CAA News Today
Why Art Is Dangerous: Making Art Is Making Trouble
posted by Christopher Howard — February 24, 2014
Written by Donald Preziosi on February 17, 2014.
Above the entrance to an exhibition in Paris in 2011 at the Centre Pompidou called The Promises of the Past was written the claim that the function of art was to make the world better. Better than it might appear at present.
Yet you could argue, at the same time, that what art creates may be a worse world—worse than it appears, or not at all what you would like it to be. Art as both amelioration, betterment, and creative construction: as world-making—and also as destruction and distraction from what reality is imagined to be. The construction and deconstruction of what one takes as reality or as natural.
How could this be? How can we unravel such a dense fabric?
Art has long been regarded as dangerous to the stability of a society and to its professed or desired ideal order. Indeed, 2,500 years ago, in a text we know as The Republic, the Greek philosopher Plato sought to banish the representational arts from an ideal community, because of their distracting effects on its citizens. However powerful, beautiful, spiritually uplifting, or life-enhancing they might be, works of art had the potential to cause individuals to imagine realities differently than what was promoted as real or natural by those holding or desiring power. Plato was far from alone or unique in such a view either in his own or in other societies, both ancient and modern, but his writings give us an insight into the social logic behind such a view.
The simplest and most compelling rationale is this: that the awareness of the artistry or facture of a work of art—the fact that it is a product of human creativity—makes it possible to imagine that the reality it portrays or projects might be imagined otherwise. Both by others or even by oneself at different times or in different places. In other words, once you are aware that the forms and meanings taken by your society as real or natural (perhaps even as created or inspired by superhuman forces) are among any number of possible realities or belief systems, then space is opened for imagining other ways of world-making. To put it another way, you don’t need the visible presence of different social systems, either next door or across the river, to imagine differences: the different exists within art itself.
But what could this mean? The reason for this has to do with what we might call the inherent instability and slipperiness of how things mean—the demonstrable fact that an object or artifact can have different meanings and connotations in different times and places. Just as the same or similar form can have multiple meanings, so the same or equivalent meaning might be embodied or portrayed by distinct forms or expressions. This has been absolutely central to many theological, philosophical, or political debates, now and in the past. It’s the problem of the “relations between” art and religion, or “between” art and politics.
To put this another way, if the only tool you have were a hammer, you’d tend to treat everything as a nail. Thus, as a species, we would be less likely to have survived very long outside a very specific and isolated environment. In technical terms, the potential indeterminacy of meaning—the fact that it cannot be fully controlled—allows for and affords the possibility of adapting to the vagaries of human encounters with worlds. We are, in short, adapted to change; our very existence depends on that flexibility, that openness.
What all or any of this has to do with the dangers of art should be fairly evident and not exactly, as they say, “rocket science.” But remember that science, after all, is itself one of the finest and powerful of the fine arts. And consequently one of the more dangerous.
Art’s dangers are at the same time the source of its powers for positive change and social advocacy. Art advocates and invokes as much as it revokes what you imagine yourself and your worlds to be. Those selves are porous: permeated by and defined relative to others, real or imagined. And, in fact, a close attention to the real powers of art makes the distinction itself between the real and the imaginary, between fact and fiction, and circumstantial and conditional rather than fixed and permanent.
Art is dangerous, in the end, because it brings to consciousness the reality of the fiction of reality—that reality is a work of art: the finest of the fine arts, the supreme fiction.
Recent CAA Advocacy
posted by Christopher Howard — June 18, 2012
CAA’s advocacy efforts this year addressed a wide range of issues of critical importance to the visual arts, from the necessity of artists to have affordable health-insurance options, to the ethical treatment of animals in works of art, to the ins and outs of copyright law and museum practices. Below is a summary of eleven issues to which CAA has been committed during the past twelve months.
