By DB Leonard

A red emblem stenciled on the off-white planters in the Stockade district of Uptown Kingston has attracted a remarkable degree of attention. The red-goat shape, numbered individually, was soon pasted over by opponents and then removed by the Pike Plan contractor. There was a big stir.

Critics, including those officials devoted to the controversial federally funded project, were particularly incensed. So were several storeowners, who termed the goats graffiti and their makers guilty of criminal mischief. The prospects of a felony prison sentence of up to four years were threatened for the two local artists, Geddes Paulsen and Maggie Salesman, charged with the crime.

Admirers of the goats labeled the stencils public art. They see it as extended free speech. They would like to see the red goats incorporated into a more permanent installation in the Stockade district.

Immediately following the stencils, the matter of the identity of the perpetrators received top billing. The issues regarding the red goats disintegrated into a question of whodunit. But another conversation has now begun. What should the future of the symbol, if any, be? What is it about the simple stencil of a goat that could have aroused such animosity and so much curiosity?

Early in the controversy, an Associated Press article picked up the story. “I believe the red goats went viral because of the times,” said Rita Vanacore, in business for over 40 years and the owner of Dreamweavers’ Salon. “It’s just another way of people saying, “Hey, listen to me, I’m suffering and nobody’s caring. Our district was not listened to, and somebody used that, and it caught on.”

Now that the goats themselves have been removed from their original canvasses of the Pike Plan planters, they have re-emerged in other locales. A Facebook page titled Red Goats of Kingston garnered 600 “likes” in two short weeks. The page has evolved into a platform for conversation on a wide range of aspects of community.

A petition to save the red goats generated over 50 signatures among local residents and business owners eager to have the symbol become a permanent installation. A red-goat tattoo has been permanently implanted on the arms of at least one community member. The Stockade Tavern has created a drink special — “Red Goat Punch” — whose ingredients are brandy, petit syrah, lemon oil, lemon juice and maraschino. Assures the Facebook page, “No goats were harmed in the making of this punch.”

“They have taken on a life of their own,” said Kevin Paulsen, owner of the Oo Gallery on Wall Street. “Business owners and residents of the Stockade clearly want the goats to represent them.”

Members of Live Live Productions, new to the Stockade District, have embraced the red goat by placing a stencil on their façade at the Lounge @ Backstage Productions on Wall Street. Sound engineer Dan Votke, a.k.a. Rusty, tattooed the image on his arm. “I was inspired by the character of the artists,” he said.