Religious concerns cloud future of park sculpture 4-14-07

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A proposed park sculpture including elements of primitive calendars and Native American artwork has raised eyebrows in Wichita with some complaining it could have religious overtones.

Artist Steve Murillo wants to place about 120 stones in three concentric circles at Sedgwick County Park. One ring would act as a solar calendar, similar to the ancient Stonehenge in England, while another would serve as a sundial and the third, a Native American medicine wheel or labyrinth.

Murillo was scheduled to meet with county commissioners this week to discuss his idea and ask for permission to use one acre of the park for his installation. He said he would collect private donations to pay for the work.

But commissioners delayed his presentation after deciding they needed a longterm plan for developing the park.

Three of the commissioners said they received calls and emails from concerned residents about the proposal after details appeared in The Wichita Eagle.

Commissioner Kelly Parks said one woman thought the sculpture was for a cult.

``The other (caller) said she thought it would open the door for many other religions, and I said, 'This is not a religious thing.' I certainly did not perceive this as a religious thing,'' Parks said.

The Rev. Peggy Elliott of Balm of Gilead Ministries had planned to speak against the proposal before it was pulled from the agenda.

``What these exhibits tend to attract are kids into the Gothic (lifestyle), people who are on the edge of living, and because of that they tend not to attract enough of the city who feels comfortable enough to go there,'' Elliott said. ``Gangs, sometimes, will tend to be attracted there because it has a very mystical connotation. It's not a positive thing.''

Murillo said he had hoped the installation would serve as a quiet place for people to otherwise escape from the rigors of daytoday life.

``These pause points, these places of reflection and meditation, are opportunities to increase our enjoyment of life and our 'wellbeing,''' he wrote in an email. ``These stone circles with centers offer us a place in the park where we can 'center' ourselves.''

The county could take up to a year to develop a master plan for Sedgwick County Park, said Commissioner Tom Winters, who said he believed such a review was necessary.