Ban on Cameras Could Stop Sex Workers' Art Show at W & M
Performers Routinely Record Shows to Protect Themselves From Obscenity Charges
Posted Feb 01st, 2008 02:54 PM by Peter Warren
- The Sex Workers' Art Show scheduled to make its third visit Monday to the College of William and Mary could face last-minute cancellation due to a sticking point in the performance contract banning cameras during the show.
The Daily Press
reports that the contract offered to the show by college administrators for space at the campus' Commonwealth Auditorium contains a provision prohibiting photography or video recording of the show by media, the audience or the performers.
The last part is the main point of contention, as the group regularly records its entire program for defense against any claims of obscenity.
"They're wary of entering into an agreement too quickly because they don't have lawyers," said Constance Sisk, one of the students coordinating the show's appearance. "They haven't had legal problems in the past."
University spokesman Brian Whitson said the contract was crafted with guidance from state attorney general Bob McDonnell's office, and was designed to limit the college's liability should footage from the show be posted online and accessed by minors.
But William Van Alstyne, a university law professor and prominent First Amendment expert, said the show is exempt from state obscenity laws because it is taking place at a university and offers "an ideological message."
"To ask that they waive that," Van Alstyne said, "is completely unprincipled."
Furthermore, cameras were permitted at the event last year, and Whitson conceded that he knew of no other campus performance from which cameras were barred.
This road bump comes just days after university president Gene Nichol gave clearance
for the show to be presented on the W & M campus against his own objections, on grounds that "censorship has no place at a great university."
The show has created a storm of controversy on the campus, meanwhile, with dozens of students turning out Thursday night for a panel discussion on whether it should be held there.
The overwhelming majority of those who attended the panel were in support of the show, but a few did voice opposition to it, occasionally turning other audience members combative because of so.
Brooks Amster, a sophomore, said he found it "utterly ridiculous" that university money would be spent on bringing the show to campus when the school is facing a drop in state funding.
"It says a lot about where our priorities are when we go and spend money on pornography," Amster said.
Panelist Walter McClean, a junior and chairman of the student Senate Finance Committee, explained that the student senate is bound by legal precedent to partially fund the show, but asked for far below the normal amount of 80 percent of the show's costs from student fees in this case.
McClain noted further that, "If we had rejected it on ideological grounds, we'd be opening up William and Mary to multimillion dollar lawsuits, and that would be a very big loss of funds, too."