Wayne Michael Reich

Writing ∙ Photography ∙ Art


Month: September 2013

Bridge Over the River Why. (An Army of None.)

“I take things like honor and loyalty seriously. It’s more important to me than any materialistic thing or any fame I could have.” – Lloyd Banks

Hello Blogi…oh, the hell with my standard cheery greeting, I’m just not feeling it.
Not today, anyway.
Granted, I am truly heartened by how many kudos my last blog received concerning the vile and unprincipled censorship enacted by the Herberger Theater Center, and I’m extremely appreciative (and honestly shocked) to hear that even the Mayor’s office thought it was a fine piece of writing, but I remain downcast, nonetheless.

This is the kind of bummed out that even a full-on Ding Dong bender couldn’t ease.

Sad to say, the black cloud that hangs over me these days is fairly tenacious, and given all indicators, it doesn’t seem like any dissipation is on the calendar for quite some time.
So why am I all moody?
Well… in my last screed, which I knocked out in less than 12 hours, (a new personal record) I issued a call to arms (of sorts) to PHX’s Creative community- I asked for a show of solidarity and strength in helping protest the cancellation of Robrt Pela’s curated show at the Herberger Theater Center- an issue I naively believed would “rally the troops” as it were, since Censorship is just not an ongoing and major problem here, but in most metropolitan artistic centers as well.

See, this is my problem- I have faith in Humanity, but I always forget that people are involved in the dispensation of it.

To quote Tommy Lee Jones from his role as Agent K in Men in Black:
“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.”

And when it comes to following the herd, nobody does it better than the PHX Creative community. I’ve often commented on the lack of professionalism that runs rampant here, along with an almost pathological apathy that tracks alongside, and yet- I still truly believed that my fellow creatives would rise up, fight the good fight, and vanquish the metaphorical Barbarians back to Hell.

Hoo boy. Did I ever get that wrong. George Clooney as Batman kind of wrong.

Note to self: stop watching movies where everybody comes together via a montage and musical number to save the community rec-center/summer camp/school/church/park/ independent record store etc.. it’s starting to seriously warp my sense of reality in regards to the subject of people stepping up to do the right thing.

Here’s a small insight into my psyche: I don’t really expect much.
After my horrific near-death experience in 2009, I’m actually fairly grateful for almost everything that occurs, including, but not limited to, stuff that is at it’s core, quite bad.
Far as I’m concerned, every day above ground is a good day, even if it sometimes sucks donkey wahaunga.

So as a rule, I keep my expectations realistic, and my hopes limited.

Let me put it this way- I really don’t sweat the electric bill. Almost dying definitely spins your perspective in regards to what matters, and what doesn’t. Having touched the bunny slippers of Death, my point of view has unquestionably been sharpened, and it’s main focus has been on rehabilitating the PAS into a viable entity of economic success and unity.

Sadly, I think that I’ve been asking too much of my fellow Creatives, the lack of turnout at the HTC protest serving as a litmus test of sorts. One of the theories I’ve been harboring for a while in regards to the creative community is this- the majority seemingly don’t give a damn unless a situation affects them directly.

Need proof? Just look around.
For every Robrt Pela or Laura Dragon (of {9} The Gallery) that we have, we’re negated by ten useless wankers, just sitting on their ass, doing nothing. Yet… they’re the first ones to gorge on the rewards brought forth by the others who’ve actually walked the walk, and talked the talk.

In other words, they’re the problem. If the PAS were a human body, the poseurs within this scene would be cancer, As I said I’m a realist- I know that no matter where you have a vibrant and creative scene, there’s always going to be the occasional human speed bump.

Another insight: I absolutely loathe, despise, hate, deride, abhor, detest, and cannot stand the way too common phrase “I’ll be there in spirit”. So… you won’t help or do anything that is actually useful and constructive, but at least you approve of all the hard work we’re doing.

That’s just great. Way to commit to a cause.

In my humble opinion, that’s akin to telling someone who desperately needs a life-saving transplant that “I’d love to donate a kidney, really I would- but I’m catching up on Breaking Bad.” By the way, that was an ACTUAL excuse that one of my fellow Creatives said to me when I asked him why he wasn’t at the protest- he was watching a DVD, and couldn’t be bothered to show up.

I tell you this: I don’t get nearly enough credit for not going on a murderous killing spree.

Of the forty or so people who assured me that they’d be there, only two showed up, and at best, there were maybe twenty people protesting- a number I find to be equally sad and maddening. When the call to arms was issued, I was hoping to witness a groundswell- a veritable sea of creative bad assery charging the gates of Mordor, if you will.
In all honesty, I would have been happy with a small pond of support- instead all I saw around me was a puddle. Granted, the cultural warriors who were standing alongside me in said puddle kicked some truly serious ass nonetheless, but it fell far short of what was needed to send a serious message to the elitist pinheads at the HTC.

