The flap that arose in June over the banning of nudes in an art exhibit at the Columbia Festival of the Arts appeared to have ended silently.

But to the Howard County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, it's not a dead issue yet.

In July, members of the local ACLU chapter met with representatives from the Rouse Co. to discuss concerns about restrictions on the New Arts Alliance exhibit at The Mall in Columbia during the festival.Rouse, which manages the mall, asked that the exhibit exclude any work depicting nudity, obscenity or violence.

The restrictions also were applied to a second exhibit that wanted to lease space from Rouse during the festival. That group eventually settled for a less-favorable exhibit site where Rouse's restrictions were less severe.

In contrast to the controversy generated over the New Arts Alliance exhibit, the restrictions on the second exhibit went almost unnoticed.

The ACLU is pursuing Rouse's policy toward art exhibits because the group considers it censorship.

"I think they could be a little less uptight about the whole thing," said Kenneth Stevens, coordinator of the local ACLU.

Stevens said he called the July meeting with Rouse to find out if the company had a policy addressing art exhibits and to offer suggestions on how to avoid future controversies.

He said he left the meeting with the impression that Rouse would respond to the group's requests within a couple of weeks.

More than six weeks later, the ACLU says there has been no word from Rouse.

"Their failure to respond would indicate they just want the thing to go away," said Martin Ruther, an ACLU member who attended the meeting.

"Our position is, why don't you just set up a review board to handle these touchy issues?" Ruther said.

Rouse vice president and directorof corporate public affairs Cathy Lickteig said the company plans tomeet with the ACLU again as soon as it has reached a decision.

"We have every intention of getting back to them, but need to take timeto formulate our response and think it through," said Lickteig.

Lickteig said that exhibiting art in malls is a thorny issue.

"The nature of our business is to provide an environment that's conducive to family shopping," Lickteig said.

The banning of certain works from the New Arts Alliance exhibit drew criticism from local artists and stirred up a controversy during the festival. One of the show's judges resigned to protest the restrictions.

The other exhibit that bowed to Rouse's restrictions, a privately organized show called "Signature Works," featured the works of 17 local artists and was displayed in a space at 10 Corporate Center on Little Patuxent Parkway.

The site was not the first choice of Felicia Belair-Rigdon, the show'scurator. She had hoped to lease an exhibit space in a building on Columbia's downtown lakefront, a site with much more foot traffic.

When Rouse told Belair-Rigdon that the restrictions on the exhibit in the mall also would apply to her exhibit at the lakefront site, she decided to move it to the space at 10 Corporate Center.

The less-desirable site was more removed from the downtown area and wasn't restriction-free, either. At Rouse's request, nude works could not be hungin or near a window.

"I think any artist would have preferred thelakefront," said Belair-Rigdon. "We want an audience as much as a performer, if not more, because our opportunities are fewer to exhibit as a group for the community."

Well-known local artist Jim Adkins was disappointed that his charcoal drawings of studio nudes had to behidden from public view in the Signature Works exhibit.

"I think what we had in this case was management-type people just worrying about protecting their image and trying to avoid a complaint," Adkins said. "They shouldn't be deciding what is art and what isn't."

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