Public Forum (Part 2): When Public Art Receives Public Dissent

Tuesday, Dec 6, 2016 from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM

Location: Artspace New Haven: 50 Orange St, New Haven, CT

Recording of the December 6 Public Forum on Vimeo

Panelists in Attendance, (from left to right)

Fire Chief John Alston, Gordon Skinner, Helen Kauder, Executive Director of Artspace, Michael Carter, Chief Administrative Officer at City of New Haven, Andrew Wolf, Director of the Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism at City of New Haven, Lieutenant Herb Sharp, and Assistant Chief of Patrol, Tony Reyes.  Moderated by Artspace Curator/Gallery Director Sarah Fritchey.

Message from New Haven Police Chief Anthony Campbell (delivered by Assistant Chief of Patrol, Tony Reyes)

Video (PART 1) – minute 17:48 – 20:00

Description of the December 6 Public Forum

Artspace will host a public forum to discuss the viability and significance of community-minded public artworks that take a political stance.  This is the second Public Forum organized in response to the city-requested “repositioning” of a work by Gordon Skinner, which was mounted on a fenced in lawn of the Goffe Street Armory, a city-owned property, as part of Artspace’s annual October arts festival.  The work was a milk crate basketball hoop that featured a cartoon painting of a pig wearing a police hat on its backboard.   Artspace and Skinner removed the work after the Director of New Haven’s Parks Department called the Artspace staff with a Citizen’s Complaint issued by a police officer and a correctional officer who found the work offensive.  Rather than compromise the intention of the work, Skinner removed the installation and reinstalled it at Artspace where the organization led conversations around the work.

Artspace organized the first Public Forum, “When Public Art Receives Public Dissent”, on the evening of November 20th to discuss the timeline and aftermath of the case. The Public Forum drew a large  and impassioned audience, though none of the invited municipal representatives attended. As a result, the Forum produced a series of unanswered questions from New Haven residents and students from area colleges.  Following the forum, the Artspace staff and Skinner met with Michael Carter, Chief Administrative Officer at City of New Haven, and Anthony Campbell, Chief of the New Haven Police, to discuss the importance of the City’s involvement in such forums.  Both Carter and Chief Campbell have committed to participate in the December 6th forum, and spoke in support of Skinner’s work.

This second Public Forum is free and open to the public, and is organized as part of a larger effort to open up lines of communication between the City, the New Haven police force and its residents.  The forum will address unanswered questions from the November 20th forum and discuss the ways that Skinner is growing his Urban Totems Series project in 2017.

Related Events

On Saturday, December 10 at 2pm, Skinner and the Artspace staff will remount Urban Totem (Cops) in its original position on the east lawn of the Goffe Street Armory facing County Street.  The work will remain on display through the new year.

Details about the Case

On Thursday, October 6, the Director of New Haven’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees requested that Artspace reposition an artwork installed in a fenced in portion of the east lawn of the Goffe Street Armory, a City-owned property.  The public work was created by artist/writer Gordon Skinner and featured a mixed media painting of a pig wearing a cop hat that functioned as a backboard to a milk crate basketball hoop.

The installation was one of four works in Skinner’s Urban Totem Series, mounted on the Armory’s lawns.  The series identified the hoops as totems for the community, spiritual and symbolic focal points that people could gather around and find collective meaning in.  The three uncontested works depicted a Virgin Mary and Child with the text “I was not invited”, an abstract portrait of art mogul Peter Brandt, and an original hoop from the Armory’s Drill Hall.

The installation was commissioned by Artspace for its annual City-Wide Open Studios festival, a free public event that, for two days presents art in the large interior spaces and lawn of the Armory. The challenge was to shoot a basket into the hoop over the chain-linked fence.  Once the ball was shot, it was not retrievable and the game was over.  The installation spoke towards Skinner’s experience of “only having one shot to make it in the art world”, and the extension of this experience into other situations and professional fields.  Skinner describes the work as being emotionally inspired by the killings of numerous unarmed black civilians by police officers over the past two years.

The Parks Department asked that the work either be turned away from this street or moved to the Armory’s front lawn.  On the front lawn, the work would be more easily read as an Art, rather than vandalism or an unauthorized installation.

The City’s involvement occurred after a “Citizen’s Complaint” was issued by an unnamed police officer and correctional officer who had seen the work and felt offended.  Skinner took that stance that changing the location of the installation would undermine its meaning and opted to remove it, rather than compromise its intentions.