PONCHATOULA - After an hour-long discussion Thursday, Strawberry Festival organizers decided to keep a controversial poster as the main piece of the popular festival's image campaign.
The poster, by Kalle' Siekkinen, features two figures painted black. People took to social media immediately after it was unveiled Wednesday night, posting the design appears racist.
Less than 24-hours later, it had people on the streets talking. Some thought it was inappropriate.
"During the time when these images were originally popular were also during slavery and also during Jim Crow and they were used as depictions to depict black people in a negative light," Maretta McDonald said. "So when I saw that it was being embraced on the poster, it was quite alarming."
Others, though, suggested people should look at it for what it is: art.
"I think it's neat, it's different from any we've had before," Eva Hebert said.
Ultimately, the festival organizers agreed and decided by nightfall to keep the poster.
"Art is subjective. It is interpretive. There was no intent other than to pay tribute to the festival and the strawberry industry," Shelley Matherne said. Matherne serves on the board as publicist.
"This year an open contest was conducted in which two entries were submitted," she said. Siekkinen is from Hammond and lives in New Orleans. The painting was inspired by another artist from Ponchatoula.
Siekkinen said he looked to Bill Hemmerling, who sold similar works of art before he died. He designed "Sweet Olive," the festival's poster in 2008, which also faced some criticism.
"Often times the simplistic nature of my art and Hemmerling's art, being not very detailed, it's actually an old african custom, and by not having those details, it allows the viewer to complete the painting. And, people we find, regardless of race, can often connect with the art," Siekkinen said.
The Strawberry Festival is April 10, 11 and 12.
WBRZ staffers Trey Schmaltz, Brittany Weiss and WWL TV reporter Ashley Rodrigue contributed to this story.
Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter: @treyschmaltz
This story has been updated from its original post Thursday afternoon.
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