Feb. 3, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 9

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    Policy conference set in wake of arts controversy

    By Arthur Fournier
    News Office

    The Brooklyn Museum of Art “Sensation” controversy may have moved from the front pages of the nation’s newspapers, but questions raised by the controversy’s headlines remain more urgent than ever.

    How these questions are addressed may redefine the place of the arts in civil society.

    To examine these issues, the University’s Cultural Policy Program and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago will co-sponsor a one-day conference Saturday, Feb. 12. The conference, titled Taking Funds, Giving Offense, Making Money: The Brooklyn Museum of Art Controversy and the Dilemmas of Arts Policy, will provide a forum to discuss the arts and public funding, culture and public trust.

    “This conference will be the first high-level academic forum to turn its attention to the matter,” said Carroll Joynes, Executive Director of the Cultural Policy Program. “Although what happened with ‘Sensation’ certainly occasioned the conference, we don’t intend to get caught up in rehashing the details of this one specific instance. Rather, we’re hoping to take a step back and re-examine the dynamic of the situation for its policy implications.”

    Scholars, legal experts, museum directors, art dealers and curators will gather to exchange their perspectives on the challenges faced by the arts community, policy-makers and the various constituencies they serve. Joynes and Lawrence Rothfield, Associate Professor in English Language & Literature and Acting Director of the Cultural Policy Program, expect the discussions to generate interesting and productive conflict.

    “Our speakers come from a wide range of intellectual backgrounds and are associated with diverse political sympathies,” said Rothfield. “My sense is that we’ll have a very lively series of exchanges.”

    Panelists will include faculty from the University’s Law School and Humanities Division and speakers from other institutions, including Carol Becker, dean of the faculty and professor of liberal arts at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago; James Cuno, director of the Harvard University Art Museums; Gilbert Edelson, administrative vice president of the Art Dealers Association of America; Thelma Golden, deputy director of exhibitions and programs at the Studio Museum in Harlem; Stephen Presser, professor of legal history at Northwestern University; and J. Mark Schuster, professor of urban studies and planning at MIT.

    Becker and Rothfield, along with noted legal expert Richard Epstein, the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School, will begin the day with “Mapping the Minefield,” a session intended to establish a common frame of reference for conference participants.

    Subsequent panels––moderated by University faculty members Geoffrey Stone, Provost and the Harry Kalven Jr. Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School; Homi Bhabha, the Chester D. Tripp Distinguished Service Professor in the Humanities; and John Brewer, the John and Marion Sullivan University Professor in English Language & Literature and History––will take up such topics as visual art and the First Amendment, public respect and the reading of art, and how shock value translates into market value.

    The day’s program will conclude with a roundtable discussion with participating panelists and some additional respondents. This final session, “Coping With Arts Controversies: What Works? What Doesn’t?” will provide an opportunity for participants to forward strategies for productively dealing with strong public reactions to challenging, unconventional or offensive art. John Callaway, former host of WTTW-Channel 11’s Chicago Tonight program, will moderate.

    All sessions will take place in The School of the Art Institute Ballroom, 112 S. Michigan Ave., and registration is required. For more information, call (773) 702-4847 or visit the Cultural Policy Program Web site at http://humanities.uchicago.edu/artspublic/. To ensure a focused discussion, papers will be available online at the conference Web site prior to the event.

    The conference is the second annual Arts and Humanities in Public Life Conference, an initiative of the University’s Cultural Policy Program. Through its commitment to the program, said Rothfield, the University is fostering the development of cultural policy studies as a new and productive academic field.

    “The Brooklyn Museum Controversy demonstrates exactly why such a program is relevant,” he explained. “Thirty years ago, prior to the intervention of academically informed policy research, controversies surrounding environmental problems were determined largely through media polemics rather than through arguments based upon research. With the growth of environmental studies, things have changed. Today, public conflicts in the field of arts and culture demonstrate a similar need for serious-minded policy debate.”