GOP county legislature candidate calls O+ fest mural ‘divisive’

A candidate for the county legislature said last week that she’s offended by depictions of Native Americans on a mural put up at the YMCA as part of the O+ Festival.

Jean Jacobs, Republican candidate for the District 6 legislative seat in the City of Kingston, currently held by Democrat Dave Donaldson, said the images send a potentially divisive “ethnic message,” rather than celebrating Kingston’s “original heritage.”

Jacobs’ comments came in response to a reporter’s inquiry for a story about murals created as part of the annual arts and wellness festival in the city’s historic districts. Jacobs leveled general criticism of O+, saying that the event, now in its eighth year, hasn’t brought sustainable economic development.


She declined to discuss specific artworks other than one, painted by Brooklyn-based artist Vince Ballentine. The work depicts a pair of Native Americans — an elder in a feathered headdress and young girl standing together and gazing into the distance. Behind them is a mountain landscape and a rising or setting sun. In an artist’s statement, Ballentine placed the untitled work in the context of this year’s O+ theme of “Home.”

“This piece deals with generational wisdom and love, displacement, the environment and honoring the indigenous,” wrote Ballentine.

But Jacobs said that she was “shocked” by the mural. Jacobs said she had gone to the Y to speak to Ballentine after seeing him interviewed on local news and found him to be personable and open to discussing his work. However, she said, she believed the depiction of Native Americans painted on the Y was inappropriate and disregarded Kingston’s heritage. Jacobs said that she was “astonished” to see a mural that “signified a different race” painted on a facility like the YMCA, where she has been a member for 45 years.

Jean Jacobs

“I think it divides the community,” said Jacobs. “It sends an ethnic message. Why did he come up with the idea — on the YMCA — to paint Indians. What does that signify?”

Jacobs also critiqued the artist’s depiction of the Native Americans as too “dark.” Ballentine is black and his art frequently incorporates Native American themes and people of color.

“It was supposed to be Indian, but it didn’t look Indian,” said Jacobs. “Maybe a black Indian.”

Jacobs framed her criticism of Ballentine’s work as part of a larger grievance about outsiders coming in and remaking public spaces as part of the O+ fest. In a Facebook posting, Jacobs also questioned, though not in explicitly racial terms, the propriety of a mural adjacent to a city parking lot on North Front Street by another Brooklyn-based artist Jia Sung that incorporates an image of a young Asian woman. Jacobs questioned who approved the murals and suggested that the artworks should be more in tune with the city’s “current heritage.”

“It’s [Ballentine’s] idea and no one else had anything to say about it,” said Jacobs. “That’s the issue I have and it’s happening all over the city.”

O+ co-founder and curator Denise Orzo said Monday, Oct. 9 that a festival committee known as the “Art Witches” solicit submissions and approve all mural concepts. Orzo said she welcomes what she called a discussion about “who gets to be represented in public space.” Orzo suggested that anybody offended by any of the O+ artwork should go stand in front of the piece with “an open mind and an open heart” and reflect upon the source of their grievance.

“I think it’s important to show the people who were here before [Kingston] was colonized,” said Orzo. “I think it’s important to depict all shades of skin to represent the people who live here now, not some frozen-in-time depiction.”

Jacobs, meanwhile, said she saw Ballentine’s work and other O+ murals as potentially dividing the community, not bringing it together. Jacobs claimed to have spoken to a number of city residents, including at least one YMCA board member who found the mural off-putting.

“It’s not just the Jean Jacobs hullabaloo. People are looking at this from afar saying, ‘What is going on here?’” said Jacobs. “You cannot let go of the heritage here.”

There are 44 comments

  1. Aphrodite

    Ms. Jacobs –

    Just save yourself and everyone else some time and just fess up to being another old white bigot.

    Like the current infant-in-chief in Washington, you don’t even understand how transparent your white privileged disdain is, even as you attempt to twist your limited vocabulary into something remotely acceptable.

    Nobody is going to flock here to look at a bunch of murals of old white Dutch people, so please get over yourself, ma’am.

  2. Janedoe

    I think she is being very closed minded!! This city is very diverse and her comments are coming from a place of ignorance!

  3. Chloe Wingstead

    Jean ‘Trump’ Jacobs. I have been trying to find a way to say this politely but there is no way around it. Jean Jacobs is an idiot! Anyone who thinks Art divides people is obviously not in tune with the real world. Kingston’s heritage? Oh it’s WHITE heritage you mean, I get it! Publish or not, I don’t care I just had to say it. She is obviously living in some sort of parallel universe.

    1. Appalled Citizen

      Chloe…..just because that is what YOU think does not make it so! You do not speak for the residents of this city and community who are troubled by the fact that business owners have to meet strict standards for signage with their companies, yet a committee from O Positive gets to make decisions about permanent, enormous murals that change the historical landscape of this city.

