Sunday, April 13, 2008

Time for Norfolk to be embarrassed

Norfolk newspaper The Virginian-Pilot sponsors an annual Student Gallery competition hosted at the Chrysler Museum of Art.

The top awards were announced a couple of weeks ago at the Chrysler Museum of Art, where works by the contest’s 62 finalists are on display. Erin Ayres “Unveiled Tokens of Lonely and Deserted Past,” was among two works that earned her the $1,000 first-place award.

Now the controversy part... Teresa Annas, art critic for the same newspaper courageously writes that:

This year’s top winners resulted from a third round of judging. The first two jurors selected nude artworks for first place. Those judges were Aaron De Groft, director of the Muscarelle Museum of Art, College of William and Mary, and Scott Howe, director of education and public programs at the Chrysler Museum.

The Virginian-Pilot, the contest’s main sponsor, declined to honor those choices.

“One was a nude self-portrait of a 17-year-old girl, and we didn’t feel that was appropriate,” said Pam Smith-Rodden, director of marketing, the department that runs Student Gallery. The other piece was a sculpture.

“We’re thinking about the audience, and all the kids and the younger siblings who will see these pieces,” Smith-Rodden said.

Those artworks are still on display at the Chrysler. “We honestly don’t believe those two pieces are appropriate to be held up as the winners of a high school art show, because they do depict the nude,” she said.

Student Gallery has no policy against nude imagery, Smith-Rodden said. “It hasn’t been an issue in the past, but we’re going to revisit it for future shows.”
Three days after the story came out, Norfolk began to respond and Annas reported that "Local art lovers rushed to donate money this week to a high school artist who was chosen as a winner in The Virginian-Pilot Student Gallery but was not given the award because the newspaper’s publisher deemed her work inappropriate. By late Friday, $700 had been collected. The goal was to raise $1,000. "

A day later Annas reported that:
Nancy "Beth" Reid, the teen artist whose nude self-portrait was denied top prize in an art contest, will be given $1,000 in a private ceremony today at Churchland High School in Portsmouth.

Beth, 17, was the first top winner chosen for The Virginian-Pilot Student Gallery, which is open to any high school junior or senior in the region. Her work was rejected for first place by the newspaper's publisher, Bruce Bradley. He deemed the work "inappropriate" for the show because it is a nude image of a minor.

A similar private award will go to Jasmine Childs of Chesapeake. She was the top choice of a second judge, but her sculpture of a nude torso also was rejected by Bradley.
And thus a sour story turns out a little better at the end thanks to the intervention of art lovers who saved the day at the last minute and thanks to the brave reporting by a writer employed by the same newspaper that caused Norfolk to be embarrassed in the eyes of the art world.

Bravo to the people of Norfolk!