Looking down from their ivory tower, I wanted the collective heads of the HTC to see a unified and strong Arts Community, an astounding mass of people standing up both for their craft, and for what was right. I wanted their family friendly walls to shake with our collective outrage.

I wanted them to know that we as a whole, would not, could not, and never will, allow ourselves to be condescended to by the likes of persons such as them.
I wanted them to feel the unease that comes with the knowledge that occasionally your bad judgment comes back home to roost, and every now and then- it likes to bring friends.
I wanted them to realize that we are a force to be dealt with, and that fucking with our combined strength would be a sure fire means to becoming a cautionary tale that old people tell over campfires.
In place of that, all they saw was that given enough time, the storm would pass, and they could get back to business as usual, or so they hopefully thought.

I am happy to report that several artists cancelled shows, a number of guest curators resigned in disgust, and since the Mayor’s office got involved, along with a nationally recognized anti-censorship group calling for change as well, it’s highly unlikely that they will emerge completely unscathed.

In fact, my last blog may have opened that particular door- the following is from a FB message that Robrt Pela sent me earlier this week:

“Keep in mind that it was your blog that first got the mayor to call me. So, you made a huge difference. I did not approach the mayor’s office; they called me.”

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right… I so totally need to call my Dad and brag like a adolescent boy who just scored with the town MILF. As you might surmise, I am more than happy that one of my rants seems to have had a positive effect for once, and I earnestly hope that some good comes out of all this.

Yes, the HTC has been dinged, but the fact remains: the PAC dropped the ball on this one, and dropped it hard. In fact, when I posted on the Arizona Artists page asking the question of why there was such a problem with artistic apathy in this town, I received the following response:

“I’ve realized a ton of our problem is perspective, which I tried to explain way up there. I’m thinking less about Phoenix’s specific issues and instead look at this more globally. In terms of censorship and protest, that was basically an unchangeable position, seemingly from the two party’s perspectives. My feeble achy boots on the ground will be used for issues I think demand it.”
Now, I can respect this position. But I still disagree with it as a whole.
Yes, the two parties were intractable in their differing points of view, and I understand
that there was probably no way that the issue could have been settled to the satisfaction of both, but a stand needed to be made, and for that you need warm bodies, not a blizzard of internet postings.
Social media can and has been very effective in launching boycott campaigns and calling attention to the injustices of the world, but it’s also a sanctuary for the ignorant, the racist and the cast-asides of our society.

Factoring in the chaotic twenty-four-seven news cycle, today’s outrage is tomorrows water cooler joke, hence the need to have a sizable presence to go with the story- otherwise, you’re just spitting into the wind.

There is mammoth disparity on the Internet in regards to culture, and it rarely sways towards the betterment of our social order. Don’t misread me- I love living in a world where I can order books online while simultaneously downloading clown porn and

images of cute kittens, but some things still need to be done face to face, and this was
one of them.

Would a larger crowd have changed the outcome?

Most likely not.

But would it have given the HTC some serious and well-needed pause?
Hell yes.

The psychological effect of scores of loud angry people blocking your way and calling attention to something stupid that you did cannot be underestimated. Not by any means. And when the public opens up its eyes and gets curious about why all these people are surrounding your building, you’re pretty much living on borrowed time before the real hammers come down.

As to the concept of thinking “globally”, until my career takes off to the extent that I get to jet-set ala Saint Bono style, I’m gonna be focusing on the local, mainly due to that’s where I live and work. Yes, I’m a citizen of the world, but I have to pay my electric bill here, so I don’t have the luxury of being able to turn a blind eye to what’s occurring in front of me.

Even if your action turns out to be purely symbolic, at least you stood up for what you perceived to be right, and that beats a worn-out turn of phrase hands down, every time.

Boots on the ground is the means by which the world gets changed, and while it can be used productively in conjunction with a social media campaign, it is still the ideal method if you want to get things done for the better good.
Deeds count.
Words without direct action behind them?
Not so much.

Understand this- I’m not marginalizing how effective the Internet was in publicizing this situation. In fact, it was amazing to see just how fast the word got around, and the number of people who joined in on the discussion was stunning. What does dismay is how many of those same cultural warriors couldn’t spare two hours on a Thursday night to support a cause they claimed to be so concerned about.

Just sayin’.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve been witness to such indifference within the PAS, but it’s certainly the most visible display of it in quite some time. Not to beat a dead horse, but seriously… why won’t the majority of the Creative base just get off their apathetic asses and start kicking out the jams?

It’s not like we’re all shiftless milquetoasts, if one were to be honest, and while we are somewhat deficient in the infrastructure that other cities take for granted, we as a group still have no truly defensible excuse for our puzzling consistency in rolling over and showing belly every time an obstacle appears in our path.  

