This Friday, the Tom of Finland Foundation will open its 17th annual exhibition of erotic art in Plummer Park. As in times past, the West Hollywood City Council has voted to underwrite the exhibition by waiving the $1,800 fee it usually charges organizations to use park facilities. Mayor Jeffrey Prang will speak at the official opening of the event at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Fiesta Hall. And later Saturday night there will be what the Foundation describes in its exhibit marketing materials as “a big, throbbing private, play party intended to inspire action in the deepest depths of your inner artists.” Tickets are $35 and include access to what the Foundation says is “a Full BDSM Playroom – St. Andrews Crosses, Slings, Suspension Rig, P-tub, and dark corners everywhere. Clothes Check, DJ Video and Beverage Bar … Condoms, Gloves, and Pads provided.”
A couple of Plummer Park area residents have spoken out against the City’s decision to let the Foundation stage the erotic art exhibit in the park. They argue that West Hollywood Park, closer to the gay heart of the city, would be a more appropriate place. Last year, similar objections were raised by members of the city’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission, whose decision to not endorse the event was overridden by the City Council.
One can debate the appropriateness of “erotic art” and the exhibit’s location. But why is no one asking this question: Is it appropriate for the City of West Hollywood to endorse, by waiving a park fee and sending the mayor to speak, an event that includes a sex party as a major feature?
I think not.
Let me make clear that I am a gay man who believes consenting adults should be free to express themselves sexually however they choose. And I’m not troubled that the City is underwriting an exhibit of homoerotic art (an exhibit which I have attended in the past). After all, the city sponsors numerous arts events appealing to diverse audiences. But the City Council, by unanimously approving the underwriting of an event marketed like this one, and the mayor, by speaking at it, are tacitly investing West Hollywood’s most valuable currency — its reputation — in a sex party. The Council thus risks damaging West Hollywood’s reputation as a city of sophistication and culture. Worse, it risks rending the fragile fabric of tolerance that binds the various communities of this wonderfully diverse city.
A homoerotic art exhibit in the one city park known as a gathering place for the city’s overwhelmingly heterosexual and elderly Eastern European Jews? An exhibit whose major celebratory event is an S&M sex party?
Curious to hear what you think, citizens of WEHOville. Should the City of West Hollywood be supporting, however remotely, an S&M sex party?
Henry (Hank) Scott
For a full viewing of the Tom of Finland ad, click the photo below: