Below is NCAC’s letter to the Centro Cultural Aztlan; for background, click here.

The recent removal of Anna-Marie Lopez’s work from a show at the Centro Cultural Aztlan has shaken belief in the Centro’s real commitment to the representation of a diversity of Chicano voices and has led many in the community to suspect that the Centro is censoring artists’ work.

We urge the Centro Cultural Aztlan to affirm its respect for free expression and the integrity of its curatorial vision.

Anna-Marie Lopez’s representation of the Virgen de Guadalupe was initially selected for inclusion in the annual tribute to the Virgen. However, it was subsequently rejected with no reason being given. Ms. Lopez and the lead artist for the show, Anel Flores, who led the Centro’s three-person selection committee, both claim the untraditional viewpoint expressed in the work was the reason for its rejection.

In responding to allegations of censorship, the Centro contended that the Lopez piece was pulled for reasons of space limitation, not content or viewpoint. However, Denise Cadena, the Centro’s Arts Program Manager and a member of the selection committee, stated “[in reaching our final decision we considered each piece. . . keeping in mind community expectations and standards set for this exhibit since its inception 10 years ago.”  In a similar vein you, as the Centro’s Executive Director, were quoted in the San Antonio Current as saying “[when a community sets a standard, it’s going to be a pretty high mark for the Virgen de Guadalupe in this town.  I’m going to support that standard.”  Contrary to the Centro’s insistence that the rejection of Ms. Lopez’ work was based only upon the practicality of space, it seems evident that a more invidious motive was at work and that acquiescence to anticipated public pressure prevailed over sound judgment based upon artistic merit.

It appears that this latest incident is not the only example of the Centro’s compromise of artistic expression in favor of public sentiment.  Artist Alma Lopez noted that a digital collage of the Virgen in a floral bikini was rejected at the urging of the lead artist for the Centro’s 2002 Virgen show after public outcry at a previous exhibition of the work at the Museum of New Mexico.

The non-traditional use of religious imagery often provokes controversy.  However, there are many ways to prepare for potential controversy that recognize the free speech rights of artists as well the interests of members of the community who might choose to see the work. For instance, you could place a response book in the gallery and invite the audience to write their impressions, or you could hold a discussion with the artist where different positions could be voiced.  You could also put a notice in the gallery specifying that the Museum does not necessarily endorse the ideas expressed in the artwork on display. We believe that these approaches not only show a healthy respect for a diversity of viewpoints but also enhance the Museum’s reputation as a cultural center.

During the New Mexico controversy, for instance, in spite of massive community protests, the Museum insisted that its educational mission made it necessary to exhibit work with diverse viewpoints. A town hall meeting was successful in dissipating the tension. The protesters were heard and the museum’s integrity as a cultural institution was preserved.

Even though some people might call for its removal, art expressing unpopular viewpoints remains constitutionally protected expression. As the director of an art center which receives public funding, you are obliged to follow First Amendment principles which prohibit government officials from discriminating against ideas on the basis of the viewpoint expressed in them.

We strongly urge you to adopt a free expression statement and a curatorial selection policy, as well as guidelines for response to objections against specific works .  The National Coalition Against Censorship would be happy to help you in crafting these, as well as in holding a discussion panel on artistic freedom and community standards.

It is in the best interests of the Centro, its exhibiting artists and its viewing public to promote uncensored access to protected artistic expression regardless of controversy or viewpoint.


Svetlana Mintcheva
Arts Program

Lisa Graybill
Legal Director
American Civil Liberties Union of Texas

“I too am a Latina woman from San Antonio, currently living in New York City and certainly understand the ultimate importance assigned to The Virgin.  As a Christian, I am proud of Anna-Marie’s historical research of The Virgin tracing its roots to the almost deification of The Virgin.”
Jeanine Acquart
New York, NY

Margaret “Quica” Alarcon
El Sereno, Califas

Brenda Albright
San Antonio, TX

Gina Aparicio
Los Angeles, CA

Debra Blake
Visiting Professor
Dept of Chicano Studies
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN

Bobby Bragg
San Antonio, TX

Hope Carr
Clearance 13′-8″
Brooklyn, NY

Brenda Chavez, Esq.
Founder, Casa Coyo, LLC (
Los Angeles, Ca

Kyelynn Chiong
Administrative assistant
Los Angeles, CA

“I support all arts and the expression of the human heart.”
Claudette Colbert
Entertainment Industry
Los Angeles, CA

Audrey Covington
San Antonio, TX

Diana Crago
Copperas Cove, TX

Nelda Cross
San Antonio, TX

Candice Daquin
San Antonio, TX

Servando De Leon
Monterrey, Mexico

Suzanna De Leon
Monterrey, Mexico

Marta Donayre
Activist, artist, writer, product developer, and marketing professional
Sunnyvale, CA

Anne Duncan
San Antonio, TX

Erika R. Garcia
Corona, CA

Mary Jo Garcia
Assistant Professor of English
Community College of Baltimore County
Baltimore, MD

“I have a print depicting the Virgen in her not traditional clothing. I’m for freedom of expression.”
Marie G. Garza
Designer/Artist/Assistant Director to The Serie Project, Inc.
Austin, TX

René Z. Garza
Art Instructor
University of Texas at Pan American
Weslaco, TX
Texas Commission on the Arts

Linda Heidenreich
Associate Prof., Dept. of Women’s Studies, Washington State University
Lucy Marrero
Technical Writer
Long Beach, CA

June Hogan
San Antonio, TX

Kimberly Snyder Johnson, Artist & Musician
McAllen Creative Arts Incubator
McAllen, Texas

“While I have no art affiliations; I do have an appreciation of talent, creativity, fine art and the sanctity of our freedom of speech…”
Deborah K. Linck
Retired marketing executive
San Antonio, TX

Anna-Marie Lopez
San Antonio, TX

Austen Lopez
San Antonio, TX

CJ Lopez
San Antonio, TX

Dennis Lopez
Owner of nursing home
San Antonio, TX

Joel Lopez
Retired military
San Antonio, TX

Rose Lopez
San Antonio, TX

“I do not support the censorship of any type.  I believe that cultural appropriations of images is our right…”
Esperanza V. Martinez
Los Angeles, CA

Jewel Maye
San Antonio, TX

Marissa Medina
Inglewood, CA

“…It is very upsetting, whenever religion is expressed in unique ways the work never gets as much credit as it should…”
Nicole Pacilio
Park Ridge, IL

Cynthia Ramirez
Santa Barbara, CA

Carol Selkner
San Antonio, TX

“No one has the right to determine what the public views as art.  I like the painting.”
David Tyler
Disabled laborer
Lafayette, LA

“I support artist Anne-Marie Lopez whose painting of La Virgen de Guadalupe has been censored by the Centro Cultural de Aztlan in San Antonio, Texas.”
Vivian Marie Varela
School bus driver
Los Angeles, CA

Lillian White
San Antonio, TX

Michael W. White
Attorney at law
Board member, San Antonio Chapter ACLU
San Antonio, TX