In June 2011, CAA filed an amicus brief in the case of Golan v. Holder, which the United States Supreme Court began hearing in October. The issue raised in Golan v. Holder is whether Congress, after enacting the Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 1994, could legally remove tens of thousands—if not millions—of foreign works from the public domain and bring them back into copyright. Consistent with the First Amendment, the brief argued that those works should remain freely available. On January 18, 2012, the Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s previous decision, 6–2. In short, foreign works formerly in the public domain in the US can have their copyrighted status reinstated.
In December 2011, CAA signed onto a statement from the Association of Art Museum Directors that opposed the pending sale of a fifty percent stake in the Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Modern American and European Art at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Since 2005 the school had been attempting to sell the collection, donated by Georgia O’Keeffe (who specified that it never be sold or broken up). “Such an action,” stated the letter, “would violate a core professional standard of AAMD and of the museum field, which prohibit[s] the use of funds from the sale of works of art for purposes other than building an institution’s collection.” Nevertheless, the Tennessee Supreme court did not block the sale to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, on April 25, 2012. The university and museum will share the collection on a three-year rotating basis, with the museum helping to conserve the collection.
CAA board and staff members represented the organization at two events this spring in Washington, DC: Anne Collins Goodyear, then-incoming board president, and Linda Downs, CAA executive director and chief executive officer, attended Humanities Advocacy Day in March; and Judith Thorpe, an outgoing board member, and Helen Bayer, CAA marketing and communications associate, went to Arts Advocacy Day in April. The goal of both days was to support continued federal funding through the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, and to articulate to Congress the vital importance of the humanities and the arts in higher education. The National Humanities Alliance’s annual meeting coincided with Humanities Advocacy Day. Goodyear and Downs have offered a summary of this important event.
At the request of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), CAA investigated the use of homing pigeons in Jon Rubin’s interactive artwork, Thinking about Flying (2012), on view this year at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Colorado. The piece invites museum visitors to take home a bird, placed in a cardboard box, for a day before releasing it, so that it may fly back to the museum. CAA confirmed the humanitarian treatment of the birds by the artist and museum and notified PETA of the findings.
In April, CAA investigated the complaint raised by several artists who lent work to the 2010 World Festival of Black Artists and Cultures in Senegal that was not returned due to a dispute with an art shipper in Dakar. CAA determined that the situation did not need the organization’s assistance.
Michael Fahlund, CAA deputy director, testified on behalf of the organization at an oversight hearing convened by New York City’s Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations on January 25, 2012, regarding increasing access to affordable health insurance for artists. Even though CAA is an international organization, its office is in the state of New York; presently the healthcare industry is regulated state by state. Fahlund proposed that CAA be given “employer status” in relation to its members living in New York State in order to provide health-insurance options for them. The committee’s discussions are ongoing.
CAA monitored a federal bill, the Research Works Act (H.R. 3699), that was introduced in the US House of Representatives on December 16, 2011, by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and cosponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)— chairman and member, respectively, of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The legislation would prohibit federal agencies from mandating free access to scholarly articles submitted to a scientific or scholarly publication without the consent of the publisher. This act primarily addresses science and technology publications but, if enacted, could affect art and humanities publications as well. Many learned societies who are publishers oppose the legislation, and CAA board members have begun discussing the issue and are paying close attention to the legislation’s development.
Representing CAA, Fahlund contributed his expertise to a National Coalition Against Censorship committee that developed Museum Best Practices for Managing Controversy, published in May. The document offers guidance for institutions to turn controversial situations into learning experiences for their public. The committee comprised representatives from the American Association of Museums, the Association of Art Museum Directors, the Association of Art Museum Curators, Columbia University, Arizona State University, the University of Washington, and the New School. CAA’s Museum Committee is reviewing the guideline and will present it for adoption at the CAA board meeting on October 28, 2012.
