G-strings on nude models in University of Utah art classes? Pasties on modern dancers or actors on stage?
In an effort to put some clothes on nude striptease dancers in South Salt Lake, Rep. Ronald Greensides, D-Salt Lake, wants to outlaw public nudity in Utah - with potential consequences to university art classes, plays like "Oh, Calcutta!" and modern dance revues.Under the provisions of HB175, any and all displays of nudity in public places would be classified as lewdness, a Class B misdemeanor.
The legislation is targeted primarily at South Salt Lake clubs that feature totally nude dancers. But Greensides said the restrictions also would extend to university art courses where students routinely draw or paint nude models, nudist camps, plays, exhibitions and other forms of entertainment.
"It is not a bill to ban nude dancing," he said. "It's a bill restricting nudity. Utah currently has no restriction on nudity."
Greensides said the bill brings Utah up to national standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court in a nude-dancing case originating out of Indiana. The court held that states and municipalities could regulate public nudity.
Greensides said nude dance clubs "are causing serious problems" and are "fronts for prostitution." The city is currently processing "many" complaints against the businesses, which he said are "now moving into other communities."
South Salt Lake Police Lt. Jim Foster said clubs that feature nude dancing aren't the places where police officers typically find prostitutes.
"What we're having problems with, and what I'd like to see eliminated, are `private sessions,' " he said referring to businesses that offer private lingerie or dancing sessions. "We know a lot of them are fronts for prostitution."
Foster doesn't feel the proposed law will achieve its goal. "I know what they're getting at, but I don't know that this is going to do the job. Not that it's necessarily tough to enforce. It's what they're going to resort to, to counter this ordinance, that's the problem. They're always coming up with something to counter the law."
The broad reach of the legislation is troublesome to Utah's arts community. "It may have a chilling effect (on the performing arts)," said Shirley Florence, public information officer for the Utah Arts Council.
Robert Oltin, dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Utah, said such a ban "would seriously harm" the university's life drawing classes.
"That is what is done in life drawing, draw the human form" in the nude, says Oltin. "This is how professionals are trained. This is how we work. I can't more seriously emphasize how much it would harm this part of our program."
Oltin said it would not be possible to adequately teach the course - which has from one to three sections each quarter - by having students draw models with clothes on, or draw from nude statues or pictures.
"I don't know if it would be constitutional" to prohibit nude models in art classes, he said. "Certainly, there is a great difference in someone walking in off the streets (to watch nude dancing) and a serious student paying for an upper division class in life drawing. There's no connection at all and shouldn't be."
The bill also would prohibit popular musicals like "Oh, Calcutta!" and "Hair," which include some nude scenes.
"It's outrageous, an obscenity," said Steve Boulay, a performing arts promoter with the Salt Lake-based Space Agency. "People have a choice whether or not to attend an arts presentation. As long as they are informed, it is their choice to attend."
Boulay said the success of recent productions of "Les Miserables" has bolstered Utah's reputation as a progressive arts community.
"Having a law like that would make people laugh at Utah and defeat everything that has been achieved to this point," he said. "It would serve no purpose. There's a difference between nudity and pornography. Nudity is art, and art is beautiful."
Currently, the hottest Broadway show is "Will Rogers Follies," which has a brief scene with topless women. "They would not drop the scene," Boulay said. "They'd just skip Utah."
Steve Cook, an attorney that represents most of Utah's nude dancing establishments, says the proposed legislation is "patently unconstitutional" and said the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that nudity with artistic value is a protected expression of free speech.
"What my clients do is artistic nudity," he said, "and as such is protected under the state and U.S. constitutions."
Under HB175, female genitals, buttocks and breasts would have to be covered "with less than a fully opaque covering," as would male genitals. Public place is defined as any place to which the "public or a substantial group of the public" has access, including businesses and private clubs.Comment on this story
South Salt Lake has spent more than $1 million trying to control nude dancing, Greensides said, "and they don't have the resources to fight it."
Activities that could be prohibited would include "entertaining or performing a play, exhibition, show or entertainment."
"The U. students in the art classes will be upset. The nudist groups will be upset. But the amendment applies to everybody, as it should," Greensides said.
A similar bill was killed in committee last year.
Staff writer Amy Donaldson contributed to this report.