19 Fulton Street, Suite 407 New York, NY 10038 tel: (212) 807-6222 fax: (212) 807-6245

email: ncac@ncac.org web: www.ncac.org

Joan E. Bertin
Executive Director

NCAC PARTICIPATING ORGANIZATIONS

Emerald Empire Art Association Board of Directors 500 Main Street Springfield, OR 97477 (541) 726-8595 January 16, 2014 Dear Board of Directors, I am writing on behalf of the National Coalition Against Censorship, an alliance of over 50 national non-profit organizations united in defense of free expression, as well as on behalf of local citizens and members of the local arts community, including members of the EEAA, to express our serious concern about the recent rejection of Linda Cunningham’s assemblage “School Days” from the Emerald Art Center monthly members’ show. We urge you to revise your exhibition policies to assure that the Emerald Art Center does not become a repressive censor, trampling the artistic freedom of its own members. Such a revision would assure the continuing viability and prosperity of the EAC as a place of artistic excellence that would attract new members, rather than lose current ones. “School Days” brings awareness to the continuing threat of gun violence in schools, a message that the Center’s coordinator agreed was “important” and that most people considered “powerful.” According to press reports, however, the Board found the piece “too controversial” and “inappropriate” for the members’ show. Art that engages in issues that we all care about inevitably elicits emotional response: sometimes it elates, at other times it disturbs, but it always provokes though: this is what art is supposed to do. By labeling such art as inappropriate and censoring it, the Emerald Art Center is doing a disservice to all Association members and is also jeopardizing its position as a relevant cultural institution. The Center reportedly defines “inappropriate” content as “denigration or hate of religion, race, creed, national origin, sex or sexual orientation; graphic or offensive nudity; explicit sex; promotion of terrorism or violence; and offensive bodily function related art.” The application of such a broadly defined and vague policy may well exclude the widest range of art. Interpretations of what is “hate” of religion vary, as do attitudes to nudity: some find any non-traditional representation of a religious figure hateful and any representation of nudity offensive. Indeed, Imogen Cunningham, subject to a current high profile guest show at the Center, created a scandal when she exhibited nude and semi-nude photographs of her husband a century ago. The application of this ill-conceived policy so as to exclude Linda Cunningham’s work emphasizes how problematic the policy is. Art is always open to personal interpretation and it is possible for someone to (mis)interpret an anti-gun violence

Actors’ Equity Association American Association of School Administrators American Association of University Professors American Association of University Women American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression American Civil Liberties Union American Ethical Union American Federation of Teachers American Jewish Committee American Library Association American Literary Translators Association American Orthopsychiatric Association American Society of Journalists & Authors Americans United for Separation of Church & State Association of American Publishers Authors Guild Catholics for Choice Children’s Literature Association College Art Association Comic Book Legal Defense Fund The Creative Coalition Dramatists Legal Defense Fund Directors Guild of America Dramatists Guild of America Dramatist Legal Defense Fund Educational Book & Media Association First Amendment Lawyers Association International Reading Association Lambda Legal Modern Language Association National Center for Science Education National Communication Association National Council for the Social Studies National Council of Churches National Council of Jewish Women National Council of Teachers of English National Education Association National Youth Rights Association The Newspaper Guild/CWA PEN American Center People For the American Way Planned Parenthood Federation of America Project Censored SAG-AFTRA Sexuality Information & Education Council of the U.S. Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Student Press Law Center Union for Reform Judaism Union of Democratic Intellectuals Unitarian Universalist Association United Church of Christ Office of Communication United Methodist Church United Methodist Communications Women’s American ORT Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance Writers Guild of America, East Writers Guild of America, West

message as promoting violence. The arbitrary, subjective, and vague determination of what might be “appropriate” for the venue is likely to lead to the imposition of a few individuals’ viewpoints on the whole membership community and violate core principles of artistic freedom. For that reason the selection of art in the Center should be based on viewpoint-neutral criteria such as creative excellence, cultural significance and intellectual richness, not on how bland and non-controversial its content is. NCAC encourages arts institutions to develop written selection policies that will guide them in showing or sponsoring art that may spark controversy in a particular community rather than trying to avoid controversy by institutionalizing censorship. In this we have been joined by major national arts organizations like Americans for the Arts and the American Association of Museums who have endorsed our jointly drafted Best Practices for Handling Controversy (http://ncac.org/Museum-Best-Practices). A statement concerning artistic freedom is an essential part of any policy. In addition, we suggest that the policy declares: - The obligation to remain viewpoint-neutral when selecting work – i.e. the fact that a work, which answers selection criteria, could be interpreted to express potentially unpopular or controversial ideas cannot be a reason for its exclusion. - The understanding that the arts organization is not necessarily endorsing the ideas to be found in a particular piece. This permits the exhibition of a work containing a wide diversity of ideas, some of which might contradict each other. - That the criterion “inappropriate for children” is extremely vague and subjective, and that the art institution cannot act in loco parentis to determine what may be suitable or unsuitable for all audiences. A firm boundary would then be established between what is obscene, and thus constitutionally unprotected, and what somebody subjectively decides is inappropriate. (Simple nudity, for instance, presents constitutionally protected expression, besides being in no way associated with actual harm to children.) - The impossibility of establishing criteria for judging works of art as objectionable, because such criteria are prejudicial and impossible to implement in every case. We urge you to reconsider the exclusion of Linda Cunningham’s timely and powerful piece, as well as adopt exhibition policies that demonstrate your respect for the creative freedom of your members. It would be a shame to see the decades of work by past members wasted as the Center’s reputation is damaged and membership flags. We hope that, by revisiting its policies, the Center treats the current controversy as an opportunity to become more relevant and vibrant. We would be happy to assist you in this effort. Sincerely,

Svetlana Mintcheva Director of Programs National Coalition Against Censorship New York, NY

Norman Dube Arts and Crafts Professional Eugene, OR Marco Elliott Visual Artist/Printmaker and Author. Retired art instructor Eugene, OR Kathleen Epstein Eugene, OR Rogene Manas Mixed Media Artist Eugene, OR Peggy Mulder Arts Supporter/ Musician Eugene, OR Judith Nakhnikian Artist Eugene, OR Hahn and Jon Neimand Retired Educators Eugene, OR Andrea Ros Fiber Artist Eugene, OR Eriba Townsend Springfield, OR Robin Saxton Artist Eugene, OR Anne Turner Springfield, OR Jud Turner Sculptor Eugene, Oregon CC: Paula Goodbar Center Coordinator