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Jax locals support nudes: skin is not a sin, it’s art

Art. It can be provocative, shocking and controversial. Recently a piece of art has ignited a debate in Jacksonville and inspired a large group of residents to gather during last night’s December Art Walk. They were there to give a message to the Jacksonville City Council: “Art and Culture Matter!”

The ralliers gathered at 5:30 p.m. around City Hall to show their support for both the Museum of Contemporary Arts (MOCA) Jacksonville and the artist of the piece, Angela Strassheim.

The issue that led to this event centers around a recent controversy over a piece in photographer Angela Stassheim’s current exhibit at MOCA. The uncensored photograph located in the Project Atrium exhibit can be viewed here, at the reader’s discretion. City Council President Clay Yarborough found a specific photo by Stassheim that depicted a nude pregnant woman to be “pornographic.” He then made a request to withdraw funds from the museum.

Yarborough requested that the City Council rescind $230,000 from the museum, according to the Florida Times-Union.

Once the public became aware of his actions, many locals were outraged. One of these people is Keri Kidder, a local professional event planner who led the rally. Her Facebook event page attracted over 800 supporters planning to attend the rally.

Kidder said,“I think for public funding, when you try to denounce [freedom of expression] using something of a sexual nature, especially in an art museum, makes absolutely no sense… We know that a woman who’s pregnant with her bare breasts is definitely not pornography.”

Outside the MOCA building, supporters lined up in homemade T-shirts and held picket signs, all conveying their support for the museum. Most of the ralliers chanted slogans such as “I stand with MOCA!” “Skin is not a sin!” and “We love MOCA!”

As the group chanted, Kidder called out to onlookers across the street, “If you are a supporter of the arts and MOCA, come over across the street and join us.”

The controversy sparked by Councilman Yarborough’s actions has been addressed and the issue of funding to MOCA has been resolved. According to the Florida Times-Union, in a letter to Yarborough sent Tuesday, Dec. 2, Mayor Alvin Brown expressed that he had no intention of removing any funds from MOCA.

A press conference was held by MOCA Wednesday afternoon in which MOCA Director Marcelle Polednik stated, “On behalf of the staff, volunteers, donors, artists and members that comprise MOCA Jacksonville, I want to thank those individuals and institutions in the community who have not hesitated in their sincere, active support of MOCA, the arts and freedom of artistic expression.”

Polednik also expressed her gratitude to the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Whitney Museum of American Art for their support of MOCA and Strassheim.

Poldenik highlighted the impact of discussing the issue of “art” versus “pornography” as a community.

“We are a different city today than we were ten days ago,” Polednik said. “An affirmation that the role that contemporary art has played for millennia, to challenge and shape society, remains undiminished.”

Abel Harding, chairman of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, also attended the conference. He said this debate shows that Jacksonville has citizens who are willing to protect the constitutional rights of others in the city. Harding stated, “There’s a willingness in this community to stand up for the first amendment and to support artistic expression.”

He said, “I think anybody in Jacksonville, whether they’re an artist, or whatever their calling may be, should feel emboldened by that.”

As a result of Mayor Brown’s recent statements, the Dec. 3 rally was mainly a show of support for freedom of artistic expression in Jacksonville.

“At this point, it’s not really a protest, since the mayor came out in support of the funding and everything. It’s more of a peaceful rally,” Kidder said.

Gallery photos by Lacey Wyndham

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*12/4/14 at 1:01 p.m. – Updated with fixed audio on video and added gallery photos.

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