October 1, 2003
Nevada County officials ordered the removal of all work from the Annual Open Studios Art Show at the County’s Rood Administrative Center. The show, organized by the Nevada County Arts Council, had just opened on September 30th and was scheduled to continue through the end of October. Ironically, the order was issued on the very first day of a month, which the Nevada County Board of Supervisors proclaimed "Arts, Culture and Humanities" month with a resolution stating that the Board "encourages community support of all artists and especially the activities of the Nevada County Arts Council."
The order to cancel the show came after an initial attempt by the County to remove five individual works, because they contained partial nudity. The works were in no way legally obscene or even sexually explicit: one of the "offending" works, for instance, Irene Nicolas’s "Hathor," was a stylized image of an ancient Egyptian goddess, bare breasted and pouring milk into the foot of the Nile River. Faced with protests by the artists and other members of the community, all opposed to the censorship, the county decided that the whole exhibit should be taken down.
The cancellation of the entire Art Show hardly remedies the violation of the free speech rights of the five artists, whose work contained nudes. On the contrary, removing the work of all 65 artists effectively silences 65 voices. What an inauguration of Arts, Culture and Humanities month in Nevada County!
The Arts Council is reopening the show at another location: the non-profit Center for the Arts at 314 W. Main St. in Grass Valley. Please, go see the show and express your support for the wonderful work of the Arts Council.
Action: Nevada County is developing guidelines for the exhibition of art in government buildings. It is crucial that people in the community insist that the guidelines the County is planning to institute recognize the freedom of artists to express diverse views, show respect the curatorial judgment of the Nevada County Arts Council, and affirm the rights of people in the community to see a wide range of artwork.