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Council hears art policy concerns

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At the April 2 Village Council meeting, Council members heard from artists in the community regarding Council’s plan to develop a new policy on art in Village-owned public spaces. About 40 people attended the meeting, and 10 spoke, with the bulk of the speakers expressing concern about the effects of censorship in an arts town.

The issue was discussion only at this point. Council plans to hold a public forum on the issue in May, with three speakers addressing the importance of the arts in the village, the legal ramification of an arts policy, and issues of public management, according to Lori Askeland, who proposed the forum. The event would also include time for questions and concerns from citizens.

The Village arts policy discussion was prompted by a recent local arts controversy. About six weeks ago, Council agreed to offer free office space to the Yellow Springs Arts Council in the Bryan Center, and the YSAC requested that they also be allowed to show their permenant art collection in the second floor hallway of Bryan Center. At that time Council agreed that it needed to develop a Village policy on art in public buildings, according to Judith Hempfling when introducing the topic at the April 2 meeting. Council had begun such a policy in 2004, she said, but the issue “fell off the table” and was not finalized.

In recent weeks, Council didn’t have time to develop the policy before some of the art exhibited in the annual Women’s Voices Out Loud art exhibit drew protest from some Village employees. The employees objected to several nudes on exhibit, and in response, the artists brought in more nudes. The exhibit was taken down the end of March, which was the original intention.

“Our goal is to balance the artists’ right to free expression with the rights of Village workers if they find the art offensive,” Hempfling said. “People felt distress on all sides and felt disrepected on all sides, which is evidence that we need a policy.”

However, longtime villager and artist Flo Lorenz took issue with that, stating that “the art show establishes community standards, not a policy. Let the policy fall off the table. Trying to codify art is not a good thing.”

The values of the community should determine community standards, not an official policy, according to artist Beth Holyoke.

“I regret that some pieces (in the exhibit) were a problem for some people. But using censorship is not the answer,” she said, stating that she hoped that “Council will have confidence in the artists’ judgement.”

Trying to balance the free expression of artists with the needs of the public means that “art suffers and the public suffers,” according to artist Migiwa Orimo, who also said, “When artists start self-censoring, you don’t know what’s being censored.”

And while artist Sharon Mohler said she finds many things offensive in the culture, “I don’t make others get rid of those things.”

Using the example of her daughter, who is Jewish and works in a Catholic hospital that is full of Catholic icons, artist Johanna Smith said that when a person works in a place with obvious values, that person should expect those values to be expressed.

“When someone comes to work in Yellow Springs, you know you’re coming to an arts community,” she said.

But it’s also true that some come to the Bryan Center not out of choice but for official reasons, including those who must attend Mayor’s Court, or who are paying their bills, according to parttime Village employee Babette O’Reilly.

“You need to respect the people around,” she said. “There’s a diverse public coming in.”

And while several who spoke invoked the liberal nature of Yellow Springs as a reason to emphasize the arts, O’Reilly said, “Liberal does not mean just throwing yourself everywhere. It means respecting others around you.”

Whatever Council decides, according to YSAC President Jerome Borchers, “This will be significant to the community.”

Along with concern over censorship, several who spoke emphasized that the available space in the Bryan Center did not seem an optimal place to display local art.

“The hallway of a Village building is not a place for real art,” said Eve Fleck.

The date of the art and public spaces forum has not yet been announced.

See next week’s Yellow Springs News for other items of Council’s April 2 meeting.

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