Actress Jane Alexander, playwright Wendy Wasserstein, set designer Ming Cho Lee and other theatrical talents spoke at on Oct. 1 rally protesting New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's threat to withdraw city monies from and possibly evict the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
The rally, which took place outside the museum from 5 PM to 7 PM, drew several hundred people, many carrying anti-Giuliani signs and placards. Alexander, who fought more than her share of battle over government funding of the arts, albeit on a federal level, as chair of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1993 to 1997, was among the first to speak.
Wasserstein, the author of such plays as The Heidi Chronicles and An American Daughter, grew up in the neighborhood surrounding the museum. She said the BMA was where she "learned what it was to become an artist," and proclaimed that "Giuliani is bad for the soul of this city."
Famed set designer Ming Cho Lee, in an impassioned speech, chastised the city's theatres and the New York City theatrical community in general for not speaking out more vocally in support of the museum.
Also on hand were film actress Susan Sarandon, artist Chuck Close and author Paul Auster. The controversy, which has brought the usually staid BMA an unprecedented amount of attention, began when Giuliani expressed his displeasure with "Sensation," a show of contemporary British art which officially opened at the BMA on Oct. 2. He labeled the exhibit "sick stuff" and objected in particular to an artwork in which an artistic rendering of the Virgin Mary was adorned with a clump of elephant dung.
The mayor has threatened to withdraw city funding to the BMA -- fully one third of the institution's multi-million dollar budget -- unless the art show was closed. He further stated that, by requiring that children under 17 be accompanied by an adult, the exhibit violated the museum's charter with the city and he would therefore remove the BMA from its Neo classical home, a city-owned building.
Since negotiations earlier this week went sour, the museum has stood firm, pledging to go ahead with "Sensation." Furthermore, on Sept. 28, the BMA announced that it would sue the city, and seek a court order saying the mayor "may not inflict any punishment, retaliation or sanction of any kind" against the institution for presenting the show.
--By Robert Simonson