JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Alvin Brown said Tuesday he will not pull the city's $233,000 grant to the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville over an objection to its display of a photo of a nude pregnant woman.
Brown's decision, spelled out in a letter to City Council President Clay Yarborough, comes after the city's Office of General Council issued an opinion that rescinding the grant "would likely violate First Amendment rights and could subject the city to injunctive action and financial sanctions."
Yarborough wrote to Brown's chief of staff one week ago, describing it as an "inappropriate, pornographic display."
"I don't think it's pornography. Everyone will have their own opinion, but I don't think it's pornography," Brown said Tuesday. "It's contemporary art."
Jason Gabriel, of the general council's office, wrote:
"The case law is very clear that the city cannot rescind funding for a museum, refuse to renew its lease, or otherwise sanction it based on artwork it may deem offensive. To do so would violate the museum's (and possibly the artist's) free speech rights and injunctive relief against the City would be highly likely, as well as accompanying attorneys' fees."
Gabriel went on to write: "The City could respectfully request that the art piece be moved or obscured from general public view, but if the museum refuses, pertinent case law would prevent the City from sanctioning the museum for its actions regarding protected activity."
Brown ended his note to Yarborough on a conciliatory note:
"I am hopeful that we can put this issue behind us so that the city can continue working with the arts and cultural community to revitalize downtown, enhance our quality of life and make Jacksonville a vibrant destination," Brown wrote to Yarborough.