Jerome Reilly has a chilling story about what happens when an artist holds a mirror up to our nature and a local authority does not like what it sees. Carolina Gustavsson was commissioned to prepare a photographic display for the Council HQ interviewed a cross section of people in the County and added an account of their views as captions to their portraits. Some were mildly critical of certain interests. The Council would not have it.
Artist who refused to be gagged withdraws from council exhibit - National News, Frontpage - Independent.ie
Ms Gustavsson was shocked that "innocent and innocuous comments" could be the subject of censorship.Ms Gustavsson -- who is originally from Sweden but lives in Co Offaly -- said she was stunned to receive an email from the council's arts officer, Sinead O'Reilly, questioning the commentary attached to three of the portraits and suggesting changes to the texts
Ms O'Reilly stated in her email: "It is Catherine, Dave and Irene and Jean and Conor which remain problematic. Can I suggest the following edits, which retain the message, just eliminates comments that can be read as offensive to the organisation which is both funding and hosting this exhibition. Yes, I agree that freedom of speech is important, and that the comments are nothing new, we hear them all the time, in fact they are typical of ranting you hear on the radio every day. I was expecting political content, but more insightful comments than merely suggesting that the organisation (funding your project) is corrupt."
Ms O'Reilly's email then suggested that funding could be at stake: "This context is fragile. This is the organisation that funds the arts in Offaly. This exhibition will be up when debates are going on as to how much (or whether at all!) to fund the arts in 2011. It is not a gallery or an arts centre where controversial content should have freedom to air, but a political organisation with the power to completely eliminate the arts service in Offaly if they felt warranted.
"Yes, the truth hurts; but my manager and I are not prepared to allow that truth to damage the hard work the arts service has achieved to be able to fund artists, projects, festivals etc."
The Sindo article is illustrated with a portrait of the artist against a backdrop of the 'potentially offensive' work, and carries the troublesome text."...a council is different, or at least in my opinion should be different. I wanted to document the state of the nation and how it has changed in the last 10 to 15 years. I could never have guessed that they would react like they have," she said.
Sean Murray, the council's director of services who is in charge of arts, defended the council's action.
"Offaly County Council is a public and democratic organisation and all exhib-itions within our offices should reflect our ethos and our broad community," he said.
"We did not request any quotations of participants to be edited, but asked the artist to reconsider the tone of some of her edited text in consideration of the organisation who was providing this opportunity for her.
"We were concerned that offence could have been taken and this may have impacted negatively on arts funding, for which so many community groups, individuals and arts organisations depend on," he said.
Fearful government is ruinous.