On Monday, July 13th, the Swanton Village Trustees decided to put an abrupt end to its free arts board project, citing a recent incident between a group of local artists and one resident who repeatedly and pointedly erased their artwork. These art boards had “turned into” what several in attendance decried as being “divisive”, and “not what our quiet Vermont village is about”. Naturally, none of them would elaborate as to what exactly was the “divisive” nature of the art. Nobody wants to actually explain why they would feel this way about those paintings, lest it reflect poorly on themselves and their own prejudices. Some of them falsely attributed them to "the work of outsiders", about the most small-town Vermont expression of disdain there is.
So instead of discussing their opinions of the artwork or how they could address its repeated destruction, they chose to laser-focus on the bruised feelings of the self-appointed community artistic censor who stalked them around the clock, all to ensure any expression not to his liking would be swiftly suppressed. He happened to be in attendance to deliver a version of the confrontation that was a comically grotesque distortion to what is readily observable in a video recording.
There was no discussion about how the artists, who often worked alone, felt threatened over being effectively stalked around the clock, especially in light of their Facebook inboxes being flooded with death threats. Their latest repair of the systematic damage stood for a mere 82 minutes from its moment of completion! But the way the Village board members spoke to the purportedly “assaulted” whitewasher reflected obvious personal relationships. The local boys’ club was obviously not going to be made subject to any kind of notion of objective truth. Neither was there any mention as to how this extended media-covered kerfuffle was propelled not by artists who rejected his censorship by fixing his damage, but by the repeated pointed act of censorship itself. Those whose art kept being erased weren’t on some kind of rampage to paint every single flat surface in town that they could find. Rather, their intent was simply not to let one man’s righteous indignation supersede the freedom of expression these boards purportedly stood for. For the elderly whitewasher’s troubles, he received apologies from two Swanton Arts Council board members for his having been “assaulted”. And yet, the worst was yet to come. And that brings us to the speech of one Eugene LaBombard, one of the board members present at this regular meeting. In light of others in the room stepping over one another to express their “outrage” at the “character assassination” of a stalker-censor being called out for what he had done, he spoke of the artists in a way that reflected on his own imperviousness to irony: “These aren’t citizens of this country, are they?” Let that sink in. What does he mean? What’s the statement being made by his attacking the artists’ citizenship? Is it because some of them are local people of color, which doesn’t fit within his view of what’s good and American? Because their art reflected their own sense of angst about how their small town treats them – they don’t “know their place”? Or was it because there was a conflict involving someone they happen to know and like – conveniently ignoring that his actions were calculated and deliberate in causing this disruption? It shouldn’t even matter that this contemptible questioning of patriotism was made of two veterans of our Armed Forces. What could really be more American than, as John Lewis coined it, “good trouble”? What would make someone believe that a painting of a black hand joined with a white hand is reflective of not being an American? But the gentleman village politician couldn’t help spouting this unprompted verbal jab, along the way of deeming the artists as “disgusting” “young people” who needed to “learn” a lesson. The “young people”, Mr. LaBombard, are members of your community. They deserve an immediate apology from someone who - by virtue of the position he occupies – should really know better. Else, he needs to take a long look in the mirror and reflect on the actual virtues at the foundation of being a good Citizen of these United States – on the way to resigning his office.