An exhibition by local artist Salley Mavor was recently canceled, resulting in much discussion as to what that decision says about Highfield Hall & Gardens (HH&G) as an institution. Highfield Hall & Gardens does not support censoring artists or their artwork, and fully supports artistic freedom of expression. The organization is in awe of Salley’s artistic capability which is why she was asked to exhibit. The show was canceled because HH&G has no policy on exhibiting work with political content. We are a community-based organization, and the Board felt we needed to step back and talk with the community about whether or not they want political art at Highfield, what constitutes political art, and if agreed, then develop a process that is inclusive and non-partisan. Highfield made a mistake. We agreed to bring political art into Highfield without a policy in place. Museums around the country have grappled with this topic for years. The Guggenheim Museum did not heed the request of the art community to close during Donald Trump’s inauguration. The Smithsonian exhibits political art when the test of time can put it into perspective.
Besides a policy gap, an examination of the process we used to select Salley would show we never asked any other political view to be shown; effectively making us appear to be a partisan institution, restricting freedom of expression of other artists with other views. Highfield Hall & Gardens does not want to appear partisan in any way, as its mission is to serve the entire community. We were faced with two bad choices – appear partisan, restricting freedom of expression or admit to making a mistake in scheduling a political exhibition before we had a policy that would be non-partisan and supported by the community. We decided to admit to making a mistake because that is what actually happened, versus going forward with a singular point of view and appear partisan and not supportive of all views within the community we serve.
The whole episode has been extremely painful for all parties involved. We deeply regret the situation but we are developing a process to collect community feedback on whether the community wants Highfield Hall & Gardens to exhibit political artwork, and if so, how to execute on that policy in a way that is not partisan, but supports the entire community and all artists, regardless of their political view.
I invite you to email us as we develop a community conversation.
September 17, 2018