After a while, it gets to be a little annoying, if not downright infuriating. Nothing aggravates me more than a lazy zealot. I’m constantly hearing from artists about how they wish things were better, how great it would be if people were more professional, etc.- and yet, when it comes time to put up or shut up, they climb into their race car beds and wait for the art fairy to arrive with a satchel of happiness.
Magical thinking. The bane of my existence.

Believe me, I do understand the underlying feeling of pointlessness that some artists feel in regards to their career- I am an Artist myself, after all.  So I do get why it’s sometimes really hard to get out of that there comfy bed and go kick metaphorical ass. It’s even worse when you feel like you’re taking on the whole damn world by yourself.

Trust me… I feel your pain. I really do.

One of the main issues that I have with the PAS is the fact that some within our community also tend to mete out a unique form of passive aggressiveness warfare against their fellow Creatives- the old “crabs in a bucket” analogy.

For those unfamiliar with this idiom, here’s a description:

“Crabs in a bucket is a phrase that describes a way of thinking best described by the phrase “if I can’t have it, neither can you.”

The metaphor refers to a pot of crabs. Individually, the crabs could easily escape from the pot, but instead, they grab at each other in a useless “king of the hill” competition which prevents any from escaping and ensures their collective demise.

The analogy in human behavior is that members of a group will attempt to “pull down” (negate or diminish the importance of) any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy or competitive feelings.

This term is broadly associated with short-sighted, non-constructive thinking rather than a unified, long-term, constructive mentality. It is also often used colloquially in reference to individuals or communities attempting to improve their socioeconomic situations, but kept from doing so by others attempting to ride upon their coat-tails or those who simply resent their success.
The popularity of the phrase has made accusing opponents of crab mentality a common form of defense against criticism, whether the criticism is valid or not. In logic, this tactic is considered a common logical fallacy known as argumentum ad invidiam, or appeal to envy.”
And there is a lot of envy, let me tell you. If I had a penny for every time I heard a fellow colleague bitch about a certain “you know who” doing well, I’d be sitting on my private island enjoying a whipped cream back rub from Milla Jovovich right about now.

[Don’t worry about my GF Ashley- she’d be getting the same from Richard Armitage, so it’s all good, as I tend to share the wealth.]

Speaking of mentally deficient crabs, out of all the feedback I received there was only one detractor who lashed out publically regarding my protesting the HTC’s censorship, and in a not too surprising revelation, they’re someone that no one has ever taken seriously or even heard of in this scene, that being the personage of one “Scooter” Harris.

For once, I can honestly say that the negativity that’s being directed at me is not of my doing. I know… it feels really bizarre to me too. Normally, I’d be the one throwing the
acid-coated knives, so it’s somewhat off-putting to be attacked by someone named after a puppet from the Muppet Show.

After several years of my stirring the pot and asking the uncomfortable questions, it seems that this part-time scrawler and full time non-entity has named me and curator Robrt Pela as the source of all drama-fire in the PAS.

Ok… he didn’t actually have the cojones to name us directly, but he did hint at who we were an awful lot, so that’s almost as butch, right?

The source of all drama-fire… don’t I wish!

Can you imagine the t-shirt sales? They’d be huge. Not to mention the bumper stickers, mugs, phone apps, bobble-heads, mouse pads, whimsical pens, etc.. Given my penchant for self-promotion, I’d milk that particular cow until powder was shooting out of it’s desiccated udders, and then proceed to wring the marrow out of its bones.

What can I say? I’m a mercenary capitalist. But I digress.

*Link to the hot mess he wrote can be found here:

[Its the “We fight on Friday Night” Blog.]

I apologize in advance if you actually decide to read it to the end. Even given the low standards of the Internet, the darkest of all netherworlds where cat videos and Anime tentacle-porn coexist side by side, his diatribe is just excruciating.

And despite the fact that I do truly appreciate being granted honorary authority over the flame height in the PAS (as ascribed by Scooter) I’ll actually have to demonstrate some uncharacteristic modesty and dismiss his transcendent affirmation of my inherent powers.

Long before I jumped into the fray, ASU’s Downtown Devil and the Phoenix New Times were already on the scent and crafting their stories- a point Scooty Dupe deliberately overlooks for sake of his retelling of the sequence of events.

Both stories, BTW, were excellently done, I might add.

As for my part, I just came along and patched a few minor holes in the narrative, that’s all.
Anywho, Scooter (like me) also writes about the PAS, but his approach has always followed the typical blog format in regards to the critique of local art, whereas my focus centers on the dissection of issues that tend to affect the PAS directly.

To each his own, I always say, but this time it’s taken a turn. Up until about a week ago, I’ve never had any sort of issue with Scooter, so his rather disjointed assault upon Robrt and myself literally comes out of left field.

It just strikes as strange that after several years of relative friendliness, someone who has never had any stake whatsoever in the PAS gets riled up and decides to charge in, guns-a-blazing, to take on the Queen Bitches of the Universe for no clearly defined reason.

