In response to the recent public removal surrounding the “American Nocturne” mural found downtown in the city of Elgin, Illinois, a product of public outcry, the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Art Advocacy Program yesterday sent a letter addressed to Elgin Mayor David Kaptain supporting the mural’s return. The letter has been sent in advance of the Elgin City Council meeting on July 13th when a vote will decide the mural’s ultimate fate.
Back in 2004, the mural, named “American Nocturne,” was commissioned by the city as part of The Outside Exhibition Group, a public art program that engages the talents of local students. For this commission, David Powers, an artist and resident of Elgin, created murals with art students from Judson University. He sketched out the figures and the students painted them. The intended theme for "American Nocturne" was racism. The figures it depicts are the lynch mob found in the lower half of an infamous 1930 photograph taken by Lawrence Beitler depicting a lynching in Indiana. 10 years on, local residents, who discovered the mural’s link to the original Beitler photograph, responded with outrage and protest, calling the mural racist and demanding its immediate removal. Elgin Commissioner R. Darryl Thomas has said of the mural, we “don’t need to support hatred and violence with taxpayer dollars.”
NCAC’s response letter to Mayor Kaptain argues the Commissioner is missing an important distinction. “’American Nocturne’ is not violent nor does it advocate violence; it is a work representing hatred and violence,” it states. The letter goes on to stress that the work is granted First Amendment protection regardless of whether it was commissioned by the City or not. The letter states: “government may choose whether to spend public money on art, but once it has decided to do so, it may not then discriminate against a work because of disagreement with its viewpoint.”
NCAC’s letter argues that “no matter how chilling and painful the reminder proves to be, the history of racial violence in America cannot and must not be suppressed; its legacy is still with us, and before forgetting the pain we need to collectively deal with that legacy’s consequences so that past injustices will never be repeated.”
The letter cautions the City Council over the risk involved in censoring the artwork and requests that it reach a “positive resolution” in regards to its continued place in the city.
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The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) is an alliance of 50 national non-profit organizations dedicated to defending freedom of thought, inquiry and expression.