Closing Night of 'The Story of Chickens'
From Animal Rights Activism Articles Archive


UPC United Poultry Concerns
August 2017

What originally began as a challenge to save the chickens artist Amber Hansen was going to kill, quite beautifully transformed into an opportunity to present the message of compassion through public talks, dialogue, online comments, facebook, and the powerful medium of compassionate art.

Judy Carman
Photo by Beth Lily Redwood

The closing night of Amber Hansen’s art project, “The Story of Chickens: A Revolution,” took place on April 21 at the Percolator Art Gallery in Lawrence, Kansas. Swift action by United Poultry Concerns and Animal Outreach of Kansas sparked an international outcry against Amber’s original project proposal. She planned to cart five chickens, housed in a nomadic coop, through the city of Lawrence for a month, then hold a public slaughter of the chickens, followed by a meal in which they would be eaten.

Determined to stop the slaughter, United Poultry Concerns launched an intense Internet campaign igniting animal activists, artists, scholars, and concerned citizens to protest to the University of Kansas Spencer Museum of Art which supported the project. Lawrence activist Judy Carman alerted the City Attorney, who informed Amber that her plan was illegal. The City Code prohibits willfully or maliciously killing any domestic animal including the display and killing of chickens.

Faced with public outrage and the law, Amber chose to reinvent the project. She invited local artists, including animal activists, to exhibit work that related to chickens at the gallery during the month of April. Thankfully, the majority of the art showed care and respect for chickens. In addition, Amber displayed a wall covered with online comments and interviews regarding her project—almost all of which reflected compassion for chickens. She built a chicken coop (unoccupied) and placed it outside the gallery.

Amber invited six local speakers to give talks at the closing ceremony. Four of the six advocated respect for chickens and an end to exploiting and killing them. About 50 guests assembled outside the Percolator gallery near Amber’s coop on a warm, breezy evening to hear the speakers on April 21.

Amber Hansen spoke first and shared that, although she had grown up on a farm, she has increasingly become more aware of the gravity of taking a life. She said she is now more uncomfortable eating meat and does not want to support animal agriculture because of environmental, ethical, and health concerns.

Parendi Birdie, founder of the Kansas University animal rights group, Compassion for All Animals, spoke eloquently about the need to shift toward radical inclusion of all animals in our sphere of compassion. She described how human beings steal the purposes of animals by using and harming them.

Cassandra Smyers, also of Compassion for All Animals, told her personal story of why she became vegan.

Professor Donald Stull, author of Slaughter House Blues, spoke about the inequities suffered by slaughterhouse workers but did not take a stand on the plight of chickens. However, he hinted at his possible feelings by quoting Emerson, “You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.”

Judy Carman, co-founder of Animal Outreach of Kansas, author of Peace to All Beings, and co-author of The Missing Peace, spoke about the disconnect that the majority of people experience as they engage in empathy avoidance with regard to chickens and other animals whom they eat. People avoid thinking that the meat on their plate was once an innocent being with feelings, who suffered extreme neglect, incarceration, loss of family and friends, loss of everything natural to them, and finally—brutal killing. Judy juxtaposed a poster of a little girl holding a chicken lovingly, while on the poster next to that, a newspaper ad showing the sale of chicks and incubators, demonstrating the disconnect in the human heart as we pretend that chicks are objects for us to use. She stated that a revolution of consciousness is needed because we are running out of time and must end the domination and killing of animals if we are to bring peace and sustainability to the world. She highlighted literature and posters about chickens provided for the event by United Poultry Concerns.

Hank Will, editor of Grit magazine and past producer/killer of thousands of chickens for meat, spoke next. He had originally agreed to publicly slaughter the chickens as part of Amber’s project until learning that his butchery was illegal. He spoke about the ugliness of a coyote killing prey as if this justified human violence toward animals.

Dr. Elizabeth Schultz was the final speaker. Her talk was unique and fitting at such an event. She is a retired professor of English and the world’s expert on the novel Moby Dick. She reviewed this book with an eye for the animal rights message in it that she believes clearly stands out. She asked the audience to think—whenever she read the word “whale” to think “chicken,” because Melville’s message applies equally to all creatures. She shared what she learned about animals from the novel—that they are feeling and intelligent beings with the capacity to love, communicate and care for one another just as we do.

artistic children
Photo by Beth Lily Redwood

A potluck followed the talks. Several people brought vegan dishes and labeled them as such. We were thrilled to be able to share with many non-vegans how beautiful and intelligent chickens are, that their lives matter to them, and that they don’t want to be our dinner. They want to be our friends.

What originally began as a challenge to save the chickens Amber was going to kill, quite beautifully transformed into an opportunity to present the message of compassion through public talks, dialogue, online comments, facebook, and the powerful medium of compassionate art.

It is important to note that Amber Hansen displayed an open mind and heart throughout the month-long project. She welcomed into her project both art and words of compassion and gave us a unique opportunity to raise awareness about the plight of chickens and, indeed, farmed animals everywhere. As United Poultry Concerns President Karen Davis told The Kansas City Star, “We feel this project and our response to it has helped Amber even though the original project has been blocked. We also feel that she has been introduced to a sensibility about animals that maybe she hadn’t been exposed to before.”

Follow-up plans for Animal Outreach of Kansas include working with local art galleries to develop protocols prohibiting using live animals in the art they display.

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