The furor over nude models at the Springville Art Shop turned out to be a tempest in a teapot.
Instead of a group of residents angrily protesting the presence of undraped models in a city-leased building, Tuesday night's City Council discussion of the nude models was a virtual bohemian lovefest.In fact, the meeting's tone was so congenial and agreement among residents and city officials was so universal that some wondered why there was even a meeting at all.
In the end, the City Council consented to allow art students to continue to work with nude models in Springville, and the decision was met with little disappointment. Nearly everyone was so pleased they didn't seem to care that the City Council probably violated the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act by failing to notice on its agenda that it would discuss and vote on the nude modeling issue.
"I think the issue here is, is it art or is it pornography?" said Springville resident John Hafen. "If it's art, it's appropriate where it is."
All five members of the City Council agreed that the nude modeling, which began in Springville in 1991, is art and not pornography. Also in agreement were several dozen residents - most of them artists or art students - while only two people disagreed and called for the classes to be banned.
"I would like to know how many other government agencies hold this type of activity in a public building," said David Fuller. "I'm opposed to it being in a government facility."
The nude modeling classes, which take place every Saturday morning in a building adjacent to the Springville Museum of Art that is owned by Nebo School District and leased to the city for $1 per year, went unnoticed for seven years. Only recently, after Mayor Hal Wing asked residents if they felt the classes should continue, were a few complaints registered.
Even then, Wing said, most complaints were not about the art classes themselves but about whether it was appropriate for the city to subsidize them by allowing them in a public building.
"Drawing the human form is not smut," Wing said. "I think we all understand that."
Several residents evoked scripture or quoted LDS Church leaders to justify artists' study of the human anatomy. And many of those defending the nude modeling classes were professors, students or graduates of art programs at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University.
"I'm sending down many of my students to the nude modeling classes, which we can't do at BYU," said art instructor Bob Barksdale. "We can't teach the same things using models wearing panties or bathing suits that we can from the nude."
Artists noted that most statues, including the statue of the Angel Moroni atop the LDS Church's Salt Lake Temple, are first conceptualized nude before clothes are sculpted. Others drew laughter when they reminded the audience that God created Adam and Eve in the buff, and it was Satan who told them to cover themselves.
Some residents expressed dismay that questions about nude modeling had even been raised, especially in a town that bills itself as "Art City." Springville numbers more than 150 artists among its approximately 17,000 residents, and the city has vigorously supported various artistic endeavors for several decades.
The Springville Arts Commission sponsors the nude modeling classes so students can hone their skills, said Arts Commission member Fritz Boyer. Instructor Doyle Shaw ensures that only serious artists over age 18 are admitted and that the blinds are drawn while models pose, Boyer said. No one is allowed to talk to or touch the models.
"It's always been a very professional experience," said Patricia Hatch, who has worked as a model at the class for six years.
As for the issue of whether nude modeling should take place in a public building, the council decided that the $1 lease and the relatively small cost to provide utilities doesn't constitute much of a public subsidy of the classes. Besides, residents and council members alike said, the city has an obligation to promote art in order to improve society.
"If this is what my tax dollars go to, that's just fine," said Springville resident Carl Robinson.
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