Controversial Art, Part 1

Because of the recent press about Trumbull High School’s cancellation and uncancellation, and possibly copyright violation (Howard Sherman covers it beautifully here and in a few other posts prior to that one), there’s been a bit of chatter around arts admin social media regarding the production of controversial art.

It feels like a good time to dust off a paper I wrote about controversial art: how to make it, why to make it, and how to make it work.

I have worked on a few pieces in my life that have received responses only in the extreme – extremely good or extremely bad with no middle ground. I was working on one at the time I wrote this paper and it was a really important way for me to take a step outside of what I was doing as a stage manager and look at it as an arts administrator.

Ultimately, the sub-heading of the paper was “Producing Controversial Art Without Emphasizing the Controversy” which I think proved to be both indicative of the subject matter and good advice. It takes the topic in a totally different direction – how to succeed in controversial arts versus how to even get to make controversial art – but the connection rang true for me.

As with other series posts, I’ll break it down into some lightly edited, readable chunks and post sources at the end.

This one is a four-parter, but the last part (coming on Friday) is a 2 paragraph summary. You will miss colorful anecdotes about a self-proclaimed afro-swedish sculptor on Wednesday and Robert Mapplethorpe on Thursday – tomorrow I will learn that I don’t know anything about the Tectonic Theater Company controversy and I will ask you to tell me about it.

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