Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Culture as a controlled substance

I was on the phone the other day with a buddy of mine from New York City, and he asked me if I have had any problems teaching figure drawing down here.  He sees the South through the media's lens as an ultra conservative place that might not be open to such a course of study.  I proudly told him that him that I have had nothing but encouragement and support since beginning the classes two years ago.  It is a class which demands maturity and seriousness.  I had some trouble back in undergraduate school when I wanted to study the human figure (previous post discussing this), but not in this more professional setting.  While on the phone with him I had another call come in.  This call was from the city of Madison.

Several weeks before, I was asked to teach a figure drawing class in Madison for a group of ladies that often paint together.  We were going to be able to use someone's painting studio in the Madison Cultural Center, which is the old school at the corner of hwy 463 and hwy 51.  The director of the facility approved it, and the space was absolutely perfect.  

After two classes, the mayor of Madison found out that we were drawing nude models and kicked us out of the space.  The city of Ridgeland has welcomed us with open arms, so everything has worked out well, but it just caused me to consider the culture of Madison that is being created.  Now I will say that we were in a public building and that she had complete authority to do what she did.  I have also found out that she has kicked out yoga classes and karate classes.  I also believe that she is sincerely trying to create a culture based on aesthetic principles and positive social influences.  

Culture is defined as "the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc."  By enforcing extremely strict building codes, signage codes, and keeping out classes the mayor deems inappropriate for a cultural center she is ultimately suppressing creativity, artistic expression, and the ability of the residents of Madison to create their own culture.  

I am not necessarily trying to persuade anyone of my opinion in writing this, but I believe that it is a vitally important topic to be discussed. Not just about Madison, Mississippi, but about every municipality.  As citizens we should be concerned with how much the arts are supported or suppressed.  It is the artistic vision and excellence of the people that creates a beautiful and fulfilling place to live.