Randall’s and Wards, and Roosevelt islands, Feldman wrote. Riker’s Island houses the main New York City jail complex, while Randall’s and Island has two residential psychiatric facilities and Roosevelt Island houses a complex of state-run hospitals, she wrote.

For the video portion, Wright wrote she collected interviews from current and past residents narrating their schedules and experiences.

But Italian Heritage and Culture Committee of New York membership chair Bill Russo told DNAInfo.com he believed the installation would drudge up ethnic stereotypes by associating Italian-Americans with prison. Another neighbor told the online publication he hoped Italian-Americans would protest.

The Glass Sea is the latest in several public art installations at the park, pounded by Spring and Lafayette streets and Cleveland Place, DNAInfo said. The publication says it is set to open at the site on Oct. 25.