NCFE Handbook to Understanding, Preparing for, and Responding to Challenges to Your Freedom of Artistic Expression
Freedom of artistic expression is the principle that an artist should be unrestrained by law or convention in the making of his or her art. Artistic freedom is vital to both the cultural and political health of our society. It is essential in a democracy that values and protects the rights of the individual to espouse his or her beliefs.
Just as our nation's free speech heritage protects the rights of artists to create, play, perform and sell their artwork, so too does it protect the rights of the general public to dislike, criticize and be offended by artwork. What we will call a challenge to the freedom of artistic expression is more than mere criticism or commentary. A challenge arises when the critic takes the significant leap from merely voicing distaste of the art to questioning its right to exist or be seen, and seeking to stop its exhibition or performance.
Artistic freedom is threatened when art is challenged because of its content, message or viewpoint, rather than because of its aesthetic qualities or artistic merit. A challenge may be motivated by disagreement with the perceived message or the fear of negative public reaction. A challenge may be part of an organized effort to protest specific social issues. Challenges may come from members of the general public, representatives of organizations, or governmental officials. Challenges may also originate from within the arts community - for example, from curators, artistic directors or funders.
Although most challenges to artistic freedom share common themes, each circumstance is shaped by unique facts and nuances. This handbook provides artists, arts presenters, and audience members with an historical and legal context for understanding, preparing for, and responding to challenges to artistic freedom, and suggests preparation, coping, and response strategies for the typical incident. This handbook is but a beginning. In the event you are faced with a challenge to your freedom of artistic expression, seek out additional advice and assistance. (p. 1)
Chapter 1. Understanding.
Protests and Boycotts.
Breach of Exhibition Contract.
Art is Constitutionally Protected Speech
Public Display Spaces.
Government Funding and Sponsorship of the Arts.
Government Regulation of Private Property.
Types of art most frequently challenged:
Religious or Anti-Religious Content.
Race and Ethnicity.
Based on Name Only.
Or for Any Reason.
Chapter 2. Preparing For:
Mobilize Your Community Before a Challenge:
Form a Local Freedom of Expression Organization.
Adopt a Statement of Artistic Freedom Principles.
Cultivate Good Relationships with the Media and Elected
Know Your Opposition.
Preparing for a Specific Potential Challenge.
Chapter 3. Responding to Challenges:
Get the facts.
Notify involved parties.
Enlist key allies.
Contact advocacy and service organizations.
Identify allies within your community.
Mobilize Community Support.
Contact your local supporters.
Start a letter writing campaign.
Organize public discussion.
Stage a public demonstration.
Confront the challengers.
Develop a media strategy.
Create a media release.
Respond to media coverage.
Consider legal options.
Appendix 1. What to do if it happens to you:
1. Get the facts.
2. Notify involved parties.
3. Inform and enlist the support of key allies.
4. Mobilize community support.
5. Confront the challengers.
6. Media advocacy.
7. Consider legal options.
8. Devise a creative solution.
Appendix 2. Organizations.
Appendix 3. Sample documents.