Monday, December 20, 2010

But 20 Years Ago, Cincinnati Invested in Art's Dialog

The past couple of weeks have proven to be a challenge as I try to engage the local art community in some of the biggest news in the arts this season. I've spent this time trying to understand why despite "our vibrant art community," no one in Greater Cincinnati wants to participate in this discussion. As stressed in my previous post, the CAC has enjoyed a history of supporting the arts and artists through bold exhibitions and conversations. Yet today they fail to join other museums in standing up against censorship.

I know Cincinnati is conservative. Though I also know of many local artists and art patrons who are not. So why is it that everyone in Cincinnati seems to be shying away from this debate? A recent blog post on ArtsWave seems to shed light on the silence. "Everyone Wants to Live in a Special Place" is about finding and adopting the best message that will attract support for the arts. ArtsWave in fact criticizes discussions that include challenging topics like censorship in the arts saying:

"Reporters and bloggers love to shine a spotlight on fights like the one that erupted in recent days over a privately-funded exhibit at the publicly-funded Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. And opponents of broad support for the arts know they can undermine that support by tagging art as elitist for the few. We’ve seen it happen time and again.

Debates like this make even our friends and supporters leery of publicly backing the arts -- whether with money or advocacy."

Let me get this straight, ArtsWave is accusing art writers of undermining support for the arts?

Boldness in the arts including debates like this one have proven that support increases for the arts. In fact, despite the notion that uncomfortable debates damage support for the arts, the CAC continues to tap the Mapplethorpe controversy 20 years later.

To those of you who read my blog, you know this last point is what frustrates me most about the silence. So I finally looked to see what the atmosphere was really like here 20 years ago? In 1990, Cincinnati Magazine wrote an excellent review on the legal and artistic ramifications of the Mapplethorpe debate called Mapplethorpe: The Aftershock.

The cover story presents an incredibly dynamic discussion between community leaders both for and against censorship of the exhibition, and how this event was shaped by and shapes Greater Cincinnati. The details and perspectives included in the story are very interesting and I encourage you to read it. Reading it will give you an idea of the kind of comprehensive discussions you could find in the local mainstream (even conservative) media 20 years ago.

Unfortunately, the conversation is one we in Cincinnati seem to be afraid to have today. Even in this time of social networking when conversations should be occurring frequently and debates permitting insight provided by various voices, Cincinnati's art communities are silent to the crimes of censorship for which they once fought so hard.

Has ArtsWave's work to find the strongest message to support the local arts effectively held any arts discussion in 2010 hostage?


Roderick Vesper said...

Keep pressing this issue. I find it to be such an intriguing dialogue. As an artist I have a hard time wrapping my head around being quiet about important issues in order to better acquire funding. As a teacher I have a hard time wrapping my head around being quiet in the face of disagreement. These are the times that discourse must occur to better understand the factors and ideas involved and how they impact decisions both immediate and future.