I’m not even really sure how to take in it’s sheer incoherence, to be quite honest. However, I do know what your thoughts are, and I appreciate the incongruity. You’re thinking:
“Aww… is the Artbitch feeling all ironically butt-hurt cause someone insulted him?”
Not exactly. I’m used to getting flak in regards to what I say and write, so I’m pretty immune overall to snark grenades and the occasional kitten swipe- but when it’s this
badly put together, I can’t even begin to fake the required respect in regards to his lame attempt to take me on or out.

Even if I took the high road, I’d still have to point out the rambling pointlessness of his candy-assed harangue, as well as his justification of using a homophobic slur, again and again. Just because someone (not I) refers to themselves that way (on occasion) doesn’t mean that you get to fling it around like you’re blood brothers.

[I often refer to myself as “His Royal Lord High Sexiness”, but I notice that he didn’t use that.]

And yes- I do call myself the “Artbitch”. However, that moniker was bestowed on me by a former enemy (now friend) who thought it fit my personality at the time. Fortunately, he doesn’t get a cut of the merchandise sales, so it really does pay to make sure you fill out all the copyright paperwork ahead of time.

Normally, I would take what someone’s written and pull it apart, in my distinctive and snarky style, but not this time. First, I don’t want to be held accountable for repeating the asinine vileness that he’s spewing, and second- it’s such a dreadful piece of commentary, that mocking it seems more or less an effort in focused futility.
If anything, I’m almost tempted to offer Scooter some lessons in smack talking, for when it comes to me, there are literally scores of open ammo boxes laying around that he could have dipped into instead.

For instance? My love of all things ABBA, my addiction to Ding Dongs, my fondness for dressing like Mad Max, the fact that I find nude Ukrainian folk dancing irresistible, and let’s not forget my ponytail, the classic go-to for almost all of my enemies.

And that’s just the stuff up front- imagine what he could have found if he had nutted up and decided to look under my bed. It’s as if he couldn’t spare the four seconds to “Google” me, and that’s just sheer laziness, in my opinion.
Whatever happened to the love of the craft?
The number of emails & instant messages I’ve fielded regarding this white trash meltdown all boiled down to everybody pretty much asking the same question:
“What in the Hell is he babbling about, and what in the Hell is he on?!?”

In regard to that, I couldn’t even begin to tell you, and I’m somebody who actually understood the end of “Inception”. But I do have a theory… or two.

Theory One: He’s always wanted to play in our sandbox, and just couldn’t cut it.

If this is spot on, then yeeeeouch, he must be way more inferior than I thought.

Granted, I really hate to keep flogging a dead horse, but the PAS is a lot like a Catholic School- we’ll pretty much take anyone if they’re possessing a pulse. So if you can’t get us to go out on a date, Scooter, I’m gonna have to be honest and say that it’s not us, it’s most definitely you.
But look on the bright side. All that time you’ll spend at night sitting home can only help sharpen your art skills, and that’s a win for everybody. Especially for the theory of quality work. And sure… I tend to bag on the PAS as a whole, but I (unlike you) actually believe that we’re in a transition to becoming a leaner, meaner model of economic viability that in the end, will prove to kick some serious financial and critical ass.
You seemingly don’t like, respect or love the scene, so why waste time writing about it? Especially when you’ve never been one of “us” to begin with, I might add.

Oh wait…

Theory Two: Somebody seems to be in denial, I think?

For those of you who were brave/foolhardy/self-hating enough to read Scoot’s invective all the way to the end, you’d note that it begins with an ode to the world of professional wrestling, the NASCAR of contact sports. Now, as a rule, I’m really not into athletic pursuits- sure, I played soccer as a kid, but my heroes have been always artists, writers and musicians first.

But if that’s what floats your boat of testosterone, so be it.

I just find it bizarre that someone would feel so liberated using a homophobic slur when their favorite form of entertainment entails watching greased up steroidal giants wearing makeup and gold lame speedos slamming into each other.

As I stated, if that’s what you’re into, that’s fine. I believe in personal freedom over everything else.
But if you’re going to stand your ground in the manner of a homophobic dick, perhaps you shouldn’t pick a sport whose athletes make the cast of “Glee’ look like Seal Team Six.

Gah. That’s enough in regards to Scooter, I think. Every village has it’s idiot, and apparently… the village next door loaned us theirs as a courtesy.

Fortunately, he does serve a useful purpose, mainly as a prime example of why the PAS is seemingly stuck in the artistic mire. Given the naysayers, the wannabes, the speed bumps and the egocentrically insignificant like him, it’s not too shocking why we can’t get our fellow Creatives to rally around the causes that affect us all directly.
I’ve witnessed all sorts of approaches through the years and there doesn’t seem to be one that has ever truly unified us as a whole. Whether it’s been the approach of strengthening professional ethics, attempted economic enticement, the feeling of camaraderie, or just plain common sense, they all seem to peter out after a while.

