What price art?

Unfortunate son

The heat, they say, can make you crazy. (That’s not exactly how “they” say it, but the technical med terms will drive your already steamin’ grey matter right into meltdown). Maybe that explains the recent rash of free-expression faux pas.

First, an incident that surely would make the Defenders of the Alamo roll over in their hastily dug graves: The harassment and ticketing July 12 of disabled vet Tom Bell, who believes strongly enough in universal health coverage that he was standing on Alamo Plaza wearing a sandwich board, handing out fliers.

“This is not a San Antonio program, this is not a Texas program,” Bell says of the U.S. Universal Health Insurance Act he was pamphleteering for. “This is for every state in the United States. The Alamo has people from all over the country that need to be aware of what this program is so they can support it.”

He cleared his very American activity with the Park Police, he says, but that didn’t stop the SAPD from handing him an August 12 court date for “Aggressive Solicitation” — even after another Park officer came by and testified to one Officer Alvarado that Bell did indeed have permission to exercise his First Amendment rights. Wondering where/when you can still speak truth to power (or at least the tourists from Omaha) unmolested by the wo/men in blue? Check out our down-’n’dirty FA facts.

(Maybe the subliminal message here is “Let McManus swallow up the Park Police or the Constitution gets it!” Want to weigh in on the issue? Sign up at Citizens to be Heard at this Monday’s Parks Board meeting: 5:30 p.m. at the Lion’s Field Senior Center, 2809 Broadway.)


Curtain call

Just ahead of that discouraging bit of business, two local arts flagships invoked City arts funding to interrupt politically controversial programming.

At San Pedro Playhouse, the final, Independence weekend performances of Among the Sand and Smog — a hardcore play about the disappearance and murders of the women of Juarez (& reviewed favorably by yours truly) — were canceled, further upsetting cast members already outraged that management had shut down the informal audience talk-backs they were hosting after the show.

Earlier in the run, the cast was informed via a letter from Executive Director Di Ann Sneed, read by the stage manager, that Sneed had decided not to hold formal talk-backs because of difficulties with the production. The same document said that City funding prohibited the Playhouse from sponsoring the sort of political discussions the cast had held on its own with audience members.

At around much the same time across town, Gemini Ink was regretfully declining the services of poet and Native-American activist Margo Tamez, whose name you’ll recognize from the Current’s border-wall series (online at murodelodio.com). “Our executive director has brought it to my attention that we need to be sure we are not making a political statement in this description, as our City-funded contract does not allow us to do so,” Gemini’s Amy Johnson wrote Tamez. Tamez declined to back down from her intent to teach a “poetry of witness, resistance and dissidence against militarization, war, and the wall ...” as she put it in an email to local activists, and the workshop was nixed.

Would such a class, or a politically oriented audience dialogue, cost these groups their substantial City stipends?

Amy Kastely, lead attorney for the plaintiffs in Esperanza v. City of San Antonio, Esperanza’s successful suit against the councilmembers who tried to defund the arts organization in the mid-’90s because of its lefty bent, says it’s unlikely. “The City doesn’t have to provide arts funding,” says Kastely, “but once they decide to, and put procedures in place, they can’t make determinations within that process based on the political viewpoint of the applicants.”

Felix Padrón, executive director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, which administers City arts funds, adds that federal non-profit regs make political campaigning a no-no, but “we don’t  put restrictions on content or participate in censorship when it comes to artistic content.”

Neither the Playhouse nor Gemini called OCA for guidance, perhaps because funding was a red herring.

Some of the cast of Sand and Smog had already clashed with Playhouse management over pushing back the opening date a week and replacing an unprepared cast member, and emails between the house and the performers reveal a fundamental difference in philosophy over how much say the cast should have in decisions about the production.

Rosemary Catacalos, the Gemini executive director referred to in Johnson’s email, says Johnson is relatively new to the job and didn’t precisely interpret her concern, but in any event, the real problem is that Tamez’s course description was too one-sided. “She sent a class description that was literally not an invitation to people who do not think like she does,” said Catacalos. “The issue is not the political stance; the issue is when you have a political stance, make it clear other people can participate as well.”

Get more of both sides in Curblog, online at sacurrent.com.