County Staffer Takes Down ‘Offensive’ Art in Government Building

Fourth District Chief of Staff Puts Artwork in Broom Closet

IN THE CLOSET: Steve Olson's piece in the county's LOVE + GUTS skate-oriented art exhibit met resistance in the Betteravia Building in Santa Maria.

[Update, Friday, 6:00 p.m.]: County staff put the art piece back up in the Betteravia Center on Friday afternoon, according to county CEO Mona Miyasato. The CAPP (County Art in Public Places) committee will take the issue up at its Monday meeting, and will make a recommendation about what to do with the piece to the Arts Commission, which will likely hold a special meeting next Thursday.

[Original Story]: Bob Nelson, chief of staff to 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam, took down a piece of art — that read “BUY SEXUAL” with a wallpaper backdrop of red “69.99” price tag stickers — prominently placed in the foyer of the Santa Maria board hearing room. Earlier this week, Nelson took offense to the piece, which is part of three-month exhibit mounted on Monday. Now the Steve Olson piece is in a broom closet, and it remains to be seen if it will go back up on a wall.

On Tuesday, Nelson complained to Ginny Brush, Arts Commission executive director, that he found the piece inappropriate for a government space. Brush told Nelson the CAPP (County Art in Public Places) committee — a subgroup of the Arts Commission — would discuss the matter at its next meeting. But Nelson, with direction from Supervisor Adam, decided in the meantime to take the piece down and submitted a complaint in writing to Brush.

“Our office finds this obscene and inconsistent with community standards,” Nelson told me. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for a government building. I think it’s appropriate for a private arts studio.” When asked if he found it particularly inappropriate for a North County building, Nelson said it is true the north tends to be more conservative, but that he thinks it would obscene in any government building.

The CAPP committee will discuss the matter on Monday morning and make a recommendation to the commission, which is made up of 15 members, three appointed from each district, about whether or not to put the piece back on the wall before the exhibit’s opening reception on September 19. It’s worth noting the committee only reviewed a sample of the exhibit that did not include the piece in question before approving it.

John Hood, who is a fine arts professor at Allan Hancock College and sits on CAPP, coordinated the exhibit. The piece was made by Los Angeles-based modern artist Steve Olson, who is 53 and an icon in the skater world. The exhibit, which is funded by the Morris B. Squire Foundation, is the work of the group LOVE + GUTS. The concept of LOVE + GUTS is that skateboarding, at its core, is an art form, and the group will also hold a skate session in San Luis Obispo in conjunction with the exhibit.

In an interview, Olson said the piece is social commentary on the notion that sex sells. It is a very current work, Olson said, even though it was made in the early 2000s. “It’s not meant to be offensive,” Olson said. “It just happens to be a play on words.”

Dante Sigismondi, who represents the 2nd District on the Arts Commission and is a staff member, took issue with the fact that Nelson took down the piece without any authority or reason to do so other than his personal opinion. Sigismondi said he believes the piece is very appropriate for the type of show in that gallery, calling it “reflective of the quirkiness of skateboarders and their way of seeing the world.”

Director Brush said this is not the first time people have objected to artwork in the county’s galleries. Regardless of what decision is made next week, Brush said the commission will update the procedure to make it clear people cannot take artwork off of the wall if they do not like it. “I feel like the process is the best way to deal with it,” she said.


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