Exhibition of Greek Goddess Cancelled, Then Approved
Posted February 25, 2005
Hebe, the Greek Goddess of Youth, recently embroiled the town of Roseburg Oregon in a conflict of mythic magnitude over the role of public officials in curatorial decision making. Officials of the Douglas County Museum, located in Roseburg, were planning an exhibition on Hebe – a character of historical significance to the town – until several Douglas County Commissioners ordered the exhibit to be canceled. Their reasoning: the issue of Hebe "is very divisive in our county." After pubic outcry in support of the exhibition mounted, the commissioners rescinded the cancellation, and the exhibition will proceed. The following recounts the Clash of the not-so-Titans of Roseburg, which precipitated the cancellation, and its return.
In 1908, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union erected a statue of Hebe in the downtown area, based on the classical image of the goddess: in a gown, with one breast exposed, holding a cup filled with ambroisia and nectar. The group intented the statute to serve as an admonition for townspeople to choose water over wine. The statue stood until 1912 when it was reportedly destroyed by runaway horses pulling a wagon. However, for the past two years some Roseburg residents began an intiative to buy a replica of the original statute. The Roseburg City Council unanimously approved the placement of a replica in the county park. The move did have its dissenters, as several townspeople labeled the Hebe statue as an anti-Christian paganistic icon that reflects poor values.
The museum, tapping into this public debate, sought to create a display on Hebe with the goal of educating the public of her mythological significance and historic role. "It was going to be a history lesson more than anything," said Museum Director Stacey McLaughlin. Yet Douglas County Commissioner Marilyn Kittelman canceled the exhibition believing it could "drive a wedge" into the commmunity, further dividing the people over Hebe’s place in Roseburg. This notion was echoed by Commissioner Dan Van Slyke who stated "It’s not appropriate to take taxpayers dollars to invest in sothing that’s divisive that we know is going to be divisive."
People have reacted differently to the commissioners’ intervention. Linda Yuma, a town resident, was deeply distressed by the cancellation, stating "I believe the three commissioners’ quashing of the museum exhibit is censorship and I deeply resent it." A member of the citizens’ Advisory Boards for the Douglas County Museum, Willis Hayes, too, came out against the move stating that "telling adult citizens that they are not permitted to see certain things is not an appropriate use of governmental authority, in the abscence of compelling public health or safety issues."
Dozens of phone calls and letters were received by the local newspaper of people outraged at the commissioners’ intervention. This upswell of support for Hebe led the commissioners to recant their earlier cancellation. The move came during the weekly commissioners’ meeting before a standing-room-only crowd. Commissioner Kittleman justified the original cancellation stating "It wasn’t a matter of censorship. It was a matter of seeking more information."