Fahlund also worked with a liability insurance broker, Herbert L. Jamison and Co. LLC, and Philadelphia Insurance Companies, and with two CAA members, Barbara Buhler Lynes and Nancy Mowll Mathews, to establish comprehensive, affordable liability insurance for art historians and artists who authenticate works of art. Such insurance would help defend against a damaging financial loss that could occur from alleged mistakes or negligence. CAA does not administer the insurance but acts as a referral to the insurance company; in a brief article from this past January, Fahlund offers helpful loss-prevention tips for the art professional to avoid potential workplace liabilities.
Last month CAA signed onto a letter from the Association of Art Museum Directors sent to Congress, urging legislators to pass the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act (S. 2212), a proposed law that would shield a loaned work of art from a non-US collection from being seized by anyone with a claim to legal ownership while the art is on display in the country. According to the letter, the US has “long provided the crucial legal protection that helps make loans from foreign museums possible” through the Department of State, until a 2004–8 lawsuit involving heirs of Kasimir Malevich and the City of Amsterdam weakened those protections. The House passed the bill (H.R. 4086), which the Senate is now debating.
As a member of the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, a group that addresses workforce issues in higher education, CAA helped to prepare and administer a 2010 survey on contingent-faculty issues. The results have been tabulated and will be distributed soon. More than one thousand CAA members filled out the survey. [June 20 update: the survey results have been published.]
Founded as an advocate for the visual arts in higher education, CAA actively engages matters of public policy, litigation, and activism at the local, state, federal, and international levels. For further information, visit the Advocacy section of the website. If you have questions or have advocacy issues you would like to bring to the attention of the CAA board, please contact Anne Collins Goodyear, CAA president, and Linda Downs, CAA executive director and chief executive officer, at email@example.com.
CAA Files Amicus Brief for the Supreme Court Case of Golan v. Holder
posted by Christopher Howard — June 24, 2011
This week CAA filed an amicus brief in the case of Golan v. Holder, which the United States Supreme Court will likely hear later this year. The issue raised in Golan v. Holder is if Congress could, consistent with the First Amendment, remove certain foreign works from the public domain and bring them back into copyright when it enacted the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) of 1994. A lower court, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, held that the URAA was constitutional. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, Jeffrey P. Cunard, CAA’s counsel, was asked if CAA would join several like-minded organizations and individuals in signing onto a brief that would support the importance of the public domain. The Executive Committee of the CAA Board of Directors considered the importance of the public domain (works no longer in copyright) as a wellspring of resources for artists, scholars, and other creators while discussing the detrimental effect of removing works from the public domain. The committee also noted that a filing by CAA in Golan v. Holder would be consistent with the organization’s filing of an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case of Eldred v. Ashcroft. In that 2003 decision, the court determined that Congress did not violate the First Amendment when it extended the term of copyright through the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. After reviewing drafts of the current brief, the Executive Committee authorized the filing of the Golan v. Holder brief on June 20, 2011. To learn more about Golan v. Holder and the issues at stake, please review the following articles, published online in March and April 2011:
- Lyle Denniston, “A Major Test of Copyright Power,” SCOTUSblog, March 7, 2011
- Edward Lee, “Golan v. Holder: Supreme Court to Review Copyrighting Works in Public Domain,” Huffington Post, March 9, 2011
- Shannon Mo, “Cert. Granted in Golan v. Holder,” Re:Marks, April 1, 2011
The principal author of the brief, Jennifer Urban of the Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California’s School of Law in Berkeley, received assistance from Cunard and his firm, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. Others signing onto the brief include individual writers, musicians, and scholars as well as other organizations. Cunard extends his thanks to Anne Collins Goodyear, curator at the National Portrait Gallery and CAA vice president for Annual Conference, for providing the excellent example of a visual artist, Marcel Duchamp, using a public-domain work, the Mona Lisa, to create a new one (pp. 14–15). The brief also cites other artists, from Pablo Picasso and Jasper Johns to Banksy and Shepard Fairey. In addition, Cunard has noted the extensive reference to CAA’s involvement in the orphan-works proceeding (pp. 33–35), which helps the brief support the proposition that the URAA’s copyright restoration of many foreign works had exacerbated the orphan-works problem. CAA’s involvement in Golan v. Holder is the latest event in its long history of advocacy efforts regarding freedom of speech and copyright issues. On behalf of all CAA members, the board is grateful to Cunard, one of the nation’s leading experts in copyright law, for the work he has put into the brief and for his continued support of the organization.