But there have been some changes on the horizon, and hopefully, they’ll blaze a new path towards fostering the self-empowerment and creating the strong community leaders we so desperately need.

Along those lines, we’ve seen the gallery association created by Laura Dragon stitching together our local Art-spaces into a marketing concern, and along with Artist Travis Field’s artistic juggernaut on FaceBook, [Arizona Artists Collective] certain long-closed doors are opening in regards to networking and planning possibilities for Creatives within the PAS.

To be honest, they’re not the all encompassing panacea that we require, but they’re definitely a healthy and aggressive start towards healing our innate illness of spirit.

So what’s the answer? This time, I’m honestly flummoxed, as I don’t think that there’s a one size fits all solution to the myriad of issues we need to prevail over. A multi-pronged approach seems like the best conduit to a successful outcome, but only if everybody is on the same page.  

And my biggest worry is that in the end, we’ve all been reading different books.

“As an artist your first loyalty is to your art. Unless this is the case, you’re going to be a second-rate artist.” – Margaret Atwood

Theatre of Lame (A Comedy of Errors)

“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.”- Henry Louis Gate

Hello Blogiteers!


Gah, I say. Gah.

Just when I relax and get to thinking think that everything seems to be making progress within the PAS (Phoenix Art Scene), Reality comes back and greases the escalator that goes up. I swear on all that’s holy, there’s a huge bubble of ignorance that hovers over this city like ticks on a fat dog.

It seemingly never ends. This time however, my issue isn’t with our self-hating local media, or the candy-assed anarchists, not even that sect of timorous Stuckist cultists I was playing with a few weeks back. What’s more, it’s not even a fellow Artist I have a huge problem with.

For once, I’m aiming high out of my comfort zone, and I’m taking on a well-established cultural icon, that being the Herberger Theater Center located in Downtown Phoenix.
And here you all were thinking I couldn’t change my dietary habits, no matter what.

Shame on you, cause that’s just hurtful. Finally… I get to take out my high school bitterness about not bring cast as the lead in “Grease”. I’m nobody’s Kenickie, let me tell you.

But I am the Artbitch, and my claws are out and sharpened. Granted, “hot under the collar” is sort of my niche, but in this instance my wrath is that of the righteous, no matter how one looks at it. So what did the Herberger do to incur not only my scorn but the unified contempt of the PAS?

In one word: CENSORSHIP.

As many of you know, I loathe any form of suppression, no matter what the justification may be. I’m an adult, and I sure as Hell don’t need to be protected by some anonymous Fairy Godmother looking out for my best interest. There has never been concrete evidence that the vile act of censoring ideas and concepts eventually helps lead to a stronger and knowledgeable community.

Apparently that info never hit the Herberger’s E-mail. But to be fair, it’s hard to stay on top of things when you’re too busy screwing over people. Ah. I see you require the context of explanation.

From the Internet, I will give you the answers you seek.
First, the press release for the show:

“In September, R. Pela Contemporary Art will present Prime Example: New Work from R. Pela Contemporary Art by Geoffrey Gersten, Suzanne Falk, Mike Ford, and Ronnie Ray Mendez. This exhibit, curated by Robrt Pela of R. Pela Contemporary Art, features three artists whom Pela discovered last year, and one popular local mainstay.

“I occasionally have the privilege of meeting a new artist whose work really knocks me out,” Pela says. “And in this exhibit, I’m featuring four such artists. Geoffrey Gersten’s surrealist paintings of playful things with dark edges changed me. I love how his colorful, charming images draw us in, and then demand that we stay with them to find the moral in Gersten’s story.”

Mike Ford’s photographs of himself with his mother, both garishly made up as hags, changed Pela’s opinion of photographic art. Ronnie Ray Mendez, who’s made a name for himself in the fine art world of Los Angeles, has recently arrived in Phoenix. “His drawings bridge a gap between realism and surrealism by combining human anatomy with animal life,” Pela says. “He’s illustrating that line between reason and emotion.”

Pela will also exhibit new work by local painter Suzanne Falk. “Suzie went into a brief, self-imposed exile,” Pela says. “And the work she made during that time is stunning—photorealistic oil paintings of fictional characters interacting with insects. Her many fans will be thrilled with this new series. I am.”

Prime Example will open with an artist reception on Thursday, September 5 at 5:30 p.m., and will be open through October 6. The Herberger Theater Center Art Gallery is located at 225 East Monroe Street.”

But just a week before the opening, this was posted by Guest Curator Robrt Pela:

The Herberger Theater Center “Art Gallery” has canceled this exhibit. The manager of the space objected to two of the pieces by one of the artists, and so — rather than seeking a solution — they canceled the entire show (without having seen any of the work by the other three artists).

I worked on this show for many months, and booked it in November of 2011. During that time, no requests were ever made by the Herberger for samples of work that would be shown. Needless to say, the artists put an enormous amount of time into creating beautiful artwork.

