Update: I tweaked the headline, after Councilman Lumb objected that it was misleading: “I think it was pretty clear that I wasn't objecting that the Cultural Council defended MOCA, I objected to how they went about it.”
Just when you thought #MOCAgate (or were we calling it #boobygate?) was over, here’s this:
Robin Lumb is not a happy camper. This afternoon, he fired off an email to Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville board members, chiding the Cultural Council for not knowing its place. Their crime, it seems, was #standingwithmoca — or specifically, for criticizing Clay Yarborough, our Great Moral Compass, who declared that a picture of a naked pregnant lady reclining on a couch was pornography that would corrupt THE CHILDREN and demanded that the mayor defund the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville. (The mayor refused, citing First Amendment issues.)
Yarborough, of course, has been the subject of much derision, both here and nationwide. In The New York Times, the photographer/pornographer(?) in question, Angela Strassheim, quipped that maybe he hadn’t seen enough porn to know what porn really was. At Art Walk last night, a good-sized crowd mocked him with signs like “Ban Boobs from City Hall” (see image above). And in this mag’s pages this week, we wondered what artistic masterpieces would look like if they had to abide by Yarborough’s standards of decency.
We all had a good laugh.
Councilman Lumb was not laughing.
When he learned that the Cultural Council had email-blasted a plea for support for MOCA, saying Yarborough’s campaign was “unfortunate and could be viewed as an effort to stifle artistic expression” and linking to a number of anti-Yarborough pieces that had appeared in the local media, ours included, he wrote to “express my profound disappointment with the conduct of the Cultural Council in this matter as evinced by the e-mail,” which, he argues, “is a rather ham-handed effort to exploit the controversy; an effort that crossed several lines that should not have been crossed and that calls into question whether the Cultural Council understands its proper role and the limits inherent thereto.”
But that’s not what really angered him. What really angered him was, well, me — or rather, something I wrote that the Cultural Council linked to: “Most alarming of all was the link, prominently featured in the e-mail, to a Folio Weekly opinion piece that made a number of disparaging remarks about Councilman Yarborough.” (We might disagree on how “prominent” one link in a series of links actually is, but that’s a minor quibble.) “Since the Cultural Council saw fit to provide the link I assume that those who created the e-mail message and authorized its distribution endorse the opinions expressed by Folio. If not, then the Cultural Council and its board of directors needs to immediately disavow those remarks. Let me be clear: As an individual you can hold whatever opinion you wish of City Council and its members. What you cannot do as a board is to use tax dollars to vilify or denigrate any public official or private individual.”
If the Cultural Council did not repudiate this email, and “if the Cultural Council continues to display such an egregious lack of judgment and common sense,” Lumb may no longer be “content to support the Cultural Council as a line item in the budget.”
After all, Lumb also makes clear that he’s not really on board with the arts getting tax dollars anyway: “I've never been comfortable with public funding of the arts. It's certainly not a core function of government and it's difficult to justify the use of tax dollars to subsidize the ‘artistic expression’ of one group to the exclusion of another.” He’s only agreed to support the Cultural Council “as an act of political comity and because the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and MOSH are significant beneficiaries of the public grants program.”
I reached out to Cultural Council chairman Abel Harding and executive director Tony Allegretti last night; Harding got back to me in a Facebook message, more or less declining to comment: “I know Tony Allegretti had met with Councilman Lumb earlier today before the email was sent. I've reached out to the Councilman to initiate a dialogue as well. I don’t think engaging in a back-and-forth in a public space would be productive at this point.”
I also reached out to Lumb, who invited me to submit my questions via email and said he would try to respond within 24 hours.
For now, his entire email is posted below, as well as the email blast from the Cultural Council that upset him.
I’ll update more as I can.
From: Lumb, Robin [mailto:RLumb@coj.net]
Sent: Thursday, December 04, 2014 4:27 PM
Subject: The Cultural Council's extraordinarly poor judgment / The courtesy of a reply is requested
Dear Cultural Council Board Member:
Below is the e-mail sent by the Cultural Council Monday afternoon for the purpose of ginning up support for the Museum of Contemporary Arts.
I assume you've seen it. If not, I encourage you to read it carefully.
In my judgment the e-mail is a rather ham-handed effort to exploit the controversy; an effort that crossed several lines that should not have been crossed and that calls into question whether the Cultural Council understands its proper role and the limits inherent thereto.
For the record I've inspected the photographs currently on display in the atrium of the Museum of Contemporary Art. I did not find them offensive although a case might be made that the particular photograph in question could have been displayed more discretely.
