As artists and citizens, we are outraged by the censorship rearing its head in our nation. In a country founded on freedom of expression—the First Amendment—we find it shocking and senseless that some among us would deny the rest of us by silencing any voice they deem “different” or “other.” Dissent is a right that has been bought and paid for by the American people. Disagreement is the cornerstone of democracy. A great nation is represented as much by its art and artists as by its statesmen and women. As artists and citizens, we will not be bullied by blind bigots, silenced by fear or denied our basic civil rights.
On Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, G. Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian, without consulting curator Jonathan Katz, removed A Fire In My Belly, a video piece by artist David Wojnarowicz, from the current exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.
Catholic League president Bill Donahue, with the support of incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner, exerted pressure on the Smithsonian. Even though this piece had been on view since Oct. 30 without complaint, Donahue and company claimed this four-minute video is “anti-Christian hate speech” and a waste of taxpayer money. In short, the Smithsonian caved.
Since then public outcry has built across the nation. As citizens, we realize that censoring work in a Washington, D.C., museum violates us all. We understand that this is not an isolated instance. We understand that the real targets go far beyond a four-minute video—to arts funding, to stigmatizing free expression and open dialogue, to demonizing gay culture in all its forms. This fear-mongering and distortion is what is truly un-American, and it’s unacceptable.
On Dec. 14, in the midst of a raging snowstorm, people gathered to attend an emergency screening of A Fire in My Belly held by ArtRage Gallery and Light Work in Syracuse. Both Light Work Gallery at Syracuse University and ArtRage Gallery will now continuously screen the work until Feb. 13, the slated closing date of Hide/Seek. And we are not the only ones. What you can no longer see in our nation’s capitol you can now see in cities and towns across the land.
Day by day, and decade by decade, social and cultural liberties have come under attack, disrupting our nation’s progress and the very vitality of our scientists, intellectuals and artists. At every turn we are losing ground with cuts in funding and the dismantling of cultural programs and significant institutions large and small. And this must stop! We are counting on all U.S. representatives who care about fairness and freedom to protect and to defend the First Amendment at all costs. We invite others to join us in this protest. For more information go to www.hideseek.org and www.ppowgallery.com.
—Carrie Mae Weems and Social Studies 101; Mary Goodwin, associate director, Light Work; Nancy Keefe Rhodes; Rose Viviano, director, ArtRage Gallery; Kimberly McCoy, community engagement organizer, ArtRage Gallery
Many heartfelt thanks to everyone, volunteers and attendees, that helped make my Dec. 12 holiday party for town of Verona residents a huge success. Putting an event like this together in about three weeks was a challenge. However, great volunteers and festive attendees of all ages (even as young as 1 month old) made the difference. Pictures from the holiday party are on my Facebook page and on my website, www.fritzscherz.com.
Thanks to the following people for taking part in the programmatic portion of the event (listed in order of appearance): Gabrielle and Mike Jaquays (Gibbers & Bingo the Love Clown) for face painting; McGruff the Crime Dog for greeting the children; Oneida County Executive Tony Picente, state Sen. Joe Griffo and Oneida County Sheriff Rob Maciol for all being Christmas storytellers; Matt Episcopo for the family-oriented magic show; Santa Claus for giving gifts to the children; Matt Chase of Thunder Canyon Band for singing Christmas songs and playing acoustic guitar; and Mike Faraino of Fritz’s Polka Band for the drum workshop.
Thanks to the following people for helping in a variety of ways: Mary Alessi, Barb and Steve Allen, Danette Allen, Kathy Allen, David Belvick, Pamela Brewer, Oneida County Legislator Mike Clancy, Connie Collins, Kim Coons, George Eggen, Brian and Jacob Foppes, Jeff Hull, Jennifer and Keith James, Carol and Poncho Leos, Audrey Moran, Ron and Elaine Post, Norm Reed, Howard Regner, Russ “The Accordionist,” Ron Spadafora, Peg Visalli, Tami Whooten, and Bob and Colleen Zeller.
Thanks to the following businesses and/or organizations for donating baked goods and/ or gifts or simply helping out: Boy Scouts, Dunkin’ Donuts, Freihofer’s, James Gang Construction, Kidz Club, Lucky Liquors, New York State Police, Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, Out Of The Cage Pet Mobile, Price Chopper (Oneida), Recovery Sports Grill, Staples (Rome), The Hotey, 31 Express, Wild Child Family Play & Party Space, and the media that helped publicize the holiday party.
Thanks to the Verona Fire Department for providing the venue for the holiday party and for helping make Santa’s arrival special. Special thanks to my wife, Kathy, and daughters, Katherine and Marissa, for being so supportive, encouraging, and helpful during the three weeks leading up to the holiday party and during the event itself.
The bottom line is that people worked together to make this event happen. It is people like you that make a community great. I am so honored to call these great people my friends and Verona my hometown.
—Fritz Scherz Verona