By Amy Silverman
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Zeitlin's censorship of her own show might have weakened its (and certainly her own) boldness, but it hasn't entirely removed the exhibition's teeth. While most of the 60 pieces in "Democracy in America" are now neutral works, many with historical perspective, there are several pieces still blatantly critical of Bush -- including Lynn Randolph's The Coronation of St. George, Kuper's Ceci n'est pas une comic, and Conal's Read My Apocalips. (It's unknown why Zeitlin chose to keep Conal on the "Democracy" roster, although Conal signed a loan agreement with the museum for that specific piece back in June.) Pieces considered critical of Kerry in the working checklist obtained by New Times include Budde's Kerry in Idaho -- although Budde says it's a stretch to say his piece is critical of the Democratic nominee -- five digital prints from caricature artist Linda Eddy, and some editorial cartoons from the East Valley Tribune's Mike Ritter.
According to anti-censorship advocates, ASU is under no obligation to present a balanced exhibition.
"A university museum does not necessarily endorse the views of the artists it exhibits," says Svetlana Mintcheva, the arts program director for the National Coalition Against Censorship in New York City. "It would be constitutionally acceptable for the university museum to put on a show that was entirely critical of the current administration. But there is a climate of fear in nonprofit institutions and educational institutions, and they're worried about their funds and how they're perceived."
Eleanor Eisenberg, the executive director of the Arizona Civil Liberties Union, says if university administrators force a public museum to create a so-called balanced exhibition, the university is violating the curators' constitutional rights. "Not only is it a violation of First Amendment rights," says Eisenberg, "it's a violation of academic freedom."
According to the correspondence obtained by New Times, ASU administrators are more concerned about losing the presidential debate -- which will take place at Gammage Auditorium -- and its anticipated multimillion-dollar impact on the Valley. Wills told Zeitlin in a June 29 e-mail that, per the university's agreement with the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, it was imperative that ASU not endorse one candidate over the other, which he felt was a fine line that "Democracy in America" was walking, and could result in ASU's loss of the debate. "Part of the university contract regarding the debates," Wills wrote, "is that the institution will remain impartial concerning the candidates and their campaigns." As a result, he added, "the contemporary pieces need to be balanced, both in numbers and in ideas."
"They aren't curating this exhibit. They're playing politics," says Ryan McNamara, a former Phoenix artist now living in New York City, who says his Angry Americans was cut from the show last week when John Spiak called him and informed him of Zeitlin's decision. "It's almost comical that this show is called `Democracy in America.' One of the pillars of democracy is that everyone's voice is heard. And here they are, silencing those representative voices."
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