As for the significance of the photographs as an artistic achievement I'll defer to the wisdom of Marshall McCluhan.
The reason I'm writing you is to express my profound disappointment with the conduct of the Cultural Council in this matter as evinced by the e-mail.
Here are my concerns:
1. I do not believe it's appropriate for a publicly funded agency such as the Cultural Council to be sending out e-mail blasts singling out a specific member of City Council and soliciting recipients to take "action" directed at that person. I've been told that the advantage of having a body such as yours to administer a grants program is that "it takes the politics out of the equation." Given the conduct of the Cultural Council in this episode I'm not sure anyone would continue to make that claim. You are a publicly funded body that distributes taxpayer money to arts organizations. Your grant of authority begins and ends there.
2. The ostensive purpose of the Cultural Council's e-mail blast was to defend the "freedom of artistic expression." Under the unique circumstance of this case such a defense might have been be appropriate. It's important to understand, however, that when it comes to public funding of the arts there is no absolute right for a recipient of those funds to do whatever they please. Individuals and organizations that accept public funding have, at best, an attenuated right to self-expression. The question is whether the Cultural Council understands this and is consistently communicating this to grant recipients.
3. Most alarming of all was the link, prominently featured in the e-mail, to a Folio Weekly opinion piece that made a number of disparaging remarks about Councilman Yarborough. Since the Cultural Council saw fit to provide the link I assume that those who created the e-mail message and authorized its distribution endorse the opinions expressed by Folio. If not, then the Cultural Council and its board of directors needs to immediately disavow those remarks. Let me be clear: As an individual you can hold whatever opinion you wish of City Council and its members. What you cannot do as a board is to use tax dollars to vilify or denigrate any public official or private individual.
I've never been comfortable with public funding of the arts. It's certainly not a core function of government and it's difficult to justify the use of tax dollars to subsidize the "artistic expression" of one group to the exclusion of another. Nonetheless, as an act of political comity and because the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and MOSH are significant beneficiaries of the public grants program, I've been content to support the Cultural Council as a line item in the budget. But that could change if the Cultural Council continues to display such an egregious lack of judgment and common sense.
Let's be candid: In the dustup over MOCA it should have been clear to the Cultural Council that funding for the museum was never in jeopardy. Given the public's reaction, the media firestorm and legal precedents that apply the possibility that MOCA would have lost its $233,000 subsidy was practically nonexistent. Nonetheless, the Cultural Council behaved as though the comments of one council member represented an existential threat to the entire arts community.
If the Cultural Council wants to maintain its credibility it needs to do some serious backtracking regarding the contents of its e-mail.
Jacksonville City Council, Group 5 At- Large
This is the email blast from the Cultural Council in question:
Last week, Jacksonville City Council President Clay Yarborough sent a letter to Mayor Alvin Brown's office objecting to a photo of a nude pregnant woman at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, saying it "works against our efforts to promote a family-friendly Jacksonville and downtown."
Yarborough asked Mayor Alvin Brown's office to pull ~$230,000 of taxpayer money that was awarded to the downtown museum through the Cultural Council's Cultural Service Grant program, which screens grant applications for the money via an appointed panel (Anyone wishing to see afull breakdown of monies awarded to CSG organizations can find it on our website).
The photo in question is part of the new Project Atrium exhibit, a series of photos by Angela Strassheim, which is a world-class exhibit, and one that we are proud to show in our city. The Cultural Council's official statement on the matter is as follows:
The Cultural Council stands ready to defend the artistic and curatorial choices of our cultural service grantees.
Council President Yarborough's objection to a photography exhibit featuring the human form, which has been present in museums, homes and galleries since the dawn of time, is unfortunate and could be viewed as an effort to stifle artistic expression. This particular exhibit, which celebrates the "transitional points" in life - "the precious, fleeting nature of childhood and adolescence" - opened to rave reviews last week. We're proud to have an organization of MOCA's caliber in our community and we stand behind it, it's executive and the artist behind this amazing exhibit.
You can read about the topic from The Florida Times-Union both here and here, Mark Wood's opinion piece here, Folio Weekly here, First Coast News here, News4Jax here, and Action News Jax here.
You can take action by writing a letter, email, or calling in your support of MOCA's exhibit and the right for our Cultural Service Grantees and artists at large in Jacksonville to have freedom of artistic expression.
District 1: Clay Yarborough
Phone: (904) 630-1389
You can also find the full list of City Council members' contact information at COJ.net.
Additionally, show your support of MOCA Jacksonville by using #IStandWithMOCA on social media, as well as#MoreArtCulture to show that you want more art + culture in Jacksonville, and not less.