Check NCAC’s Twitter feed or Facebook page for live updates from our coverage of the Smithsonian’s free public forum: “Flashpoints and Fault Lines: Museum Curation and Controversy.” The forum will be live-streamed from the Smithsonian’s website and will take place Tuesday evening from 6:00pm-9:00pm, and Wednesday from 9:30am-3:00pm.

The forum was planned as a response to the controversy surrounding Smithsonian Secretary Clough’s bowing to political pressure and removing David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire In My Belly” from the Hide/Seek exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in 2010.

While the Smithsonian has made statements assuring that no Secretary will ever single-handedly remove a work from an exhibit in the future, much remains to be seen whether Clough and the Board Of Regents will really fess up to violating the public’s trust with the removal, or whether the Smithsonian will simply allow “curation by committee” in the future to weed out any controversial works before a show ever opens.

Here are some of the questions we’re bringing to the forum:

Will the Smithsonian – its Board of Regents, Secretary and the directors of its member institutions – commit to respecting the First Amendment and acting with integrity in the face of bigots and bullies?

  • The Institution failed to do so when the Enola Gay Exhibition faced controversy. The exhibition was cancelled.
  • It failed to do so when Subhankar Banerjee’s photography show on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was attacked. The exhibition was drastically modified.
  • It failed to do so when politicians called for the censorship of Hide/Seek. The show was censored within just hours their demand.

What guarantee does the public have that the Smithsonian will rise up to its code of ethics in the future?

Will this symposium recognize that, in a diverse society, what is “offensive” to one community is often “history” or “experience” to another and “community sensitivities” do not give license to censor controversial material?

Click here to download a PDF of the flyer we’ll be distributing at the Flashpoints forum (7MB)