Carnegie Mellon University
October 17, 2013

Media Advisory: Carnegie Mellon's Center for Arts in Society To Host Lecture on Performance Art and Censorship

Contact: Shilo Rea / 412-268-6094 /

Event: Carnegie Mellon University's Center for the Arts in Society (CAS) will host Lisa A. Freeman for a lecture on performance art and censorship.

Freeman, associate professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, will present "Adjudicating Bodies in Public in NEA v. Finley," in which she will discuss the 1990 controversy involving four performance artists whose National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grants were revoked because their projects were found to violate the agency's newly adopted "decency and respect" clause. The amendment to the NEA's grant approval process required the NEA chairperson to only reward grant applications that "take into consideration general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public."

The four artists — Karen Finley, John Fleck, Holly Hughes and Tim Miller — filed a lawsuit challenging the amendment, and the U.S. Supreme Court eventually decided the case in favor of the NEA.

"While this event played out in the 1990s, it offers a springboard for reflecting on and understanding how we speak — and think — about public performances that raise controversies in our community and force us to move past glib oppositions like 'free speech' versus 'decency,'" said Kristina Straub, professor of English in CMU's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Freeman specializes in 18th century literature and culture as well as in drama and performance studies. Her current project focuses on "antitheatricality" and censorship from the Renaissance to present-day America.

"Lisa Freeman's talk will be an invaluable opportunity for us to consider issues surrounding freedom of expression from a different vantage point, one that is both historically informed and critically engaged. It will also inaugurate a series of performance-related events and projects that Kristina Straub and Wendy Arons, associate professor of dramatic literature, will be organizing in the near future under the aegis of the center," said CAS Director Paul Eiss.

The CAS is a research center in the Dietrich College and College of Fine Arts that investigates the role of arts in societies. 

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When: 4:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 31

Where: Porter Hall 100, Carnegie Mellon University

Cost: Free and open to the public.