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First Friday Art Walk censorship

I figured I should add a post that describes in detail what has happened thus far in the saga of the First Friday Art Walk in downtown Ocala.

Earlier this year, I decided to apply for the First Friday Art Walk (FFAW) season that is held on the first Friday of every month from September through May of the following year. I have participated in years passed, stopping only to recuperate from my injuries in July 2014 (different story) and then stopping after the 2017-18 season due to a conflict with the then-coordinator of the show. I was hoping to get my work in front of local residents again and as the season costs only $50 for an artist to display, it's worth it even if I make only a single sale. The time spent in the monthly show is just good advertising.

I was accepted into the show on August 5th of this year. Nowhere on the FFAW artist application or in the FFAW acceptance letter is it mentioned that nudity is not allowed to be displayed in the show. In past seasons, my display has prominently featured several nude models, some of those prints have been displayed in subsequent years. This same work has been displayed in the annual FAFO Ocala Art Festival at least three times.

During the setup process for the first show of the 2022-23 season on October 7th (the September show was cancelled due to weather), the event coordinator stopped by to introduce herself in person. Before the official start of the show, one of the nudes I was displaying was purchased by a passerby. The coordinator again visited and remarked on how beautiful all of the hanging prints were and these included six nude or semi-nude models. She did not mention that the nudes may have to be removed from the display.

About an hour into the show, the coordinator returned to tell me that all of the nudes had to be removed from public display. When I asked why, I was told three people had complained. I mentioned that these same pieces have been publicly displayed in past FFAW events, but she said it didn't matter and that this is a City of Ocala rule. I asked if it also applies to paintings and sculptures and was told that yes, those would also be removed if they exist. Under protest, I complied, but was able to move them inside the venue that was sponsoring my display, a bar/restaurant called Mutiny.

Since that night, I have discussed this with several other local artists who have previously participated in the Art Walk. Each of them stopped completely due to the restrictions against their work. I also wrote to the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and have been advised that this is definitely a First Amendment violation. if the Art Walk were a private event, the organizers would be fully within their right to restrict any and all participants to any arbitrary rules they deem appropriate. But because this is a city-run event, they are compelled to adhere to Constitutional precedent. The laws on this are clear and unambiguous.

I made a public statement at the October 18th Ocala City Council meeting. The response from the council president was telling. He began by saying that he listened to my argument, but then went on to say that he thinks the city does have the right to restrict any content they feel is inappropriate. The City Attorney then cut him off and told me that they did not have a response that night, but that they would contact me "soon" to discuss the matter. After viewing the meeting's video feed, several observers have mentioned that the members of the council and the attorney don't seem to have a grasp of Constitutional law. We'll see.

This week, I was invited to a meeting with the City Manager. That meeting is scheduled for October 31st at 2PM. If anyone reading this is in Marion County, I invite you to join me at Ocala City Hall at 110 SE Watula Ave, Ocala, FL 34471. We'll be meeting in the lobby at 1:45 before going up to the 2nd floor offices.

The NCAC has given me some helpful suggestions going into Monday and I intend to legally record the entire meeting and I will share that recording with the Coalition.

If I have to, I will display the same pieces at the next Art Walk, which is four days after the City Manager meeting. If asked to remove those prints, I will refuse. If the City then wants to have me arrested for violating some public indecency law, then things will get interesting.

These are the images that I was asked to remove from public display:


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