Artist says politics behind removal of exhibit

Howland Cultural Center

BEACON – Artist Patricia Isaza, a member of the Howland Cultural Center has had a piece of art removed from its current exhibit and she believes politics is behind it.

Isaza had submitted two pieces of work for the “Members Art Show and Sale” which began on July 11 and runs through August 30.  One piece is entitled, “The Swamp” and the other is a portrait of President Trump called “Pricktator.”  Both pieces were accepted for display early in the week prior to the show’s opening.

The presidential portrait created by Isaza was previously on display at a Civic Practice Partnership exhibit in 2018 in Washington DC.

On the day the Beacon exhibit opened, Isaza noticed that her creation that took months to create was not on display. She located the piece in the corner of the office.

“I think that my voice should be heard and that everyone should have the right to show their work opening, and I want them to object or like my piece. That is up to them. It is really not up to a bunch of people in a small community who are against a controversial piece that is very timely,” she said.

The artist questioned Howland’s President, Craig Wolf, and claims that he indicated that it was too controversial and could not be displayed during campaign season because it is a political piece and would jeopardize the center’s 501-C-3 status.

Controversial art by Patricia Isaza

Wolf told Mid-Hudson News that “The Howland Cultural Center, which recently opened its Members Art Show and Sale, has temporarily removed one piece from the main gallery for legal review and board review. This is due to our need and desire to comply with Internal Revenue Service regulations that bar tax-exempt organizations like the Howland from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

Isaza argues that it has nothing to do with non-profit status but rather some Republican members of the center’s board of directors do not agree with the art.

“My First Amendment rights have been infringed by the Howland Center by not allowing my work to be shown,” said Isaza.  “This piece is very timely given the current political climate and my voice needs to be heard.”

Wolf said that the center is also cognizant of the First Amendment rights of the artists.  “We are balancing our respect for federal law that obligates us to neutrality and non-intervention in candidate campaigns with our respect for the free speech rights of artists and everyone else.  We are reviewing the fine points to see what we can properly do and expect to reach a resolution. But we are under no illusions that we can please everyone in these times of great controversy.”

Recognizing that the piece can be described as controversial, Isaza said, “That decision should be made by the people who view the work rather than a group of people who disagree with the statement.”

On Tuesday night, Craig Wolf issued a statement that the “Pricktator” would be entered in the exhibit.  In the reversal, Wolf said “We have resolved the issue after much review and consultation including with counsel.   The piece is part of the show and will be on the gallery floor when hours resume Saturday.”

Isaza said that all the materials used in her piece, with the exception of the varnishes and the insulation board on which it is mounted, were collected in our own New York State swamp — the once beautiful Hudson River. They include cotton tree cotton, water chestnuts, the ‘devil’s claw’ whose invasive tendrils foul the river.  It also includes incinerator ash stones, in this case benign. The piece also includes flies attracted to and stuck in the rot, straw, and other dead plant material.


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