  4. E Johnson

    Is this conversation recorded? I would like to hear it in it’s entirety… this does not sound like Jean Jacobs at all. At All.

  5. pancakes with butter

    I’m surprised there aren’t more in Kingston grumbling about the murals. A few would add some spice but at this point the stew is overseasoned.

    As far as the content… well, this woman seems to be pretty ignorant, but it is true that the subjects aren’t really representative of Kingston’s history and culture. There’s a giant earth goddess, multiple native americans, a new one on the old parent/teacher store appears to depict a person of asian descent. I can’t remember the others but it definitely seems to be mostly non-white subjects in a city that’s 3/4 white, in a festival whose attendance is probably 9/10 white. Since this is public art it is the image the city shows visitors, and it seems that image doesn’t really fit (although it is what you’d expect from young artists, for whom, at this point in time, white is generally equated with privilege, ignorance, injustice, over-representation-up-to-now, racism, etc.) — public art ought to bear some connection with the place it’s displayed.

        1. Aphrodite

          “Since this is public art it is the image the city shows visitors, and it seems that image doesn’t really fit…”

          Fit what, exactly? Your viewpoint? The City Charter? God’s master plan?

          You seem terribly concerned about ‘how white’ everything is or is not. And your comments about how ‘white’ Kingston and the O+ festival is, suggests that you aren’t really looking around. Sure – there were lots of white folks taking part, but there were many, many people of color taking part as well. And gays and lesbians, and drag queens, and hipsters, and differently-abled people for Pete’s sake.

          These are the same people who are visiting here, and shopping and dining here, and buying homes for their families here. And investing in the rich fabric that makes up what Kingston is today.

          Your tone is more moderated than Ms. Jacobs’, but I suspect we’re hearing the same complaint.

          I’d suggest that what doesn’t ‘fit’ in Kingston in 2017 is barely concealed but still recognizable white bigotry.

    1. BGGB

      If you’re concerned with “history” of the area you shouldn’t be criticizing a mural of Native Americans.

      If you want to make the argument that only modern, mostly-white Kingston should appear in art, go right ahead. It makes you sound incredibly close minded, but at least you’re not ignoring the meaning of basic words like, “history”.

  6. Evelyn Pitcher

    I was shocked to see this headline, but then when I saw who was saying it… I’m not shocked anymore.
    Ms. Jacobs had testified against the City’s sanctuary status.
    She testified against RUPCOs senior housing project st the Alms House.
    She approves the boutique “first class” hotel proposals for Uptown.
    So no immigrants, no seniors. Only folks with money, aka privilege, are acceptable to her. She’d probably swoon at Trumps feet if given the chance. He’s her kind of folk; ripping off others, taking what one can get, grab everything up for herself.
    Like the 10k the city gave her for the “cat commission”. Nothing happened there, but the money is gone and that cats still breed. She feeds them. No capture. No spay. No release. Unless we count the cat she helped regime that belonged to a five year old neighborhood boy.
    Meanwhile, she’s s horder and her house literally smells so bad of cat urine that half the block stinks in the summer. No joke. It’s aweful.
    Mean people should not have their sad point of view validated with print and attention. Maybe if we ignore her she’ll finially go away and take her stink with her,

    1. Appalled Citizen

      Evelyn…you seem to think you know a lot about Ms. Jacobs….. $10K from the city?! Are you kidding me?! She does what she does for the community out of the kindness of her heart. I’ve known her for almost 20 years and she will go out of her way to help anyone. You seem like a very unhappy and vicious person. One who thinks she is above Ms. Jacobs….an elite, perhaps? Oh, but if I don’t agree with you, then I must be wrong. You are a nasty person. I know for a fact that she has trapped and fixed dozens of cats and saved the lives of many. And no, she wasn’t paid. Where are you getting your fake news from? The point she is trying to make that this city needs a TAX base. But then again, you likely don’t understand that concept from reading your post.

  7. Mike A

    A bunch of the O+ murals do show the city’s history (recent) heritage. Matt Pleva’s 2 murals (one on back of BSP, new one at the maritime museum), Gaia’s 2nd mural of John Vanderlyn on the Rupco building on fair street…

  8. Julian Jacobson

    Wondering if she would have said a peep if they were depicted with fire engine red faces? That of course, would have been acceptable I would imagine. Jacob’s comments show her to be inherently racist, more than likely unbeknowsnt to her. She will protest with righteous indignation any minute now.

  9. Vaz

    Well, Im not really surprised that Kingston is still festering with racist undertones. I don’t know this lady, but I’m assuming when she’s not standing on the street corner eating Whitman’s chocolates from the box, staring into the abyss, she’s angrily shaking her fist at any depiction of reality that isn’t from a Norman Rockwell painting.


