Delphi Questions: NCAR's Art Exhibit Program

Question 1 (10 February 1992):
I have a complaint related to the current [February] cafeteria art display. I do not have any problem with the current display of nudes, and I'm not offended by it, although I don't particularly like most of the work.

I am concerned about previous actions here at NCAR that forced the removal of various displays from offices and other areas (calendars, posters, prints, etc.). Some people are so paranoid that they are going to get caught with some "politically incorrect" material in their possession that they have removed very inoffensive material from their offices. I am certain that if one of the nudes were hung in someone's office, that person would be in deep trouble!

We, of course, should all be sensible to issues of race, gender, and the like and try to be fair and considerate to everyone in this diverse work environment. We need everyone's contribution. I am concerned that we are pursuing this goal negatively instead of positively.

Question 2 (5 February 1992): Several people in my division are deeply offended by the nude paintings masquerading as art which are currently being displayed in the Mesa Lab cafeteria. Why is this intolerable situation being allowed when far more innocuous materials, such as photographs of fully clad women, have been ordered by Human Resources to be removed from offices in our division? Is it because the cafeteria paintings are considered "art" and photographs aren't? If so, who at NCAR judges what is art and what isn't? Or is it because no one complained about these paintings? If so, we're complaining, and demand that these obscene renderings be removed immediately, so that we will once again be able to enjoy our lunches.

Two answers were provided for these Delphi Questions. The first, from the Art Committee, addresses questions raised about the way in which artwork is determined to be acceptable for the NCAR exhibit program. The second, from Human Resources, addresses the more general issue about the appropriateness of artwork, photographs, and other materials displayed in the workplace.

Answer 1 (13 February): The NCAR art exhibit program was established to give artists an opportunity to show their work at the Mesa Lab, where it can be enjoyed by staff and visitors. The artists are selected by a jury of five: three are UCAR or NCAR staff members with substantial art backgrounds of their own, and two are professional artists working in the community. NCAR judges are recruited through an announcement in Staff Notes; anyone can volunteer. The applications are then reviewed by the NCAR director, who makes the final selections based on factors including art training and education, art collecting, and art appreciation. The current jury members are serving two-year terms.

About twice per year, artists are invited to submit samples of their work for consideration. The jury chooses several artists, each of whom is invited to show his or her work for one to two months. Work is shown in both the gallery space and the cafeteria. One of the most important things about the program is the good community feeling it promotes since it is one of the most popular outreach programs that NCAR offers.

Historically, the jury has selected works of art based on several criteria, including aesthetics, subject matter, and the quality of presentation. Format is never restricted to painting; photography, printmaking, weaving, and sculpture have all been represented in NCAR shows. In a similar vein, subject matter in selected works may vary greatly, from landscape and architectural renderings to portraiture and studies of the human form. From time to time, artistic representations of nude bodies have been submitted for consideration by the jury, have met the aesthetic criteria, and have been accepted for exhibition at NCAR.
Nita Razo, art exhibit coordinator
Art Committee jury members

Answer 2 (15 April): As we all know, judgments about the offensiveness of artwork and other material are highly personal and individual. And, for the same reasons, people are often confused about what sexual harassment is or isn't. These personal judgements are the products of each of our individual value systems and our religious and moral beliefs. As can be seen by observing attempts to establish community obscenity standards, it is impossible to define a single standard that will satisfy all viewers.

Regardless, UCAR has an obligation under civil rights laws to ensure that our workplace is free of sexual harassment for all employees, which includes maintaining a work environment free of sexually offensive, intimidating, and hostile behaviors and materials. Case law continually develops the definition of what this means and what we, as an employer, are expected to do. A generally accepted legal standard is to provide a workplace that is not impermissibly offensive to a "reasonable person."

The senior management of UCAR and the Human Resources department attempt to apply the legal standard as individual situations come to our attentions, but obviously we must make qualitative judgments as well. The artwork displayed in the cafeteria doesn't seem to us at this point to violate the "reasonable person" standard. We believe that is the case since it doesn't appear to a sample of employees with whom I spoke to denigrate womankind or to show women viewed as sexual objects—additional standards used in sexual harassment court cases.

We believe UCAR is required to apply the same standard to artwork and photographs displayed in areas where employees eat as to the areas where they work. Action has been take to remove from offices pictures which have been the subject of employee complaints and which have been judged by UCAR/NCAR management and Human Resources to violate the sexual harassment guidelines. Similar action would need to be taken if we believed artwork in the NCAR art exhibit program violated the same standards.
Valerie Friesen, director
Human Resources

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