Staff Editorial: Art director stands firm

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April 15, 2008

12:10 PM

Nudity makes Americans antsy. Throw in two teens, a newspaper, and one of the College’s own and it’s a ready-made scandal — or at least it is at The Virginian-Pilot, a Norfolk daily. A recent student art contest sponsored by the Pilot has Muscarelle Museum Director Aaron De Groft ’88, and others, crying “censorship.”
And rightly so.

After whittling down some 600 submissions to the Pilot’s Student Gallery art show, contest organizers asked De Groft to select a winner. He chose “Heart of Darkness,” a nude self-portrait by 17-year-old Nancy “Beth” Reid, a senior at Churchland High School in Portsmouth.

Bruce Bradley, publisher of the Pilot, didn’t like De Groft’s decision. Citing child pornography as his objection to the piece, he told De Groft to either change his winner or take a hike. De Groft chose the latter.

Bradley’s ultimatum to De Groft defines censorship, and De Groft’s choice to stand behind his decision should be commended. It would have been easy for De Groft to simply choose another work of art, but by remaining steadfast with his original choice De Groft displayed a strong commitment to the integrity of the contest.

The story doesn’t end there. When Bradley didn’t get what he wanted from De Groft, he found another judge. This time, he selected Scott Howe, education director at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk. Howe chose another nude, a sculpture of a pregnant woman by Jasmine Childs of Chesapeake. Bradley’s allergic reaction returned, and out went Howe.

The scandal reveals several failures on the Pilot’s part. If nudity were unacceptable, then that should have been made clear from the beginning. But to slap down these pieces after they’d cleared all the hurdles from entrance to final selection strikes us as much more than negligence. It stinks of pandering, either to contest sponsors or to a public that can undoubtedly handle nudity — appreciate it, even.

The Pilot should take a lesson from the man they ignored. De Groft’s unwavering support of Reid’s submission successfully served to combat Bradley’s attempt at censorship, and because of that, the freedom of expression that the Pilot claims to champion was able to shine through.

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