Welcome to Phoenix, where censorship is okay. And where corporate gallery owners apparently don’t care that artists have spent months creating art for an upcoming exhibit.”

My apologies. Please spread the word about this latest atrocity. Below, I’ve posted the two pieces of art that the Herberger bean counters objected to.”

These are the Images that garnered such offense.

[Images © Michael Thomas Ford]

Um…. why exactly were these so controversial, you ask? Well…. I honestly don’t know. Seriously, I don’t. There’s no nudity, no blood, no sexually explicit depictions, no religious mockery, no political statement, no Care Bears, no Miley Cyrus lap-dancing, in short- nothing that I would even remotely consider controversial in the slightest.

Granted, the word “Sodomite” might be a turn off for some, but it’s a pretty safe bet that word won’t initiate the verb on your person anytime soon. And I’m not alone in this opinion. A groundswell of dissent from the PAS was posted on various social media outlets mere minutes after the news of the cancellation was disseminated, and as you can imagine, it quickly rose up into a tsunami of artistic indignation.

  [Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/626964197347814/permalink/630059743704926/ ]

  A few random comments from FaceBook:

David Ira Goldstein: “This is ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. I can put 20 totally naked people on the stage of the Herberger in HAIR, who have sung a song in that show called “Sodomy”, but you can’t show these beautiful pieces?!”

Timothy Chapman: “Okay, let me get this straight. The Theater didn’t like these pieces? Maybe I’m just a workin’ painter, but aren’t they a little… oh, I don’t know… theatrical? How long do we keep having two steps backward for every one we take forward? Sorry to all the artists who have worked so hard. And to TGWSGC.” 

Julie Peterson: “I’m very crabby about this. I’m offended that the photo with the word “Sodomite” was deemed unacceptable, and I have to say I have no idea why the other one was a problem, since men are crossdressing in that building all the time in shows that are marketed to “families.” VYT’s Seussical is about to open, and if HTC feels that’s got anything to do with it maybe they should just stop having an art gallery or letting children into the theater, one or the other. Not that it would stop me.”

Jessica Jackson: “I’m not so sure why the art was considered so controversial. In any case, it’s quite a disservice to censor art that lies outside of what is currently acceptable and comfortable. Even if the space is used mainly for theatre and it’s intended demographic may have been offended by the art, which they weren’t given the chance to see, there is no excuse for not requiring or asking to see show pieces or concepts for the art this whole time, and then just deciding to cancel when the art is finally seen and deemed offensive. All that work and effort put into producing art and organizing the show is wasted. This is so disrespectful.”

Melinda Parris: “So sorry to hear of this disappointing cancellation and I hope another venue is found for the collection you’ve spent so much time curating. The works here certainly look interesting. While I enjoy a Monet flower garden very much, what really speaks to me is work that intrigues, provokes and evokes. The art that pushes our buttons in some way is the art that sticks with us and incidentally, changes the world.”

Steven J. Scally: “I acted in show at the Herberger where my character: 1. murdered someone ON STAGE, blood and all. 2. raped both female characters. 3. Verbally and physically abused everyone. 4. Masturbated on stage. 5. I was beaten to death with a baseball bat. None of that was deemed offensive? But those two works of art are? Guess they are trying to destroy art in this city.”

Given the amount of outrage that was generated, you’d think that the HTC would have a measured and thoughtful response. Once again, they lined up, took their shot, and missed completely.

The whole of their statement:
“The Herberger Theater Center has supported the rich diversity of the arts and celebrated free expression of artists throughout Arizona since its inception in 1989. Since the gallery opened in 2002, all artwork has been overseen by guest curators, including Robrt Pela, and selected by a
blind jury with the exception of a few invitational exhibits.

In all those years, we have never refused artwork based on its content. The cancellation of Prime Example was not an act of censorship, nor in any way a negative statement against any of the artists selected for the exhibit.

Mr. Pela recently decided to feature other artists instead of showcasing his own art as was the original intention of the curator exhibit . As an arts venue that caters to diverse audiences of all ages, we are not in a position to display artwork sight unseen. 

Concerns for this particular venue were expressed, but ultimately we had to make the difficult decision to cancel the exhibit.”

So how did this “official” response go over? From FB again:

Robrt Pela: “The Herberger Theater Center Art Gallery never once asked to see the work I was planning to exhibit — mine, or anyone else’s. I signed to do the September, 2013 exhibit in June of 2011. That’s more than two years to inquire, “What are you going to show in our gallery?” The images they censored were not offensive in any way, and have been widely posted on Facebook.”

Cathryn Hugger: “Too little, too late for damage control HTC. Your reputation has been tarnished. Maybe you don’t realize your actions have gone viral. The art community is in protest. I have cancelled my women’s group event to attend the lunch time theater in October and my husband has publicly withdrawn from the “Nocturne” show in protest.”

