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Much ado about wearing nothing at Columbia arts festival Future shows may not go on like this, art organizers say


The Columbia Festival of the Arts' First Annual Visual Arts Competition may also be the last, at least as presently constituted.

The multimedia art show, which opened at the Columbia Mall Monday, has run into controversy over its banning of nudes. And it has been scaled back from a four-week to a two-week show (closing June 22) because the mall needs to reclaim the space to prepare it for a new tenant.

As a result of these problems, both the show's organizer, Wendy Bush Hackney, and the festival's managing director, Lynne Nemeth, have indicated a show under the same conditions will not be back next year.

Controversy erupted after the New Arts Alliance, a non-profit organization coordinating the art show, asked the mall to house the show because other Columbia spaces for showing art could not accommodate the 73-work exhibit, according to Hackney. Acting at the request of mall management, the show's rules carried content restrictions on nudity, obscenity and violence.

Artist and art teacher Eric Miller, a scheduled juror, resigned over the restrictions. Many area artists decided not to enter, according to Jim Opasik, president of the Maryland Chapter of Artists Equity, and the chapter sent Hackney a "letter of concern."

Festival director Nemeth said that she would not have a show with restrictions in the future, because in the publicity aroused by the controversy "a complete picture was not painted of what the festival is and does." The 11-day festival includes music, theater, dance, art and workshops.

The mall originally offered space for hanging the show around the perimeter of an automobile showroom. When that was deemed inappropriate, the mall offered the present location, on the upper level not far from Hecht's department store, but it was available for only two weeks. Hackney said she would "never" plan another show at the mall because of space uncertainty.

Both Nemeth and Hackney, however, expressed hope that future festivals could include art shows in a space where this year's problems would not arise.

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