CAA Advocacy for Artists, Art Historians, and Art Museums
posted by Christopher Howard — May 23, 2011
CAA is the principal national and international voice of the academic and professional community in the visual arts; the organization was founded on the principle of advocating the visual arts and actively continues that engagement today (see The Eye, The Hand, The Mind: 100 Years of the College Art Association, edited by Susan Ball). The principal goal of CAA advocacy is to address issues of critical importance in the visual arts that benefit artists, art historians, and museum workers and to inform the public.
CAA specifically advocates change and improvements in these areas:
- Government funding for the arts and humanities
- Freedom of expression and against censorship
- Intellectual-property rights
- Preservation of the artistic integrity of public spaces
- Higher education and technologies to facilitate distance learning
- Philanthropy for the arts and humanities
- Tax policy as it applies to CAA members
- Conditions in universities, museums, and other workplace environments of CAA members
CAA cosponsors and regularly sends representatives to the annual Arts, Humanities, and Museum Advocacy Days in Washington, DC. Email petitions are requested of CAA members throughout the year when legislation is being considered in Congress related to specific issues. This year’s advocacy message to Capitol Hill focused on maintaining the funding levels of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Recent issues related to freedom of expression and censorship on which CAA has taken a public position include:
- Incarceration of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei
- Removal of David Wojnarowicz’s video from the Hide/Seek exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery
- Proposed removal of the John T. Biggers mural at Texas Southern University
- Removal of the Department of Labor mural in Augusta, Maine
- Adrian Piper’s placement on the Transportation Security Administration Watch List
- Supreme Court amicus brief in support of petition for review regarding artists whose vehicular artwork was removed by the City of San Marcos, Texas
- Supreme Court amicus brief asserting the unconstitutionality of a federal law criminalizing the depiction of animal cruelty in United States v. Stevens
In addition, CAA has been involved in intellectual-property rights, as described below.
CAA participated actively in US Copyright Office proceedings to study orphan works and, thereafter, actively supported legislation—yet to be passed by Congress—that would require users to conduct work-by-work, due-diligence searches to identify and find the copyright holder. If that search failed to identify or find the copyright holder, the work could be used without the threat of injunctive relief or statutory damages. If the copyright holder emerges after the work has been researched and used, he or she could still sue the user for copyright infringement, but a losing defendant would only be required to pay the normal license fee; the proposed legislation includes a safe harbor for museums that removed works expeditiously. It is unclear if any orphan-works legislation will be reintroduced in this or subsequent Congresses. After the March 2011 decision of Judge Denny Chin of the US Court of Appeals Second Circuit rejecting the settlement of the Google Books litigation, CAA’s counsel was approached by Public Knowledge (“a D.C. public interest group working to defend citizen’s rights in the emerging digital culture”) asking if CAA remained interested in orphan-works legislation and, if so, to sign a letter to Congress requesting that orphan-works legislation be reintroduced.
Cost for Reproducing Images of Artwork in Museum Collections
In recent member surveys, one of the most critical issues articulated was the high cost of reproduction rights of works in museum collections that are not under copyright. CAA has requested formal attention to this issue from the Association of Art Museum Directors.
CAA’s Committee on Intellectual Property, chaired by Doralyn Pines and Christine Sundt, is reviewing and proposing revisions to the Intellectual Property in the Arts section of the CAA website. The committee will also review a draft set of fair-use guidelines being prepared by the Art Law Committee of the New York Bar Association and the Visual Resources Association; after such review, the CAA Board of Directors may be asked to endorse the updated guidelines.
