POLITICS
12/02/2014 07:02 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2014

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown Refuses To Force Museum To Pull 'Pornographic' Photograph

Sam Greenwood via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- The mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, announced on Tuesday that he would not seek to remove a photograph on display at a local museum or withdraw the museum's funding after the city council president called the image "pornographic" and asked him to do so.

City Council President Clay Yarborough (R) took issue with a photograph at the Museum of Contemporary Art by Angela Strassheim of a nude pregnant woman reclining with her breasts exposed. Yarborough, who saw the image last week while walking through a public space in the museum, emailed the chief of staff for Mayor Alvin Brown (D) and requested the city revoke more than $200,000 in taxpayer funds given to the museum through cultural grants.

"Given that any member of the public, including children of all ages can enter, and are in fact encouraged to do so, as City Council President I take great offense on behalf of the people of Jacksonville that the City would accept this," Yarborough wrote in an email that was provided to The Huffington Post. "Unless Mayor Brown supports this inappropriate, pornographic display, and accepts that anyone, including children can enter and see it, I insist that you immediately cause to be pulled all funding designated for MOCA for the current fiscal year or otherwise explain how this will be addressed within 24 hours."

MOCA was awarded $233,029 this fiscal year from the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, which allocates a small portion of the city's budget to more than 20 cultural institutions.

In an email to The Huffington Post, Yarborough said he didn't think children should be compelled to see a nude photograph.

"While all may differ on the definition of art, a more important issue is: should any person, especially a child, who enters the unrestricted lobby of a taxpayer-owned building have his or her rights violated by being forcibly exposed to this type of picture if they do not wish to see it?" Yarborough said in the email. David DeCamp, a Brown spokesman, said that the MOCA building is owned by the city, but the museum itself is administered by the University of North Florida.

Brown referred the matter to the city's office of general counsel, which told Yarborough that the city could not remove the artwork without violating the First Amendment.

"The museum and artist have First Amendment rights to exhibit artwork in a leased public space, even if it may offend some members of the public," Jason Gabriel, the city's general counsel, wrote on Tuesday in an email to Yarborough. "While the city can choose to fund agencies or activities however it wishes (including those involving speech), it cannot discriminate or base its decisions on viewpoints with which it disagrees."

Citing that conclusion, Brown also told Yarborough in a letter on Tuesday that he would not remove any of the funds appropriated to MOCA.

Cultural Council President Tony Allegretti -- who took his two young children to see the exhibit -- said that he was "mystified over the complaint" and was unsure of how exactly Yarborough or the city could revoke MOCA's funding. A rally in support of the museum's right to display the picture is scheduled for Wednesday evening.

Strassheim, whose exhibit deals with the "fleeting nature of adolescence," said she was shocked at the outcry over the picture.

"To me it's a very tasteful photograph," Strassheim told The Huffington Post. "It's not done in a gross, obscene way, so it is shocking to me that there's that much attention to this. But it is also by one man."

"To me the photograph is about this last bit of afternoon sunlight pouring in the window and her kind of embracing the warmth of that," she said. "I'm surprised in 2014 that we're having an issue over breasts in a photograph."

Marcelle Polednik, the museum's director, told HuffPost that a museum "anywhere in the world" would have images of the nude body, which has long been a subject of art.

"Introducing children to the body is not something that should be shied away from. It demands a greater context. How many hundreds of thousands of children visit Michelangelo's David every year?" Polednik said.

HuffPost

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