    The murals are art, which by definition comes from the perspective of the artist. If we wanted to paint something everyone would agree on, the walls would be left unpainted.

    I don’t remember her complaining about all the statues that were placed around the city in the past. There was a big screw at the courthouse and that dinosaur on Albany Ave, neither of which had her knickers in a twist. These depictions of native Americans and other people of color have her all in a froth. Now I wonder why that is?

  11. constance bailey

    If elected Ms. Jacobs will protect the city from art. If Kingston voters have more pressing issues, they’d best look elsewhere.

  12. Marie

    Does anyone know the tribe depicted in this/ these murals? To me they look like sioux or native Americans of the West. None that I’ve seen appear to be depictions of the actual indigenous people of the Hudson valley.

  13. Jennifer Fuentes

    This makes for a timely headline but let’s be honest with ourselves. Ms Jacobs exhibits attention seeking behavior that is dillusional at best and borders on mental illness at worst. She attends most public meetings and presents rambling incoherent summaries and runs for office every chance she gets along with her pals the Difalcos. In a small town like ours we have several colorful personalities that fall into the category of mostly harmless crank. Giving attention to this is like feeding the animals at the zoo.

  14. Randall Rissman MD

    This is ART ….. you can like it or not, but look into your own heart as to why you are reacting like this >>>
    O+ is about our failure to meet the ethical standard of Loving our neibors as ourselves….. We need expanded healthcare for all
    and O+ shows how communities
    can barter heatlrh services for art and music. It introduced me to Uptown …. and so many others
    It is indeed responsible for a renewed belief in Kingston’s future. Kudos to everything O+

  15. Tobias Devor

    I am appalled at this racist bigoted mindset to think native american culture has no history in Kingston. They were all here before any white settlers raped and stole their lands for their own uses.

    Should a mural go up of whites killing natives instead to more accurately view what happened instead?

  16. ABM

    As a newly transplanted resident to Kingston and being of Asian American decent, seeing the art gracing the city walls of its diverse history really provides me a comfort and hope that we are ever evolving and growing as a community that values transparency and progression as a whole so we can all move forward. I assume when this candidate proclaims these works of art invite outsiders, that she is talking to young professionals like me. which is really unfortunate that she’s forgetting that her ancestors likely came from oversees as colonizera also “seeking freedom.” Shame
    On you lady, but as least most people don’t seem to adhere to her school of thought.

  17. Fennel

    Thank You Ms. Jacobs for reminding me that it is time to register to vote. I have shared this article with many people and you have galvanized us. We will do everything in our power to make sure you will never occupy a legislative seat in our beautiful and diverse municipality. Your supreme ignorance is surpassed only by your vitriol.

    Signed by a proud new member and homeowner in this unbelievably open and explorative community.

  18. Grace Bonney

    The original heritage of Kingston is indigenous. This candidate manages to be racist, colorist and ignorant at the same time.

  19. The Red Dog Party

    Ms. Jacobs: you wear your ignorance as if it were a badge of honor. Happily (for me) you don’t represent the Ward where I reside. I will never, ever vote for you or support you as an elected or appointed official. You bring shame to your office.

  20. Bambi May

    TO Ms ‘JACOBS”
    If I a m not wrong …”JACOBS” doesn’t sound ‘CAUCASIAN” to me…
    You might look “white”..But wait till Your “peers/pairs/friends” find out the REAL TRUTH about your REAL BACKGROUND….
    SELECTIVE MEMORY OR IGNORANCE OF HISTORY….is worst than a disease…a disaster, a sad shame…
    Hitler and his peers did NOT care who had blue, green eyes and blond hair…”bleached” hair…..He sent 6 millions to the ovens, gaz and much more….
    Talk to Your folks…They will tell You MORE…
    “hiding” in America would, will NOT change Your DNA…
    Just like the Holocaust
    Please DO NOT disturb it,
    Do NOT repeat Hitler…

    a “dark” …”sis”

  21. UpstateGuy

    In response to this insane white woman’s quote: “Jacobs said that she was “astonished” to see a mural that “signified a different race” painted on a facility like the YMCA, where she has been a member for 45 years.”

    The Indians – ya know, Native Americans – were here FIRST. BEFORE YOUR WHITE ANSCESTORS ROLLED UP. Long before your plastic surgery. You do understand this, right? I get that like your leader, you are afraid of brown people, and hell-bent on eliminating them. But you folks gotta start to understand – you sound crazy. You are destroying this Nation. You are wrong. You need to be quiet. You sound like a racist lunatic.

  22. Mark Mural

    Forget Jean for a minute…who reviews and approves these murals? As it seems no boards review is required (ie like the Woolworth building marble color or hundreds on signs, awnings, building colors and trims etc). It appears the mayor could be the only one authorized to review and approve. Is that correct?

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