The MySpace bulletin boards are abuzz today with word that artist Marc Arevalo's FotoSeptiembre exhibit at Joe Blue's, a bar in the Blue Star Arts Complex, was cancelled because owner Joey Villarreal objected to the content of the photographs. Arevalo said Villarreal told him that he was afraid the images, some of which feature Arevalos's boyfriend Ryan Whittington in Victorian-style makeup and costume, would encourage a gay clientele -- drag queens in particular.
"What upset me more was what he said, that 'I don't want those kind of people hanging around here,'" said Arevalo.
At least two MySpace bulletins circulated today with similar versions of the event, which took place the afternoon of September 7, not long before the show was scheduled to open along with dozens of other First Friday exhibits. "`Joey` tells Marc, 'I don't want these images hanging in my bar ... they look like drag queens and I don't want to encourage that kind of clientele in my bar,'" read a post from artist and curator Lili Pena Dyer, who was standing with Arevalo when Villarreal confronted him.
Villarreal says it's all a misunderstanding, that he's simply trying to run a bar that appeals to a wide range of customers rather than a specific niche. "I don't choose to do 'sports bar.' I don't choose to do Country & Western bar.'" Arevalo's work he said, "might give an impression that we cater mostly to homosexuals."
Alicia Spence Alvarez, marketing director for parent company Joey's Inc., said that the issue is really about the need to show non-controversial work in a commercial setting. "In general it's got to appeal to everybody," she said.
The show was curated by artist Dayna DeHoyos, who runs Stella Haus in the Blue Star complex (although, she emphasized, the Joe Blue's agreement is separate from her gallery). DeHoyos appears in some of the photographs with Whittington, and she said, she thought they fit the criteria specified by Joe Blue's. "My guidelines were, nothing pornographic, nothing vulgar, nothing sexual, nothing inappropriate for children," said DeHoyos, who wasn't present when Villarreal objected to the installation. "I felt I followed all the guidelines, and I feel badly for Marc." But she said, it's Villarreal's establishment. "All I could do is respect the owner's wishes."
Alvarez insists that Villarreal is not opposed to an LGBT clientele. "It's not that he doesn't want gay people to come in," she said. "That's not it at all."
A good thing, since as Arevalo and Whittington point out, Villarreal's establishments -- Joey's on North St. Mary's, and Joe Blue's and Blue Star Brewery -- are located in areas frequented by artists, many of whom are gay, lesbian, bi, or transgendered. The Blue Star Arts Complex was co-founded by Hap Veltman, one of downtown's most-revered visionaries -- and a gay man.
"If I didn't like that, I wouldn't be in this area," said Villarreal. "I want anybody to come in. I don't care what your sexual preference is, period."
Did he object to the images because they might encourage cross-dressers or transvestites?
"I might have said that," said Villarreal, "but that's not what I really wanted to say."
Unfortunately, it's what Arevalo says he heard. "So fine, he can't have our money, either."