The Art of Democracy Is a National Coalition of Art Exhibitions
on the Dire State of American Politics Scheduled for the Fall of 2008.

Jos Sances, American Democracy, digital and screen print poster

This poster was censored in Berkeley... see below.


Dear Berkeley Arts Community members,

I am a participant in a national art exhibit of political posters “Art of Democracy”. This exhibit is presenting the works of hundreds of artists in more than 50 venues across the country. Ironically, incredibly, the only venue which has censored this exhibit is right here in Berkeley, birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. In our “home of free speech,” my work and the work of three other artists have been deemed not fit to be seen in Berkeley. A vote of the artists in “Art of Democracy was taken and the majority voted that all the art was to be shown or none. This is at least the third time in the past 6 months that works of art have been banned in Berkeley.

It seems that the Addison Street Windows, a city run public art space has implemented a policy to greatly narrow the type of art it shows. Under the premise that these windows look out onto the street, the Windows coordinator claims a need to protect children from viewing art they might find disturbing. Why is this different from any other publicly run art spaces, where the public, including children have complete access? They put the Art of Democracy posters up in the front windows of the Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco and used part of my Berkeley-banned image on the mailer. They received no complaints and the children of San Francisco were not traumatized.

I am insulted that the curator of this space feels she has to protect the children of Berkeley from my art and the art of other political artists who are attempting to challenge the status quo. These public spaces are important places to counter existing notions, images and ideas that the mass media saturates our children with. Given what they see on television, on videos games and on the internet, the idea that our images might be too graphic is silly. Besides, edgy content art is part of a long tradition in art from all cultures. The discourse over this art is important to a healthy culture, to free thinking and to a vibrant community. Banning images of guns won’t make them go away.

Art Hazelwood, the curator of Art of Democracy, and myself met with the Berkeley Art Commission and City staff for over 2 hours. We made a good faith effort to solve this problem without confrontation. It was agreed at this meeting the show would be installed and at a follow-up meeting to be held within a week , the censorship policies would be discussed, challenged and hopefully changed. The commission never contacted us and three days later we were informed a replacement show was going up in the windows . At present no meeting has taken place.

The City of Berkeley has just unveiled the first half of a major public sculpture in honor of free speech at the I-80 pedestrian footbridge. I need not point out the irony of this. The climate in public art spaces has become very conservative, there is a lot of self-censorship going on. We need to do better in Berkeley and change these exhibition policies to be encouraging artists who make challenging political art instead of censoring them.

Jos Sances

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This image was censored by the Windows on Addison curator in Berkeley.

Come and see it at Nuevo Pueblo Art Center instead

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