A Tale of Investigative Journalism
I really wasn’t supposed to take any articles other than Opinion’s pieces at my school’s newspaper, The Poly Post, this quarter, but one of the other writers had nudged me to pick up a small Lifestyle piece on a LGBTQ themed art gallery. I figured that I would take the extra story along with the Opinion’s piece that I already had. My classes weren’t giving as much work as they normally would have and so I left the meeting with my digital recorder and note pad in tow.
I walked into the Bronco Student Center on campus searching for the art gallery that I believed was to be held in room 2325. “Now, Then, and Always” was supposed to be “an informative atmosphere of respectability, inclusivity, and support of the lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersexual, and ally community,” and I couldn’t help feeling excited to see a room filled with its beautiful and artistic representations from Cal Poly Pomona students.
I must have walked around the entire top floor of the Bronco Student Center passing a small hallway displaying some artwork five different times before I stopped and asked for directions. I knew that I had to have been close seeing as there were a few pieces out in the hallway by the Blood Drive that was going on, but when I did manage to ask someone in the Associated Student Incorporated office for help and I was surprised to find out that that the hallway I had passed so many times was the gallery.
I was a bit confused. Why was the art gallery confined to a dark and unnoticeable hallway? But I brushed the thought aside and blamed it on budgetary issues instead. It wasn’t until I had gained a rapport with one of the artists from the show that she let me in on a little secret.
She had told me that the exhibit was originally displayed along the walls of the more visible lounging area right in front of the huge Ursa Major Suite in the BSC for a day and a half before it was moved to the hallway next to the atrium.
“We were all excited when we were turning in our work because [the exhibit] was supposed to be where every art piece usually is, but then they mentioned putting up a sign that said ‘viewer discretion is advised’ by the art work which gives it a really negative connotation,” said fifth year Gender, Ethnicity and Multicultural Studies major, Cynthia Velásquez.
I was shocked and appalled. I had seen the exhibit and the paintings weren’t crude like the signs posted had suggested. The group of artists was asked to move the LGBTQ inspired art exhibit into a more discreet area because of a problem with nudity and violence.
The move instead ironically hid some of the gallery pieces that were also intended to display a representation of all the issues that the community has to go through. And even so the fine art pieces itself still managed to use brilliant colors and images to invoke thought, conversation, and understanding amongst controversy.
One piece by Velásquez herself retained an array of luminous colors sculpting the stunningly realistic nude bodies of two lovers entwined. The painting, “Fluidity of Bodies,” highlighted a connection between two women of color embracing their bodies in a beautifully simple appreciation.
Here we were on a publicly funded college campus filled with of age individuals who were in pursuit of higher education and this blatant act of discrimination happens. Needless to say my small Lifestyle piece turned into a higher profile hard news story. And I was excited to tell it.
My investigation led me through a series of anonymous tips and dead ends. I had calls and emails telling me that someone higher up in power had something to do with this. I had suggestions that an uptight Christian group had it moved. But the most disturbing of tips was the one which suggested that the president of Cal Poly Pomona, Michael Ortiz, had something to do with the gallery being moved because he didn’t want it visible when people from the fall conference walked by.
The story had grown out of control and I had hit something big. “Talking about this issue pretty much helps everyone out regardless of race, gender, sexuality or what have you because this could have happened in any other cultural/social group,” I had said to Velásquez in an email during the exchanging of information about the heated story. I felt the upmost thankfulness and appreciation radiate from all of the artists and the LGBTQ community for taking this story with time and consideration and I wanted to tell this important story correctly.
Then as quickly as it all began, everything came to a halt. No one was telling me the facts and I was left groveling on the ground for the truth. I contacted President Ortiz and he conveniently was going out of town and was booked solid up till then, and none of the artists could pin point a name or group that told them to move the gallery. They kept telling me that some mysterious person higher up was involved and that no one knew for sure. That was until I interviewed Eduardo Zermeno and Lindsey Gabel.
The two participating artists told me that Vice President of Cal Poly, Douglas Freer, had instructed them to move the art exhibit. I quickly called and set up an appointment with his secretary. I ended up sitting in his office by the middle of that week holding my tape recorder so I could capture every word that slipped out of his mouth.
Freer notified me that the BSC was a public building and that there were children and high school students who were minors walking around in the gallery space. He told me that it was his decision ultimately to move the gallery and censor the art work. I found out through a process of elimination and awkward emails that President Ortiz might have exchanged the comment board in the gallery space for a comment box, a tip given through a chain of people to the Poly Post, but it was never confirmed because Ortiz was out of town and the tipster didn’t want to step forward and possibly lose her job. Freer had covered his bases by telling me that they were always advocating free speech, but in my opinion moving the exhibit into a dark hallway was just barely squeezing in the rights of the artists in this situation.
Ultimately the responsibility to notify the entire community of what they were about to see (like a movie or a video game rating) led to the moving of the art exhibit despite offending some of the artists in the process and the response to the individuals who were offended by the art work.
The thing is that the nudity in the exhibit wasn’t crude or offensive like it was said to be when it was quickly moved to the hallway. The tasteful pieces that were collected with the help of Professor Ann Phong from the Art department, and that were wonderfully created by the small group of talented artists were intelligently crafted to express a representation of their sexuality and not just random nude bodies on the walls.
What really nailed the point home was the statement that I took from Professor Phong. This issue shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place. The gallery displayed FINE ART not porn, and the people offended by the LGBTQ themed art exhibit were really the problem in the first place.
“It’s not the gallery it’s the viewer. In general our viewer in America is so influenced by commercial art that appeals to [them] so that they can buy the product,” said Professor Ann Phong of the Fine Arts Department. “The gallery is supposed to exhibit fine art, and fine art is supposed to be able to express something and they are not supposed to be promoting or selling anything. Moving the show won’t help this problem in the future, the viewer will still be confused with commercial art and fine art. In other countries like Europe you can go to the Cathedrals and see nudity on the ceiling right in the Sistine Chapel. And this artwork could be straight or it could be gay and it doesn’t matter because it’s just there for the people to enjoy, and I guess here they’re not ready for that.”