Pete Petrisko: “This statement makes no sense on face value. Pela is known as a curator, that is what he does, and he’s been doing it for some time now.


cu·ra·tor – n. One who manages or oversees.

If there was any questions on the part of Herberger, it’s had since June 2011 to ask. The fact it apparently didn’t ask in all that time, wasn’t familiar with what Pela does, and simply cancelled the show at the last minute, doesn’t speak well for its supporting the “rich diversity of the arts”.

If this truly was a miscommunication, why not let bygones be & just hang the show – since it’s ready to go? Something spooked you, Herberger. That much is clear. You do the arts community no favors with a cancellation.”

Victor Arellano:  “Los Angeles to Phoenix, GROW UP!!! I was in the very first production at the Herberger, a play called “La Vida Bruta”. It was a new work by a playwright from ASU. Back then, The Herberger Theatre Center was commited to bringing Arts and Culture to Phoenix.

This first play was chosen specifically to represent the rich Hispanic history and had some content that may have raised eyebrows. Commited to artistic freedom, even decades ago, the production was left in the hands of the creative team. The show was attended by then Governor Rose Mofford, and many luminaries from the worlds of local arts and government. There was no conflict.

Over the years, I have witnessed HTC become a host for elite, snobbish producers who rarely cast local talent. This is a slap in the face to a city on the verge of becoming a cosmopolitan metropolis.

This recent censorship in the form of cancellation of Mr. Pela’s art installation is final proof that Phoenix has grown, but not grown up. I can only think that since Arizona has become a stronghold for conservatives in an age of a progressive renaissance that politics have now infected the world of culture and the arts.

Alhough the arts can and should be used to make politcal statements in this free and great nation, politics should never be used to block the free expression of artists.

This is one more reason why I am sometimes embarrassed to claim Phoenix as my birhplace and am filled with glee that I am now a proud Angelino living in the bold, progressive incubator of artistic freedom: Los Angeles, California.

Whomever decided for the public that these works should not be seen has exercised his or her influence inappropriately and is not qualified to hold this position of power.

Again, grow up Phoenix. Otherwise your minds will remain in boxes, much like the squares, the perfect grid made by the main arterial streets and avenues that make up her neighborhoods.

That said, there are countless talented, creative people in that desert city. Whether or not this censorship succeeds, The voices of those artists and their patrons will not be silenced.

Some friendly advice from across the miles, V.A.” 

And finally, this from the originally censored Artist, Michael Ford:

“As the artist whose photographs are apparently the cause of the cancellation of this show, I invite anyone interested to visit my page and see the offending pieces.

As I was given no reason for why my photographs were deemed unsuitable for showing at the Herberger apart from “we can’t show these,” I can only speculate. I will, however, take issue with the suggestion that the powers that be didn’t know this was to be a group show.

I received my contract from the Herberger more than a month ago, so they obviously knew what was planned, even if they had yet to see the artwork itself. And why they would cancel a show after seeing only my work, and not the work of the other three artists, is a question that remains unanswered.”

At this moment, that situation remains unchanged. It’s rather obvious that HTC is attempting to spin their premature expurgation to their benefit, but it’s also fair to say that they’ve done more damage to their reputation by attempting to do so.

When you factor in that most of the evidence to support this claim against them can allegedly be proven using their own Emails sent to Robrt, It makes this Artbitch take pause and think:

“Damn, I love it when your enemies not only pave the road for you, they go that extra mile and build a Hotel with matching Casino as well. Don’t even get me started on what a great job they did with the attached restaurant- seriously, the buffet is to die for.”

But here’s the interesting part- after I spent the better part of 45 minutes reading through all of these collected Emails, (which start on 4/25/2013 and end on 8/29/2013) nowhere within do I see Laurene Austin (who is the director of Development and Marketing) express any concern about the content of the show until the 29th of August.

Let me repeat that: nowhere within do I see Laurene Austin (who is the director of Development and Marketing) express any concern about the content of the show until the 29th of August.

For those keeping score, that’s ONE week before the opening, and several months after the show was agreed upon. For someone who’s supposed to be in charge of a major Arts Venue, she comes off as sort of slipshod, doesn’t she? It never crossed her mind to pre-vet the work, or to ask for ALL the images shortly after the new show plan was presented?

Is she new at this, or did she acquire her so-called art knowledge while working the juice bar at whatever Thomas Kinkade gift shop the HTC apparently stole her away from?

NONE of the work that I’ve seen from the group represented in the show falls under the category of what one might possibly argue should normally be censored or removed. I repeat, NONE. But as I’m all about fair play, I give you this exchange from the collected Emails so you can decide for yourself:

Laurene Austin: “Hi Robrt,

To be honest with you, I have concerns about Mike Ford’s artwork.  We have a Valley Youth Theatre show in the theater for three weeks in September and there will be many children and families in attendance. 

I haven’t seen any of Mike’s work other than the “Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting” image that you sent.  But based on the titles, I’m not sure what to expect.

