Protesters asking regents for Clough's resignation, policy clarification
When the Smithsonian Board of Regents meets Monday, the discussions inside and outside the Smithsonian Castle are expected to center on the removal of the David Wojnarowicz video from an art exhibit, and the controversy that has enveloped the Smithsonian in the last two months.
On the sidewalks outside the Smithsonian, a group of protesters are expected to gather and ask that Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough resign. In late November, after complaints from Capitol Hill and conservative organizations, Clough ordered the Wojnarowicz video removed from "Hide/Seek," a show about gender and sexuality identity at the National Portrait Gallery.
A firestorm erupted, with voices demanding the video be restored and others accusing the Smithsonian of violations of free speech. As a rebuke, dozens of organizations showed the entire "Fire in My Belly," video and the Museum of Modern Art purchased a copy for its permanent collection.
In interviews Clough stood by his decision, saying the video with a short depiction of ants crawling over a crucifix were a distraction to the groundbreaking show, but he admitted he wished he had taken more time before issuing the ban.
Bill Dobbs, the organizer of Art Postive, which is planning the street protest, said dozens of artists from New York and Washington are expected. "It will be a loud outcry that the censorship was completely wrong...and that Clough must go," said Dobbs.
At the regents' meeting, the panel will receive two reports on the decision and controversy.
Clough requested an internal review of the matter, conducted by Gen. Jack Dailey, the director of the National Air and Space Museum, and Julian Rabe, the director of the Freer and Sackler Galleries.
A second report, which is expected to focus on how to avoid this type of controversy, compiled by John McCarter, a regent and president of the Field Museum, David Gerkin, the political strategist, and Earl Powell III, president of the National Gallery of Art. It will be given to Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. the chancellor of the regents, and Patricia Q.Stonesifer, the chairman of the regents.
The regents and Clough have been hearing plenty about the decision and the Smithsonian's role as a national leader.
The trustees of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, part of the Smithsonian, issued an open letter saying they were "deeply troubled." They complimented the Portrit Gallery for its "courage" in organizing the show and also said Clough's statements about continuing the dialogue were encouraging.
Yet, they added, "we are deeply troubled by the precedent the Institution's leadership has set with its decision. We believe that bowing to pressure with regard to the works on view in its galleries harms the integrity of the individual Smithsonian units and the Institution as a whole."
A coalition of national art and free speech groups, led by the National Coalition Against Censorship, sent a letter Friday asking the regents for a review of policies on free expression.
"Clough's ill-considered response to partisan political threats to the institution's funding and the public outrage that followed it clearly call for the establishment of specific policies and procedures that would guarantee the integrity and independence of the institution and affirm its respect for artistic freedom and First Amendment principles," said the letter.
| January 28, 2011; 4:02 PM ET
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