Last month, the city of Santa Rosa and the National Arts Program co-sponsored an art exhibit and contest at the Finley Center. At this event, city officials made decisions based on personal bias that permitted the censorship of art. These acts of censorship are in violation of the First Amendment right of freedom of speech.
According to the representatives for this event, the censored painting was deemed offensive to potential visitors of the Finley Center due to the artist’s choice of the color red. The content of the painting—a silhouette of a person—was not deemed to be offensive. It is ironic that a perceived meaning behind this painting was more offensive than other paintings that were not censored, including those with meanings clearly of death and violence.
The quality and meaning of art by definition is subjective to the viewer. All art can be found offensive in one manner or another. If the city is in the business of censorship, as it appears to be by this act, why is censorship not equally applied to all offensive content?
Recently we have seen the Supreme Court rule in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church, protecting them their right to “the intentional infliction of emotional distress” through the First Amendment. Through rational and educated examination, this painting cannot be considered an intentional infliction of suffering. Clearly, a simple painting of a silhouette in red cannot be considered evil, wrong or offensive when compared to the Westboro Baptist Church’s actions.
The young 15 year-old artist who was censored, offended and wronged by the city resubmitted her painting for display. The painting was covered with paper, containing an essay expressing her bewilderment and frustration.
I ask the representatives of the city of Santa Rosa to make right these wrongs, to allow all to express themselves through speech, artistic expression and other avenues without censorship; make amends to this young artist through public recognition and apology; teach our citizens that as “Government Representatives, Protectors of the Constitution, Servants of the People,” this elected government body is fulfilling its charter and oaths taken to protect our constitution and the rights of its people.
Chris Williams is a member of the people.