Dear Mr Viola,
We are writing to urge you to restore the Artist of the Month program to the Hyde Park Post Office. It is our understanding that you cancelled the year-old program as a way to deal with one complaint regarding Fatgirl, the painting chosen to present the work of Audrey Francis, November Artist of the Month. There are very few venues where people can see art and local artists can share their work with the community. The Artist of the Month program is a wonderful and innovative way to enrich the community and encourage local artists. We hope you will reconsider your decision to end the program.
We were quite surprised at the reason you terminated the program. People are entitled to dislike a work of art or disagree with the ideas expressed in it; in fact, they often do. However, the opinion of one person should not be able to prevent the whole community from enjoying the presence of art in the Post Office. As it has become clear after the successful exhibition of Francis’ work in the Hyde Park Public Library, the rest of the community did not share the objection against Fatgirl.
The Post Office, once it has opened a space for the public display of art, cannot decide to only allow certain images and viewpoints to be represented and not others. There are a number of ways to respond to complaints involving art: you could post a notice explaining that the art is selected by a curator based on artistic merit, and that the Post Office does not interfere in that judgment; or you could have a reactions book where people can register opinions about the artwork. Fatgirl, for instance, could have opened an extremely interesting discussion about body image and representations of femininity in our society. As the painting was part of an established series, it clearly could not be taken to represent the position of the post office.
While we are, at this point, concerned about the community and their access to local art, there is another issue here: Audrey Francis’ fundamental right to freedom of expression was seriously threatened when she was told she could not exhibit a work because of the viewpoint it is perceived to express. To their credit, both the curator, Antonio Marquez, and the artist stood staunchly behind the constitutional principles that are dear to all of us.
We hope you, too, will take a stand in support of art and the democratic principles of free and open discussion and restore the Artist of the Month Program to the Hyde Park Post Office.
Arts Advocacy Project Coordinator, NCAC
275 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001
Tel. (212) 807 6222
Fax (212) 807 6245
Christina Mace, Fallsburg, New York
Miriam Straus, Salt Point, New York
Alan Berkowitz, Salt Point, New York
Mike Bowman Rhinebeck, New York
Thomas Nuhn, Hyde Park, New York
Karen Creighton, Hyde Park, New York
Richard G. Plambeck. Jr., Marlboro, New York
Cc: Postmaster General John E. Potter
475 L’Enfant Plaza SW
Washington DC 20260-0010