Museum board member ousted amid accusations of censorship

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 6/14/19



The Bristol Art Museum’s board of directors met Wednesday and, in a vote of 8 to 1, decided to remove Vice President Alison DeKleine. The dissenting vote was Ms. …

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Museum board member ousted amid accusations of censorship


The Bristol Art Museum’s board of directors met Wednesday and, in a vote of 8 to 1, decided to remove Vice President Alison DeKleine. The dissenting vote was Ms. DeKleine’s. “Yes, I voted to keep myself on,” she said. 

On Thursday Ms. DeKleine sent out a press release asserting that she was released for rejecting censorship and advocating for “Dead Ringer,” an exhibition which opened last Friday following what she characterized as a “two week internal battle among board members over censorship that resulted in two board resignations.”

The lion’s share of controversy over “Dead Ringer” seems to stem from the inclusion of some pieces by local artist Bradley Wester, who created images of disco balls digitally inserted into found photos of British soldiers. According to Mr. Wester, “These images of soldiers, taken by the soldiers themselves, capture moments of levity, tenderness, as well as hazing rituals demeaning women and homosexuals. The interjection of the disco ball suggests unity, inclusivity, and freedom of expression.” Mr. Wester says he was told that his work was not a good fit for the Bristol Art Museum.

“I was alarmed,” he said. “Three times it was cancelled! There is no doubt that censorship is at play here,” said Mr. Wester.

“I don’t want to be affiliated with an organization that thinks censorship is ok,” said Ms. DeKleine. “It’s disheartening.”

Jane Lavender, chairwoman of the board, said Ms. DeKleine’s claims of censorship are completely false, evidenced by the fact that the show opened and remains, in its entirety, on exhibit. 

While Ms. Lavender admits that one member of the board intimately did resign because of her objections to the exhibit, the show went forward as presented by guest curator, Elizabeth Duffy.

“There are times when the decision to showcase certain works of art lead to a lively debate amongst members of the Board, especially when the content may be considered controversial by some members of the community,” Ms. Lavender said.

“ ‘Dead Ringer’ is a powerful demonstration by artists with strong messages. Their art has provoked exactly the type of discussion that art should – a community dialogue.”

Ms. Duffy released a statement in support of Ms. DeKleine, confirming that “A week before installation of the show, the board of directors tried to censor and cancel the exhibition multiple times. It is because of Alison’s clarity of vision and attention to the mission of the museum that the exhibition was mounted … I am deeply indebted to her and shocked by the board’s decision.”

Mr. Wester expressed similar shock. “I am shocked and appalled the board has forced out Alison DeKleine, vice president, and fierce defender of the freedom of artistic expression, and the only board member who fought against several attempts at canceling and censoring ‘Dead Ringer,’ ” Mr. Wester said. “The majority board of the Bristol Art Museum did exactly what the concept of this show stands against, making assumptions about my work without seeing it in person, without asking anyone for intention, meaning, and context.”

According to Ms. Lavender, Ms. DeKleine was not removed for advocating for “Dead Ringer,” but for failing to meet her fiduciary responsibility — a legal or ethical relationship of trust — as a member of the Bristol Art Museum board.

“Unfortunately, one member of our board has chosen to discuss our internal board deliberations and mischaracterize board discussions as well as the reasons why two other members have resigned,” read Ms Lavender’s statement. “The full board voted unanimously to immediately remove that board member for not working in the best interests of the museum and its membership.”

“There has been no change in the public’s access to the exhibit which will be open to the public during our usual business hours, Thursday through Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m., until July 14 as planned,” said Ms. Lavender.

“ ‘Dead Ringer’ is a powerful exhibit that encourages appreciation of the arts in line with our mission, and the exhibit and ensuing dialog is central to our goal of engaging diverse audiences with the arts of our time.”

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