The Marin County Civic Center has chosen to eliminate a nude painting by San Rafael artist Sylvia Cossich Goodman from a public exhibition.
The full-frontal nude was accepted through what we can assume was a standard submission process, and was up in public for a week. So why take it down now? Because an employee complained it created “a hostile work environment.” No, wait…Because Of The Children! Or maybe both! You decide:
Mona Miyasato, chief assistant county administrator, noting that art is in the eye of the beholder, said an employee who was offended complained after the exhibit went up last week “about being accosted by the painting every day in the work environment” because her office was near the first-floor gallery.
Colleen Proppe, membership director of the Marin Arts Council, which coordinated the exhibit, said the council’s annual “member show” at the Civic Center involves artists who submit one piece each.
“We did remove one painting at the request of the Civic Center staff,” Proppe said. “The Civic Center is a public thoroughfare, in which 8-year-old children come through on field trips. As a mother of twins who both did the field trip with their public school this year, I can understand the call the Civic Center made on this one painting. … We don’t want to lose our ability to share the works of 90 other artists because one painting was upsetting the administrators.
(How exactly does an inanimate painting accost someone? Is this a magical, talking, sentient painting?)
Free Speech Activists take note: Failure to keep the story straight is a prime symptom of censorship. When authorities know, at some level, that they are acting on arbitrary impulses they try to “cover the spread” with a grab-bag of claims.
In this case, we’re told the complaint came from an employee who felt uncomfortable seeing the painting near her workplace, but then Proppe falls back to hide behind the need to protect the Purity of Our Youth from the nekkid ladies.
Since we are talking about a public venue, then there are clear First Amendment issues that are currently under investigation by NCAC. In the meantime Goodman puts it best:
What about the rest of us? Do we have a voice on this? Where does the censorship stop? Is this democratic? Which kind of message are we giving to our community? Is it OK in order to avoid conflicts to just ‘give in’ and be silenced? We are sheltering the public from a nude in an art contest. Is this the dark ages all over again?
Not if we can help it. And if you are an administrator at a publicly-funded venue that showcases art: Please. We beg you. Save yourself a lot of trouble by setting up an open procedure for responding to complaints and consistently apply it! Without one, you leave your community and staff vulnerable to knee-jerk decisions that hurt your stakeholders and your credibility.