KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Across the street from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, a foreboding tower of shipping containers glowers at the building spelling out an in-your-face message: “IOU.”

On the other side: “USA.”

The 65-foot-high structure by artist John Salvest is made up of 117 carefully aligned cargo and storage containers — the kind that ply the world’s rivers and oceans with everything from Hyundais to Happy Meal toys.

The piece is creating a buzz in Kansas City as debate about the national deficit surfaces as a key theme of the upcoming presidential race and budget shortfalls are the top concern in the nation’s statehouses.

The artist says the message is open to interpretation. But the symbolism of shipping containers stacked tall in the shadow of the city’s Federal Reserve building can be taken as a slap at a government groping for ways out of its debts.

“Obviously the inspiration was the national debt problem,” Salvest said from his home in Jonesboro, Ark. “But that trickles down into a lot of peoples’ lives, and I think a lot of people are frustrated or angry or worried about their economic well-being.”

“Some people are offended by it. One woman said ‘I feel it’s nothing but a big waste of money.’ Some have sent me really sweet emails about how it really moved them.”

Since the piece went up, there have been more than 50 visitors a day, said Stacy Switzer, artistic director of Grand Arts, the nonprofit Kansas City gallery and sculpture studio that funded the project.

“We’ve gotten everything from ‘When is that ugly thing coming down?’ to people coming out of the Fed’s Money Museum saying they may not like the looks of it, but they understand it,” Switzer said.