Extension of Copyright Term
CAA signed a Supreme Court amicus brief regarding the retroactive application of the extension of copyright term in Eldred v. Ashcroft. The Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 was challenged with the original complaint filed on January 11, 1999. CAA was an amicus when the case was brought to the Supreme Court, which held on January 15, 2003, that the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 was constitutional (see the March 2003 CAA News).
Artist-Museum Partnership Act
CAA actively supports the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, which establishes fair-market-value tax deductions for works given by artists instead of the current limitation to cost of materials. Information on the progress of the Artist-Museum Partnership Act is published in the weekly CAA News email, posted in the Advocacy section of the website, and communicated to the Services to Artists Committee. If and when a bill is subject to a vote in Congress, CAA will urge all members, affiliated societies, and committees to contact their representatives.
Coalition on the Academic Workforce
CAA is a member of the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, which recently prepared a survey of contingent faculty. Over 30,000 individuals completed the questionnaire—many were CAA members—and the results will be tabulated this spring. Information on all aspect of working conditions is included in this survey and will assist in informing future standards and practices. CAA’s Professional Practices Committee and Education Committee are kept informed of the survey and its tabulation and will analyze the results and determine action to take that will benefit CAA members. Contingent faculty is currently responsible for 76 percent of teachers in American colleges and universities. CAA supports equitable hiring, representation, and benefits for this growing segment of the faculty.
How It Works
How does advocacy work at CAA? CAA both monitors advocacy issues and is approached by universities, colleges, organizations, and individuals who raise issues via CAA’s counsel, officers and members of the board, executive director, deputy director, affiliated societies, or other partner organizations such as the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Association of Art Museum Directors, or the associations of the American Council of Learned Societies. If an issue warrants action and is consistent with the advocacy policy, CAA will prepare a response. Depending on the importance and complexity of the issue, CAA will prepare an email, letter of support, or statement; cosign a letter with other organizations; or, in exceptional circumstances when legal action is required, prepare an amicus brief or support proposed legislation. All advocacy issues brought to CAA’s attention are reviewed by the counsel and the executive director. Consistent with the organization’s Advocacy Policy, the Executive Committee and, if necessary, partner organizations also review the issues. Important matters where legal action is involved will be brought to the board.
At the February 2011 board meeting, Andrea Kirsh, then vice president for external affairs, volunteered to work as CAA’s advocacy coordinator. She has since actively assisted in carrying out research and drafting letters and statements. CAA members who would like to be informed of the organization’s advocacy efforts—and spread the word—can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
CAA Letter Regarding the Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei
posted by Christopher Howard — April 08, 2011
CAA sent the following letter regarding the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to the editor of the New York Times on Friday, April 8, 2011. Read more about the international art community’s response at CultureGrrl.
Letter to the Editor
To the Editor:
The College Art Association, the world’s largest organization of visual arts professionals, is extremely concerned about the fate of Ai Weiwei since he was taken into police custody when attempting to board a plane to Hong Kong on April 3rd. He has not been accused of specific crimes.
We are deeply alarmed that Ai would be subject to such extreme methods of repression because of his unfettered work and outspokenness. Ai’s work has garnered international accolades, recognized as an indication of the vitality of the visual arts in China. He is well known in art circles in New York, where he lived for a number of years, and his choice to return to Beijing was seen as part of the renewal of the arts in China.
The College Art Association supports freedom of expression for all artists and looks forward to Ai’s prompt release.
Barbara Nesin, MFA
President, College Art Association
Rutgers University Hosts a Conference on “Hide/Seek: Museums, Ethics, and the Press”
posted by CAA — March 24, 2011
The Institute of Museum Ethics at Seton Hall and the Institute of Ethical Leadership at Rutgers Business School will hold “Hide/Seek: Museums, Ethics, and the Press,” a public conversation about current ethical challenges in the field, on Saturday, April 9, 2011. Registration begins at 9:30 AM, and the conference takes place 10:00 AM–4:00 PM. Lunch will be served.
