Free Speech Groups Protest Nevada County Art Censorship and Call for Guidelines Respecting Artistic Freedom and Cultural Diversity
Arts Advocacy Project at National Coalition Against Censorship, the Oakland, CA First Amendment Project, the ACLU of Northern California and other free speech organizations are protesting the cancellation of the Annual Open Studios Art Show at the Rood Administrative Center in Nevada County, CA. County officials cancelled the entire show after an initial attempt to remove five individual works, which contained partial nudity.
The organizations are urging the County to adopt exhibition guidelines, which "recognize the freedom of artists to express diverse views, show respect for the curatorial judgment of the Nevada County Arts Council, and affirm the rights of people in the community to see a wide range of artwork."
Svetlana Mintcheva, coordinator of NCAC’s arts advocacy project, said "the beliefs of a small minority, who think that the human body is an object of shame, are countered not only by centuries of art, but also by the decisions of U.S. Supreme Court. We are all entitled to our beliefs; however, it is not a democratic government’s mandate to embrace the beliefs of one group at the expense of everyone else."
David Greene, executive director of the Oakland, CA First Amendment Project, voiced his concerns over Nevada County’s commitment to arts, culture and freedom of expression, "It is a sad statement about the role of art in public life," said Greene, "when an entire art exhibit is cancelled in the service of personal prejudices."
Letter to Nevada County Board of Supervisors follows.
October 9, 2003
We were disturbed to learn that Nevada County officials ordered the removal of all work from the Annual Open Studios Art Show at the Rood Administrative Center. Ironically, the order was issued on the very first day of a month that Nevada County had proclaimed "Arts, Culture and Humanities" month with a resolution stating that the Board of Supervisors "encourages community support of all artists and especially the activities of the Nevada County Arts Council."
Support of artists also means support of artists’ right to free creative expression. Yet the Annual Art Show was canceled precisely so as to silence one type of artistic expression. The order to cancel the show came after an initial attempt by the County to remove five individual works because they contained partial nudity. Faced with protests by the artists and other members of the community, all of whom were opposed to the censorship, county officials decided that the whole exhibit should be taken down.
The human body is not obscene. There are representations of nudes in many public places—by far not only in galleries and museums. There are nude sculptures in the capital’s public squares and nudes in the friezes of government buildings. The U.S. Supreme Court has specifically declared that simple representations of nudity are a constitutionally protected form of artistic expression.
People in this country hold a variety of religious and moral beliefs. The government should not embrace the beliefs of one group to the disadvantage of everyone else. The First Amendment bars government officials from discriminating against expression —including artistic expression—because somebody finds it sacrilegious, morally improper or otherwise offensive.
The attempt to censor and the subsequent cancellation of the show raises doubts about Nevada County’s commitment to the arts, culture and freedom of expression. It is a sad statement about the role of art in public life when county officials would rather cancel an entire exhibit than put aside their personal prejudices and allow the artwork to be seen. With the clear intent to suppress representations of nudity, the County has silenced 65 artistic voices. What an inauguration of Arts, Culture and Humanities month!
The Art Show has now, fortunately, found another home. Nevada County, however, faces the decision of whether it wants to truly support the arts and display the diverse work of area artists in its public buildings or let the prejudices of a few public officials dominate what Nevada County citizens can see. We hope the guidelines the County is planning to institute in the future will recognize the freedom of artists to express diverse views, show respect for the curatorial judgment of the Nevada County Arts Council, and affirm the rights of people in the community to see a wide range of artwork. We would be happy to work with you in developing those guidelines.
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