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Saturday, June 14, 2003
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Goldfish protests escalate at Oregon university art exhibit


ASHLAND, Ore. -- Graduation is just around the corner, but officials at Southern Oregon University have bigger fish to fry.

Area animal rights activists, upset about goldfish dying in an art exhibit at the campus museum, have escalated their protests against the installation, which features concrete pillars holding up nine half-gallon fishbowls, each holding black pebbles, plastic ferns and goldfish.

Barbara Rosen put on a yellow fish costume this week and imitated a dying fish in front of the museum. The act was filmed by several local news crews and capped several weeks of protests by Rosen, during which she carried a sign that read, "Stop the Animal Torture."

The university said in a statement that "ongoing modifications" are being made to increase the goldfish lifespan, including cleaning the fishbowls on a daily rather than weekly basis, housing the fish in an aerated tank on the weekend when the museum is closed, and increased fish monitoring by the artist, adjunct professor Shawn Busse.

"An animal rights protester has incorrectly stated that the purpose of the exhibit is for the fish to die," the university's statement said.

Moreover, SOU officials said "the issue has been sensationalized by comments about 'death chambers' and 'internment camps.' The implication that fish are being intentionally mistreated or killed is inappropriate and incorrect."

SOU biologist Michael Parker was called in to assess the health and care of the fish and said he believes they are being properly cared for.

"It's amazing how much time this has taken up," Parker said.

Kathryn Bazylewicz, director of marketing and public relations for SOU, said no university funds have been spent on the fish welfare assessments.

For Rosen, the measures are not enough. "The measures they're talking about are better than nothing, but they won't pacify me because the fish are still in there," Rosen said. "I want the fish taken out."

According to SOU custodian and fellow protester David McAlaster, the goldfish body count continues to increase.

"I saw approximately four bodies this morning, two of which are still alive because the gills are going," McAlaster said Thursday. "I'm really concerned about the suffering of those fish. It seems to me to be a very uncomfortable way to die."

The artist said the fuss has surprised him.

"I definitely never expected this much attention," Busse said. "But, you know, if it gets people into the museum, that's OK, I guess. I have to respect people that have convictions and I have to respect that people have beliefs even if I don't agree with them."

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