The Brooklyn Museum and the Funding of Art
carolyn By Carolyn Gargaro
Rightgrrl Co-Founder
September 29, 1999
Published in the South Jersey Courier Post 10/05/99
I have an idea for an art exhibit. It will be a picture of a white car, representing white power. The car will be running over objects representing various ethnic groups. This will represent how white power will crush ethnic minorities and rule supreme. Oh yes, and I want the tax payers to pay for it.

Does the above idea sound offensive to you? It certainly sounds offensive to me, and I have no intention of producing such a disgusting piece of artwork. I also think that many people would have a problem with tax money going towards such a piece of "art." However, Hillary Clinton and New York Civil Liberties Union Director Norman Siegel might not have a problem with it. After all, both Hillary Clinton and Norman Siegel believe that tax money should fund "artwork" depicting the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung, which will be displayed at the Brooklyn Museum.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is pledging to cut $7 million in city funds if Brooklyn Museum goes ahead with the show, "Sensation: Young British Artists From the Saatchi Collection," set to open October 2. The exhibition includes a depiction of Mary along with shellacked clumps of elephant dung and two dozen cutouts of buttocks from pornographic magazines. The first lady doesn't think the City of New York has the right to pull funding from a Brooklyn art exhibition for displaying such "artwork" and Norman Siegel asserts that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's threat to cut funding to the exhibition violates the First Amendment.

There are actually two separate issues at play here. One, is whether such art, offensive or not, must be paid for with tax dollars. Secondly, people are quick to jump to defend a depiction of the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung, but would they be as quick to defend other types of "art" -- such as the white power piece I described above?

The Issue of Tax Funding
The right to produce such art is not in question here. Artists have the right to create anti-Catholic art. Artists have the right to display anti-Catholic art. Artists can take a statue of the Virgin Mary and soak it in dung and call it art if they choose. The question is whether the Constitution mandates that art of any form be paid for with tax dollars. Siegel states that denying such funding violates the First Amendment, and thus, is unconstitutional.

Refusing to extend such funds to this exhibit, or any art exhibit for that matter is certainly not unconstitutional. The amount of tax money paid to support anything in this country is defined in the Constitution (Article I, Sect. 8). Nowhere does it say that taxpayers must fund art exhibits.

"Ah," one might say, "but our tax money goes to many things that I do not support! I am a pacifist and am against war, yet my hard earned tax dollars go towards national defense! Why can't I demand that my tax dollars not be used towards evil military spending!" Aside from the fact that we might need a military defense for national security issues, I will again refer to Article I, Sect 8 of the Constitution. Military spending is Constitutional, as are a host of other items. For those who do not believe that our tax money should go towards any of the items in Article I, Sect 8, perhaps they should lobby to amend the Constitution. But in the meantime, the fact remains that the government is not required to fund art exhibits. Failure to fund art doesn't equal censorship, any more than funding equals "access" to such art. Prohibiting the creation or display of such art is censorship. If funding did equal access, we'd be required to fund every work of art -- an absurd idea. Thus, the notion that cutting funding violates the First Amendment is ridiculous. Also, isn't it ironic that when someone wants to display, for instance, a Nativity scene on public land, people scream "separation of Church and State!" Yet suddenly, art depicting a religious symbol in elephant dung must be funded with our tax money?

Is it Offensive?
Some people might find a depiction of the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung offensive. Some may not. Some people might find a picture of a cow in a pasture offensive -- we obviously cannot prohibit art because someone might take offense. However, I will again bring up the white power piece I described earlier -- would people defend that type of art? Or how about a piece of art depicting people burning the AIDS quilt? Or maybe a picture of a concentration camp with smiley faces air-brushed around it? I have little doubt that those who are so quick to defend the exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum would be outraged if the museum displayed such "art." In fact, I bet they would be having fits, claiming that the art is hate speech, and that it should not be shown. But when it's anti-Catholic art, suddenly it's something that must be defended AND paid for with tax money. But, how could I forget? The rules change when it's the Catholic Church being mocked. In fact, it's so politically correct that some people think the government should pay for it.

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This article copyright © 1999 by Carolyn Gargaro and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.