Shopping malls are used for so much these days, from Girl Scout encampments to organized exercise walking. Malls are even tourist attractions: Water Tower Place in Chicago, Union Station in Indianapolis, Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco, Harborplace in Baltimore.
Can we reasonably expect malls to function as art galleries? This year, the Columbia Festival of the Arts added a visual arts component, arranging for an exhibit at the Columbia Mall. The Rouse Co., which runs the mall, decided to place restrictions on art "which explores human forms in the nude whether they are sexually explicit or not; which has obscene writings or images; that suggests the use of violent behavior." Some called it censorship. Some called it a sensible precaution by a business organization to avoid affronting someone coming to Sears to buy a new hammer.
The Rouse Co. was somewhat apologetic. "We don't support censorship of art as a policy, but we really feel we need to be sensitive to the concerns of our customers," said Danielle Morgenthaler, director of sales and marketing for the mall. The show's organizers were somewhat defensive. "We have a long way to go before the people in this community [in Howard County] can look at art objectively. They have to be introduced to it in a way that's safe for them," said artist and show organizer Wendy B. Hackney. How's that for condescension?