Ms. Elizabeth Reiss
Three Rivers Arts Festival
937 Liberty Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Re: Carolina Loyola-Garcia
Dear Ms. Reiss:
I am writing on behalf of the National Coalition Against Censorship, an alliance of 50 national non-profit organizations united in defense of free expression, regarding the recent removal from the Three Rivers Arts Festival of a video installation by Carolina Loyola-Garcia entitled “The need to wash the self with milk and honey.” Our understanding is that the piece was pulled from your “Best of Pittsburgh 2007” exhibition at the PPG Wintergarden location because PPG, one of the Festival’s corporate sponsors, apparently found the video of a nude female bathing inappropriate for display on its property. Siding with PPG, you told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the company was within its “rights as a corporate partner to ask us to abide by guidelines they have.”
As a private company, PPG has the right to set any guidelines it wishes for work it chooses to buy or exhibit. However, TRAF is not a PPG project, but a public and publicly supported arts festival (the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development are apparently both major festival funders). As such it represents the diversity of values and interests of the whole community. Pittsburg residents and visitors should not be deprived of their right to see a work selected for inclusion in the festival because of an arbitrary decision by a private company that it is not “appropriate.” In fact, as an organization receiving public funding, TRAF exceeded constitutional boundaries in allowing PPG to impose its standards and restrict the content of the festival.
Simple nudity, as you are probably aware, is not sufficient ground for excluding artwork from public exhibition. If it were, a vast amount of great art, including masterpieces like Michelangelo’s David, would be off limits. As the Supreme Court has noted multiple times, "`nudity alone’ does not place otherwise protected material outside the mantle of the First Amendment." Schad v. Mount Ephraim (1981), Jenkins v. Georgia (1974), Osborne v. Ohio (1990). Given the predominance of nude figures in the history of art, it was foreseeable that the Festival’s Best of Pittsburgh 2007 exhibition might include one; if PPG had misgivings about this possibility, it need not have offered its property for the event.
As corporate sponsor guidelines appear not to have been discussed in advance, or disclosed to the public and the exhibiting artists, in future festivals they may turn out to cover a wide variety of constitutionally protected material: anything from nudes to work that, for instance, criticizes corporate ethics. Once TRAF has complied with a corporate request and removed one work, it opens the door for any number of arbitrary demands coming from the festival sponsors thus making public art subservient to the whim of corporate agents and, as a result, trampling core Constitutional principles.
Therefore we urge you to clarify the festival’s relationship with its various contributors and re-affirm your commitment to artistic merit, open dialogue and free expression. Corporate sponsors – who derive much gain from their association with your prestigious festival – should be aware that their contribution is not buying them veto power over the content of the visual arts display.
Please feel free to contact us if we can be of assistance in developing principles guiding the relationship between the festival and its corporate sponsors.