NORTH OGDEN -- Tempers flared Saturday afternoon at the North Ogden Arts Festival when local artist and Weber State University professor Steve Stones got some strange looks and comments over his art display.
One of his pieces on display includes the words "Monster Sex Fiend" along the top of the artwork, that is intended to resemble an old-time movie poster. He has shown the piece at other art shows and even showed it at the North Ogden festival last year, but this year, some people were offended by the word "sex" on the art.
The North Ogden Civic League, a service group, sponsors the festival every year and donates proceeds from the festival to city projects. Stones said several members of the Civic League strolled by his art, looked at the piece and walked away. A few minutes later, he was approached by Diane Russell, the festival organizer this year.
"She told me I was going to have to take it down," Stones said of the artwork. He recalls that she got very emotional and told him that in North Ogden there are certain community standards that need to be upheld.
He asked if he should put the art inside the canopy, and she agreed it would be a good idea.
He started to do so and then was counseled by his girlfriend that he should "stick to his guns." He then put the art back outside the canopy and covered the word "sex" with a white piece of paper that said, "Censored."
Russell said she doesn't remember that she asked him to move the art, but they agreed putting it inside the canopy would be a good idea. As the conversation about the artwork got more heated, she said, another woman walked up and he told her he was being censored.
"When he said that, I just walked away, because I was in no way trying to censor his art," Russell said. The reason she approached him was that other artists around his booth were complaining about the art and the word "sex."
"I didn't even see it until I looked closely at it," Russell said. She said she didn't necessarily have a problem with the art but was trying to make others happy.
She said another artist who had some suggestive paintings offered to move them inside of the canopy so the works were not in clear view of all passersby.
Stones is frustrated by the incident, because he feels art is an expression and a way to stretch people. He received several comments about his art once he put the piece of paper up, and noticed he got more attention because of the "censored" statement.
Russell said she didn't walk by his display for the rest of the day.
Stones doesn't know if he will participate in the North Ogden festival again, because he didn't believe that he did as well this year as in years past.
"I didn't even make up my entry fee," he said. Stones did win a juried award for another piece of art, however. He said he could understand the complaints if he had gone through any kind of strict screening prior to the festival about what can or what can't be shown, as he has had to do in other festivals.
Russell said the civic league hasn't made a strict set of guidelines, because it wanted to keep the festival open to all, and she still plans to proceed in that fashion.
"We do this as a fundraiser to do good things, and we want to keep doing that," Russell said. She feels bad about the disagreement and wishes it wouldn't have occurred.
"It just takes the glow off of a good experience," she said, referring to the entire festival, which she deemed to be one of the most successful of the festivals held over the past five years. She believes Stones got defensive quickly and things escalated beyond where they needed to go.
"Maybe I was a bit belligerent, too, but who gets to censor the censors?" Stones said of the experience.
Russell said, "The Civic League did not censor him in any way. We just passed on the news that other people were uncomfortable."