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Women’s Voices — Some art in hall, some not

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What is the right balance between promoting free expression and protecting Village government from lawsuits if that expression offends? At their Feb. 19 meeting, Village Council members wrestled with that thorny issue as they determined the best way to display art during the upcoming Women’s Voices Out Loud exhibit.

A village tradition for more than 30 years, Women’s Voices will take place at the Bryan Center on Saturday, March 23. The event is a venue for local women and girls to “share songs, stories and art,” according to organizer Liz Hale at the meeting. Traditionally, local women’s artwork has been hung in the building’s second-story hallway, outside Village offices.

However, last year the exhibit sparked considerable controvery when a few Village employees felt offended by images of female nudes, after which some artists hung more nudes. While the exhibit was not taken down early, the controversy led to a new Village policy on art on Village-owned property, including the creation of a new Village Arts Commission to jury art exhibits.

However, the new commission, which Council approved at the same meeting, has not yet been organized, so is unable to jury the WVOL show. Consequently, Village Manager Laura Curliss has recommended that the art exhibit be hung in Rooms A and B, and out of the hallway through which Village employees pass, which is also outside the Village Mayor’s Court. At the meeting, Council members also received a recommendation from Village Solicitor Chris Conard to confine the exhibit to Rooms A and B to lessen the chances of potential lawsuits.

But the event’s organizers feel the new plan is an over-reaction to last year’s situation, according to Hale.

“For the most part, just a couple of pieces cause controversy,” Hale said to Council, stating that the event’s organizers could identify any potentially offensive artworks and hang them in Rooms A and B. “The bulk of the artwork is a joyful celebration” of women’s experience.
Confining the art to Rooms A and B is problematic because it’s more difficult to hang art in that room than the hallway, Hale said, and doing so also sends a message to the women involved.
“The message of silencing the voice of a 34-year-old show will be at great cost to the village,” she said.

At the suggestion of villager Richard Lapedes, a local sculptor, Council agreed to allow landscapes, which tend to be noncontroversial, in the hallway, with all other WVOL paintings in Rooms A and B. The vote was 3–2, with Council members Gerald Simms and Karen Wintrow voting against. Simms stated that he did not want to go against the advice received from the Village solicitor.

However, Council gets to decide how to use that advice, according to Council member Rick Walkey.

“The solicitor gave the reasoning for his advice, but that doesn’t mean we have to follow it,” he said.

In other Village business:

• Council unanimously approved establishing a Village Arts Commission. Those interested in seving on the commission should contact Council members or Curliss.

• Council unanimously approved a resolution that establishes a new Council policy for discretionary funding of projects from nonprofit organizations. The policy essentially codifies what the Village is already doing, Curliss said, and identifies organizations appropriate for funding as 501(c)(3) organizations that come to Council with requests for specific, time-limited projects that will further a stated Council goal. Funding would be limited to one request per year for nonprofits.
The topic has been discussed in several previous meetings, with Council members stating they needed a clear policy due to the number of nonprofits that have sought funding in recent years. Councillors emphasized that the policy does not mean Council will necessarily fund projects, only that they now have a systematic and fair process for doing so.

“The floodgates are not open all of a sudden,” Walkey said. “A lot of this is codifying what we’re already doing.”

However, villager Sue Abendroth spoke against the policy as a misuse of local government funds.
“I’m just appalled in this economy that you’re considering more giving to private organizations,” she said.

But nonprofits are not “private,” according to Curliss, who said that many nonprofits help to fulfill government responsibilities. Council members also emphasized that funding Village infrastructure remains Council’s first priority.

• Council unanimously approved the gift from Community Resources of a right-of-way adjacent to the Center for Business and Education, or CBE. In making the presentation, CR member Jerry Sutton urged Council to consider forgiving CR its $300,000 debt to the Village, which gave the group an interest-free loan of $300,000 to purchase the land about 10 years ago, from the Village Revolving Economic Development loan fund.

• Council unanimously approved additional funds for the purchase of a bucket truck for the Village electric crew.

• Council unanimously approved a re-financing plan for the Village’s remaining debt for the Bryan Center, as proposed by Curliss. The re-financing could save the Village about $50,000, Curliss stated.

Council’s next meeting takes place Monday, March 4. Items on the agenda include a discussion of Village security/surveillance cameras.


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