Participants will examine the controversy surrounding the recent National Portrait Gallery exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, highlighting the ethical issues involved, discussing the role of print and electronic media and other instances where museums’ ethical practices are interrogated, and exploring related issues such as artists’ rights.
Rutgers University in Newark is the host: 190 University Ave, Newark, NJ. Registration is free, but space is limited. Visit the conference website for more details and to register.
CAA Deplores Pressure to Remove Artwork at the National Portrait Gallery
posted by Christopher Howard — December 07, 2010
The Executive Committee of the CAA Board of Directors adopted the following statement on December 7, 2010. At the bottom of the page is information about a special session at the upcoming CAA Annual Conference, chaired by Jonathan Katz, a scholar and the cocurator of Hide/Seek.
The College Art Association regrets the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly (1987) from the exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, on display at the National Portrait Gallery. It was taken out on November 30 by G. Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, in response to outside pressure. CAA further expresses profound disappointment that the House speaker–designate, John A. Boehner of Ohio, and the incoming majority leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia, have used their positions to question future funding for the Smithsonian Institution.
CAA applauds the National Portrait Gallery for its groundbreaking exhibition, which presents the long-suppressed subject of same-sex orientation. Furthermore, CAA commends the thorough, pioneering scholarship and the challenging curatorial judgment made by the organizers of Hide/Seek—David C. Ward, a historian at the museum, and Jonathan Katz, director of the Visual Studies Doctoral Program at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. That the work of everyone involved has been heedlessly compromised is deeply troubling. The pressure brought to bear on the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian sounds a familiar note from 1989, when direct federal funding to artists was ended due to political pressure. Then as now, CAA strongly protests such tactics.
Government has a long tradition of supporting universities, museums, and libraries—institutions that have produced research that expresses a variety of positions on all subjects. Freedom of expression is one of the great strengths of American democracy and one that our country holds up as a model for emerging democracies elsewhere. Americans understand that ideas expressed in books and artworks are those of their makers, not of the institutions that house them, and certainly do not represent public policy.
CAA urges all members to let your senators and representatives know of your support for the exhibition, its curators, and the National Portrait Gallery. You may also use advocacy tools provided by the National Humanities Alliance or Americans for the Arts.
Special Conference Session
This week CAA invited Jonathan Katz, cocurator of Hide/Seek, to chair a special Centennial session at the 2011 Annual Conference in New York. He will present “Against Acknowledgement: Sexuality and the Instrumentalization of Knowledge” on Wednesday, February 9, 2011, 9:30 AM–NOON in the Rendezvous Trianon Room at the Hilton New York. Please check the conference website soon for a list of panelists, their institutional affiliations, and topics of discussion.
Statements on the National Portrait Gallery from People and Organizations
posted by Christopher Howard — December 07, 2010
In the past week, numerous art and museum associations, advocacy groups, nonprofit and commercial galleries, art critics, and newspapers have spoken out against the removal of an artwork by David Wojnarowicz that was on view in an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. CAA is compiling a list of organizations, companies, and people who have published official statements, editorials, and letters to the editor.
- College Art Association
- Association of Art Museum Directors (PDF)
- Transformer in Washington, DC, which is screening A Fire in My Belly
- Association of Art Museum Curators
- National Coalition Against Censorship (a joint statement with thirteen other groups, including the First Amendment Project, Catholics for Choice, the Association of American Publishers, and the International Association of Art Critics, United States Section)
- American Association of Museums
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Washington Project for the Arts
- Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
Critics, Journalists, Scholars, and Curators
- Jonathan D. Katz, scholar and curator of Hide/Seek with David C. Ward
- Tyler Green, Modern Art Notes, who has an archive of events and commentary since November 30
- Lee Rosenbaum, CultureGrrl, who also has covered the story with news and editorials
- Blake Gopnik, the Washington Post
- Christopher Knight, the Los Angeles Times
Museums and Galleries
- PPOW Gallery in New York, which represents the Estate of David Wojnarowicz
- Arlington Arts Center in Virginia
Press and Publishing
Social Networking and Web Resources
- Support Hide/Seek on Facebook
- Hide/Seek.org on Twitter
The above list will be cumulative. If you would like to send CAA a link to an official or organizational statement, please write to Christopher Howard, CAA managing editor.
