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Columbus Circle Public Art Project Has Some Italian-Americans Upset

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A refurbishment and public art project in Columbus Circle is being labeled by some Italian-Americans as offensive.

In addition to rehabbing a statue of Christopher Columbus, an artist is working on a public art project that will feature a living room, complete with lamp, couch and coffee table, around the 70-foot-high statute so visitors can get an up-close look at the explorer.

"This is sort of the beating heart of New York City, both for Italians and for all immigrants who came to this country," Frank Vernuccio told CBS 2's Ann Mercogliano on Monday. "I feel it is very much a desecration."

"The month of October we have our Columbus Day Parade here in New York City and, unfortunately, during that period they're going to put up this contemporary living room which they're going to call art around the Columbus statue. It's just a disgrace," the One Voice Coalition's Andre Dimino told CBS 2's Hazel Sanchez.

The statute of Columbus sits in the center of the circle named for him in Midtown, but has been hidden in recent weeks by scaffolding.

"He's been sitting up there for 120 years with nobody bothering him, enjoying the view. And now this has to be done? I think this is just another swipe at the Italian-American community," Dimino said.

"I don't think it's necessarily anti-Italian, I think it's anti-good taste," Vernuccio told Mercogliano.

The project is being built by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi and supporters said it should not be viewed as offensive because it will allow New Yorkers and visitors alike to get an up-close look at Columbus high above the circle.

Frank Fusaro, president of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, said he supports the art project.

"I've heard some of the complaints, I really don't understand it," Fusaro said. "I think art, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder."

"Part of this effort will be to restore the statue," Fusaro told Mercogliano.

In a statement, the Italic Institute of America, which represents about 1,000 Italians nationwide, said, "We are against it because it is bad art and it is disrespectful to the Italian-American community."

But the director of the Public Art Fund, which brought this project to the city, said he expects people will be happy with the finished product.

"I would say, keep an open mind. It's hard to know what it's going to be like, until you see it," Nicholas Baume said.

New Yorkers seemed split on the idea.

"I don't know. Art is so many things to so many different people," said Cristina Quinones of the Bronx.

"I think they could have found a better place for it," added Judy Zsholtz of the Upper West Side.

The living room surrounding Columbus' statue opens to the public on Sept. 20 and closes on Nov. 18. It is reachable by stairs or elevator and will be free of charge.

What do you think of the Columbus Circle public art project? Do you find it offensive? Please share your thoughts below...

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