Gilded Splinters (exhibition)
Artist: Alison Stinely
Date of Action: January 2018
Region: North America
Location: Norfolk, Virginia, USA
Confronting Bodies: Hampton Roads Transit (HRT)
Description of Artwork: Alison Stinely, an artist in Norfolk, Virginia, was invited to present some artworks in an exhibition by Norfolk Arts, an organization that works with local businesses to place art exhibitions. Her work was subsequently accepted for display in the Transit Gallery, which sits within Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), a public agency. Throughout the application and approval process, Stinely provided images of her work, which includes male and female nudes.
The Incident: Stinely's exhibition was abruptly canceled by the host, HRT, just days before it was scheduled to open on January 26. The paintings were rejected by HRT on the basis of complaints regarding the nudity depicted.
In response to the cancellation of the exhibition, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) wrote a letter to HRT urging them to establish a clear set of guidelines with Norfolk Arts governing the artworks to be displayed in the Transit Gallery, which will help them avoid arbitrary viewpoint censorship. NCAC reminded HRT that as a government agency, they must uphold the First Amendment rights of the artist and that "simple nudity is not a sufficient ground for excluding artwork from public exhibition" (Joy Garnett, January 18, 2018). Furthermore, Stinely’s work does not constitute sexual harassment nor does it contribute to a hostile work environment and is thus entitled to protection under the Constitution. The organization underlined that the Transit Gallery, as a designated public forum where any restrictions must be viewpoint-neutral, is imposing viewpoint-based censorship given their actions.
Results of Incident: Stinely's paintings were not exhibited through the Norfolk Arts program due to HRT's content-based objections. Thereafter, HRT has canceled its partnership with Norfolk Arts, announcing it would not host any future art exhibitions.
Just three months after it was pulled from the Hampton Roads Transit building in Norfolk for its subject matter, Stinely was able to install her 16-piece “Gilded Splinters” exhibit at the private Linda Matney Gallery in Williamsburg, Virginia.
“I’m very excited,” Stinely said. “It’s going to be a much better show in a much better space. The cancellation was a blessing in disguise.”