Update 8/7/2023: The City of San Mateo has responded that it will reinstate its public exhibition programs after it establishes a more detailed review policy for the artworks that are invited for display. The City also confirms Mr. Rios’ exhibition was met with “concerns from members of the public and City staff that the display was not supportive of all City employees,” which sparked the examination into the existing arts policy and led to the temporary suspension of all public arts displays.

While NCAC is heartened to learn that the public art program will return to San Mateo, we feel strongly that publicly funded art should not be limited to works that reinforce support for government perspectives and agencies, and we will continue to follow the development of the City’s arts policy and its implementation.

7/28/2023 Out of Covid and into the Fire, an exhibition by Diego Marcial Rios, was removed abruptly following its installation at the San Mateo City Hall Art Gallery. 

The City’s decision to suspend its Public Art Exhibit Program has caused concerns for the NCAC and ACLU of Northern California. In a joint letter, they expressed their worry over the decision, which was reportedly made due to the controversy surrounding two works featured in the exhibit.

It is essential for a vibrant and democratic society to have access to art, even pieces that may spark controversy. As such, we strongly urge the city to reinstate its Public Art Exhibit Program and prevent future cancellations by implementing an exhibition criteria policy that safeguards artists’ right to explore political topics and participate in social commentary within publicly-funded exhibitions.

Read our full joint letter to Mayor Amourence Lee and San Mateo Civic City Arts Committee here:

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