Community Response Saves Beaver Statue

Over the holiday weekend, the town of Bemidji, Minnesota removed a piece of public artwork by Deborah Davis entitled Gaea.  It is a statue of a beaver, one of ten in the city.  The reason for its removal was over what was depicted on the beaver’s belly.  The artist said it is supposed to be a depiction of two hands praying; however, when glancing at it, one could easily mistake it for a portrayal of female genitalia.  Its removal, though, created an active outcry by residents and artists which forced the city council to reverse its earlier decision and put Gaea back in its place in downtown Bemidji.

Bemidji should be applauded for the way they handled the beaver affair.  They gave the statue and its artist a fair hearing in democratic fashion.  A town hall was convened where the issue could be discussed, and people could tell the city council what they thought of Gaea.  What is even more heartening is the magnitude of the response from artists and concerned citizens who are worried about the effect of censorship on their community.  More than 80 people attended, and 12 people came up to the podium and defended the beaver statue.

There are many stories of censorship across the country with some town or organization removing a piece of artwork because they are afraid it might offend someone for some reason.  It is always refreshing to hear of a case where artistic expression and free speech win the day.  As one of the speakers in attendance at the town hall meeting, Brian Donovan, said:

Bemidji has aspired to be an especially art-friendly city… We need to be careful not to chill the climate for artistic expression in the form of public art in this sculpture walk and elsewhere. Nothing chills expression more than censorship.

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10 Responses to Community Response Saves Beaver Statue

  1. Al B. says:

    Thank you for your support.
    Artists spoke and their voices healed our towns broken heart.
    Peace, Al B.

  2. Mike says:

    Those are TOTALLY praying hands, and clearly nothing else. What I mean is, they are praying hands that are urinating and balancing a clitoris on the tips of the fingers.

    But really, if you’re against censorship, then don’t censor yourself. The artists didn’t even go for praying hands – it’s female genitalia that morphs into flower petals.

  3. hinky says:

    It’s hideous, puerile, obviously the wok of someone coddled and talentless and if they really wanted to be “democratic” about it, they should have put it on a referendum instead of giving into whining hippies who, BTW, love censorship when it’s banning something they consider “hateful.”

  4. Paul says:

    Yes, it’s rather clear that the painting on the front of the beaver is female genitalia. But what is wrong with that? We seem to be ok with genitalia on other statues and paintings, like Michelangelo’s David. What makes this different?

    Also, I think the idea of having a referendum on public art could have some serious consequences. It’s fine to have a discussion on it, like what happened Bemidji. However, having a majority vote on what art can be shown can lead to censorship and self-censorship. Everyone has different tastes in what they like to see. It’s possible to end up with no one agreeing to any sort of art. Also, artists might be forced to create art based solely on what they think would pass the vote rather than based on something that truly moves them.

    • kanajune says:

      Majority vote is what has brought us politicians. I agree……let the artists create and let the chips fall where they may. One does not have to look, after all.

  5. Andrew says:

    Not to make too fine a point, but if it’s paid for with taxpayer money, then the taxpayer gets final say in what stays and what goes. In this case, if the artists want to climb on the public gravy train, they’d better be prepared to dance to the vox populi, which means maybe they don’t get to be as creative as they like.

    Tough. There are a lot of non-profit foundations out there that so-called “starving artists” can apply to for cash to create these sort of projects and try to sell. It’s what’s called the “market”, and it’s a fact for artists just like everyone else. The very idea that self-appointed “artists” showed up to defend this waste of cash is despicable. Peddle your wares to the degenerate rich, rather than to the municipalities, you uncreative creeps.

  6. Hi Andrew – The government cannot select the kinds of artworks it funds based on the wishes of some taxpayers (or non-taxpayers) in the community. In order to be constitutionally valid, a regulation of expression in a public space must be viewpoint-neutral. The central tenet of the First Amendment is that ideas may not be suppressed because they are unpopular, offensive, or even hateful. Government actions restricting or penalizing certain kinds of speech because of hostility to the ideas expressed are considered to constitute viewpoint-discrimination and are generally impermissible. For example, a public museum may not exclude art because of concern that it might offend some viewers’ religious beliefs.

  7. Mike says:

    “ideas may not be suppressed because they are unpopular, offensive, or even hateful.”

    How about obscene?

  8. Obscenity is a constitutionally unprotected form of speech, and must be determined with a test. Pornography, for example, is not the same as obscenity according to the test. The test for determining whether something is ‘‘obscene’’ was established by the Supreme Court in 1973 in Miller v. California. For more information you can visit our website here: http://ncac.org/art-law/top-ob.cfm.

  9. kanajune says:

    Beautifully done. I am female, 60 yrs old, and totally unoffended by this artistic rendition of something that roughly half the human population owns. After all, we all have basically the same equipment the world over, and this is nothing new.

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