2011 Advocacy Days in Washington for the Arts, the Humanities, and Museums
posted by Christopher Howard — November 30, 2010
On November 30, G. Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, ordered the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly (1987) from display at the National Portrait Gallery. In addition, incoming Republican leaders in Congress urged that the entire exhibition, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, be closed. Thankfully this did not happen.
Our government clearly needs to hear from you. At this critical time of federal budget planning—when sufficient funding for the Smithsonian museums may be in doubt—it is crucial that you let Capitol Hill know about your support for the visual arts, humanities, and art museums. CAA encourages you to register and take part in three upcoming events this winter and spring in Washington, DC: Museums Advocacy Day, Humanities Advocacy Day, and Arts Advocacy Day. At each, participants meet their senators and representatives in person to advocate for increased federal support of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services.
Previous lobbying experience isn’t necessary. Training sessions and practice talks take place the day before the main events—that’s why, for example, Arts Advocacy Day is actually two days, not one. Participants are also prepped on the critical issues and the range of funding requested of Congress to support these federal agencies. It is at these training sessions where you meet—and network with—other advocates from your states. The main sponsoring organization for each event makes congressional appointments for you.
You may have mailed a letter or sent a prewritten email to your congressperson or senator before, but legislators have an algorithm of interest for pressing issues, in which a personal visit tops all other forms of communication. As citizen lobbyists, it’s also important to have a few specific examples about how arts funding has affected you: don’t be afraid to name-drop major cultural institutions—such as your city’s best-known museum or nonprofit art center—in your examples of why the visual arts matter in your state.
If you cannot attend the three advocacy days in person, please send an email or fax to your representatives expressing your concern about continued and increased funding for the visual arts. If you don’t know your representative or senators, you can look them up at www.congress.org.
Museums Advocacy Day
The American Association of Museums (AAM) leads Museums Advocacy Day, taking place February 28–March 1, 2011, with support from numerous other nonprofit organizations. AAM is developing the legislative agenda for this year’s event. Likely issues will include federal funding for museums, museums and federal education policy, and charitable giving issues affecting museums. The entire museum field is welcome to participate: staff, volunteers, trustees, students, and even museum enthusiasts. Museums Advocacy Day is the ideal chance for new and seasoned advocates to network with museum professionals from their state and to meet staff in congressional offices. Register online now.
Humanities Advocacy Day
The National Humanities Alliance (NHA) sponsors Humanities Advocacy Day, to be held March 7–8, 2011, in conjunction with its annual meeting. Scholars, higher education and association leaders, and policy makers will convene first at George Washington University for the conference and then on Capitol Hill for congressional visits and a reception. The preliminary program includes NHA’s annual business meeting for voting members, commentary on the postelection landscape, discussion of humanities funding and other policy issues, a luncheon and keynote address, and presentations of current work in the humanities. Learn more about registration.
Arts Advocacy Day
To be held April 4–5, 2011, Arts Advocacy Day is the only national event that brings together America’s cultural and civic organizations with hundreds of grassroots advocates, all of whom will underscore the importance of developing strong public policies and appropriating increased public funding for the arts. Sponsored by Americans for the Arts, the event starts at the Omni Shoreham Hotel on the first day, before advocates head to Capitol Hill on the second. Registration is open now.