As you know, we are a theater first and need to be respectful of our patrons and theater companies.  We may need to pull “The Sodomite” and others depending on subject matter.

What do you suggest?

Thank you,

Robrt Pela: “I suggest that censorship is never right, and now is not the time to tell me that you may be pulling artwork from a show I’ve already promised my artist and the audience that they’ll be seeing.

Here are Mike’s images. The Sodomite is a photograph of a man’s face.


Laurene Austin: I’m sorry but we cannot display The Sodomite, The Dolls or The Motel Room.
I have been asking for images and information since April so this is not a last minute decision. 

Thank you,

Robrt Pela: “I’ve just reviewed our correspondence, and you’ve been asking me for one image, presumably to use in promotional materials. If you needed to review the artwork before agreeing to show it, you should have made that clear.

But I’m not going to argue with you people; it’s not worth my time to try to convince you how inappropriate you’re being.

You asked me for suggestions. Here’s one: Stop pretending you’re operating an art gallery. You’re not. Art galleries don’t censor art, or hire their friends who don’t know how to curate to be “curators.” Just be the lobby of a theater building, with art hanging in it.”

Laurene Austin: “Robrt,

Unfortunately, we must cancel the Prime Example exhibit.  It may well be a provocative and impactful exhibit in another space but it does not align with the balance of art forms we must achieve at the Herberger Theater.  

Thank you,

“Balance of art forms”… seriously, Laurene?

You have the possibility of featuring plays that contain vulgar language, partial to full nudity, and adult themes, but a single word is what’s going to push your clientele over the proverbial edge?

In the future, since you seemingly cannot handle art that doesn’t fit your narrow POV, I offer the following suggestions for your so-called “gallery”.

1- Cover the walls with chalkboard paint and let your clientele doodle on it. See art you don’t like? Voila- hit it with some water, and you’ll be safe and snug like a bug in a rug.

2- Convert the space into your new office. It’s not like the PAS will be giving you any work in the future, so think of all the room you can use to store office supplies. If that fails, I’d suggest installing a bouncy castle, and who doesn’t like those?

3- Still want to show art, but keep it safe for your Patrons? I suggest shopping at Kmart for some really sweet Justin Bieber posters that you can display next to your collection of his action figures.

4- Two words: Hello Kitty.
See? I can be helpful when I need to be. And as an aside, the Emails also show that you and by default- HTC, were more than aware that Robrt would be showing the work of other artists, and NOT his own. 

Now, I’m not suggesting that you’re a liar Laurene, I’m saying outright that your definition of what constitutes Truth is somewhat askew of actual Reality.

Something strikes strange here.

There’s (as I stated earlier) NO nudity, NO blood, NO sexually explicit depictions, NO religious mockery, NO political statements, NO Care Bears, NO Miley Cyrus lap-dancing, in short- nothing that I would even remotely consider controversial in the slightest- and yet, right outside the Theater’s main doors, are FOUR life size fully nude statues.

Where’s the Herberger’s concern for the community about that? Kids, I say kids- could see that, become emotionally scarred, and next thing you know… they’re juggling kittens, doing Meth, and burning down 7-11’s with their illegally acquired flame-throwers.
Hypocrisy, they name is Herberger. Thy servant, the cravenly Laurene Austin.

But hope is not lost, and once again- it comes courtesy of Travis Fields and the Arizona Artists page on FB. After hearing about the asinine and unprofessional actions of Laurene on behalf of the HTC, he was moved to create the following event as a means of protesting what he and many others in the Arts community see as an act of unmitigated and baseless censorship..

[Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/525274750885122/]

The protest will take place Thursday, September 5th on or around 2nd St and Monroe, closest to the front entrance of the HTC, and will last from 5:30pm – 7:30pm. If ever there was a time to put up or shut up, this would be it. So bring the noise, and help light the HTC up like a Christmas Tree.

Bring signs, bring righteous indignation, but more importantly- bring yourself. And if you can’t do that, please let your will be heard by contacting the following people:

Richard Bowers, President x100


Mark Mettes, Vice President x107


Leah Staten, Administrative Asst. to President, Vice President & Board of Directors


Laurene Austin, Director of Development & Marketing x105

Let them know that in the land of the free, we don’t tolerate the act of censorship.
We don’t allow the chilling of ideas.
We don’t allow restriction.

And we sure as Hell don’t allow some random (and unqualified) overseer to dictate what we create.

We wrest the intangible from the ether, and we give it form.
We will not be broken.
We will not be caged.

We will not be assigned limits.
We are Artists, the true architects of change, and we will never be denied.


So know this my HTC kittens… the army you raised is coming for you, and that right quick. 

“There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it’s going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.”- Frank Zappa
“Censorship of anything, at any time, in any place, on whatever pretense, has always been and always will be the last resort of the boob and the bigot.”- Eugene O’ Neil