A University of Wisconsin “Arts in Protest” exhibit has been shut down after Republican members of the state Legislature opposed the art display.
Wisconsin Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said the festival, hosted by UW-Extension’s School for Workers, would be inappropriate if paid for and sponsored by UW because it would mean the university associates with the protesters. The exhibit was intended to demonstrate art that resulted from massive protests at the Capitol last spring against Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill.
“Rep. Nass thought it was inappropriate for the university to use taxpayers’ money to promote one side of this issue,” Nass spokesperson Mike Mikalsen said.
In a statement released by the School for Workers, the festival was designed to highlight the creativity of the songwriters, poets, quilters, photographers, cinematographers and others who have used their artistic ability in protest.
The statement said the festival, which was set to take place in March 2012, was intended to celebrate the creative response to Walker’s actions regarding the rights of public employees.
“These Labor Arts Exchanges are unique festivals commemorating the cultural and
artistic expression of working people,” the statement said.
According to the statement, the School for Workers association is UW’s oldest labor education program committed to helping in the fields of teaching, research and outreach for Wisconsin and national workers, unions and employees.
The Smithsonian Institution chose the artwork that resulted from the Wisconsin protests for its symbolization and representation of “living history,” the statement said.
Though the festival was designed to be a celebration of the one-year anniversary of the Wisconsin uprising, it would be different if another group wanted to run it, Mikalsen said.
In reaction to the decision to cut the festival, Mikalsen believes the group realized what Nass suggested: that its frame was not right.
“I think they looked back and looked at the conduct of protesters, and as we have seen the conduct has lead to arrests, stalking of Republicans, used obscenities and other negative activities against legislators,” Mikalsen said. “They would be responsible for the consequences that come with that.”
Mikalsen added the School for Workers was also asked to consider the fact that with this festival, they would be associating themselves with the conduct associated with protests.
In response, UW’s School for Workers noted the concerns that surfaced with this festival, as some would consider it to be a partisan event.
“While we disagree, we recognize that some might be unable to separate the art from the politics and we have concluded that despite our best efforts, it would be difficult to maintain the primary focus on art and respect for the culture of working people,” the School for Workers statement said.
Supporting the sentiments of Nass, the School for Workers said in its statement they have reluctantly decided that holding this festival next month would not take place at the appropriate time to recognize efforts of protesters.
“We hope to find a more suitable time in the future to commemorate the artistic and cultural efforts of working people and their organizations, celebrating their art and creativity with a broader focus beyond the immediate political discourse,” the statement concluded.