CAA Joins Amicus Brief Urging Supreme Court to Review Appellate Decision That Only “Great” Art Is Protected by the First Amendment
posted by Christopher Howard — July 22, 2010
CAA joined with artists and other arts-support organizations in filing an amicus brief asking the US Supreme Court to grant a petition to review a case involving an artwork removed from public view in San Marcos, Texas. In that case, Kleinman v. City of San Marcos, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the First Amendment only protects “great” works of art.
The brief explains how this new, “great” art standard is inconsistent with the First Amendment and would give governments the ability to ban disfavored art and contemporary art that has not yet become iconic. It points out that whether art is “great” art is not susceptible to an objective, value-neutral determination, but would require courts to act as art critics based on expert evidence of what constitutes “greatness” in art. The brief also highlights a number of examples of artists and art whose work was not initially regarded as “great,” but only became so over time. For all of these reasons, the brief argues, the new and unprecedented “great” art standard of the Fifth Circuit is troubling, and the Supreme Court should review and reverse the appellate decision.
In the city of San Marcos, Texas, participants at a charity event for the opening of a store, Planet K, were invited to smash up an old car. The car was then converted into a cactus planter and painted on the exterior by two local artists, with scenes from San Marcos, abstract designs, and the phrase “Make Love, Not War.” The stated intention of one of the petitioners, Michael Kleinman, organizer of the event and owner of the store, was always to turn the wrecked car into an artwork. The resulting artwork was displayed on private property (the Planet K parking lot) and was easily visible to the public from thoroughfares.
A San Marcos ordinance prohibits, as a public nuisance, any display of a “junked vehicle” that can been seen by the public. Based on the First Amendment—that their artwork is protected speech—Kleinman and the artists sued the city, to enjoin it from applying the ordinance to their artwork. The US District Court for the Western District of Texas found for the city. The court held that the ordinance did not violate the First Amendment, as applied to plaintiffs’ artwork, because they had alternative avenues of communicating their message.
This past February, the Fifth Circuit affirmed that decision. It first questioned whether the wrecked car/planter/artwork could be considered constitutionally protected expression. In particular, the appeals court read a prior Supreme Court decision to indicate that the First Amendment protects only “great” works of art, and that the Supreme Court has not otherwise set out the First Amendment framework to be applied to visual works of art. The Fifth Circuit also went on to hold that even if the First Amendment did apply in this case, under prevailing standards the city’s nuisance law could apply to the artwork. After the decision of the Fifth Circuit, the city seized and removed—but has not yet destroyed—the artwork.
The artists filed a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court, requesting that the court review the decision of the Fifth Circuit. There are several grounds for the petition, one of which is that “great art” should not be the test for whether an artwork is protected by the First Amendment.
First Amendment protection for works of art has long been a core concern of CAA and important to its advocacy program. In the last Supreme Court term, CAA joined the National Coalition Against Censorship in filing an amicus brief in the case of United States v. Stevens. In that case, the Supreme Court ultimately held, 8–0, that the federal statute criminalizing depictions of animal cruelty violated the First Amendment, agreeing with the position taken by CAA in its brief. Earlier, CAA joined an amicus brief in the NEA Four case (National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley), in which the Supreme Court ultimately held, in 1998, that it was not unconstitutional for Congress to mandate that the National Endowment for the Arts take into account “general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public” when funding artists.
Other Signers to the Brief
The amicus brief to which CAA is a party was filed on July 8, 2010. The other signers are: Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts; Volunteer Lawyers and Professionals for the Arts (formerly Tennessee Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts); Northwest Lawyers and Artists (Portland, Oregon); Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; ArtCar Fest; the artist historian Douglas Nickel; and artists Butch Hancock, Kelly Lyles, Leo Aston, Alan Pogue, Jan D. Elftman, Philo Northrup, Harrod Blank, Emily Duffy, and Graydon Parrish.
Download a PDF of the Kleinman amicus brief. A second PDF contains the petition for certiorari, the District Court and Fifth Circuit opinions, and, at the end of the file, photographs of the artwork in question.