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Americans for the Arts Joins Federal Amicus Brief in Support of Free Speech Rights of Congressional Art Competition Student Artist

Posted on: Jan 18, 2018

On January 5, 2018, Americans for the Arts joined 17 national, state, and local arts service organizations as amicus curiae in the Pulphus v. Ayers case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, urging reversal of a ruling that permitted Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers to remove a painting by St. Louis high school student David Pulphus from a Congressional Art Competition exhibit at the U.S. Capitol. Left unchallenged, this case could create bad legal precedence for many local and state arts or education agencies that install temporary art exhibits in government buildings. For further details from Arts Action Fund Executive Director Nina Ozlu Tunceli, visit Americans for the Arts' ARTSBlog.

The painting, pictured below, depicts a civil rights demonstration, and was selected in the 2016 Congressional Art Compeittion to hang in the highly-trafficked Cannon House Office Building tunnel in the Capitol. When several Congressmen argued that the artwork painted law enforcement in a negative light, the Architect of the capitol removed it from the Capitol. Proponents of this action note that the rules of the Congressional Art Competition state, "exhibits depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature are not allowed." The amicus brief, which supports Mr. Pulphus, argues that these rules are unconstitutionally vague, require subjective judgments, and were applied inconsistently and as a pretext to chill core political speech. Furthermore, the brief makes a distinction between commissioned art and entries in a student arts competition, and points out that in the case of the latter, the government is not making a statement of any kind.

The date for the argument has not been set at this time.