Sunday, August 20, 2000

Group comes to aid of poet

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A local anti-censorship group and an anonymous donor have rallied around an 18-year-old woman who lost her $500 college scholarship because of a poem she wrote.

        ArtWorks, a non-profit Cincinnati arts organization, rescinded Nina Caporale's scholarship minutes after awarding it at the Aug. 10 closing ceremony for its summer job training program for young artists.

        Ms. Caporale, one of 11 student poets to read at the event, read a poem titled, “You Ass.”

        The blunt poem, which uses the word ass eight times, satirized people who expect artists to pander to them. It made oblique references to the ArtWorks' Speak Out summer poetry project for teens.

        Campaign Against Censorship in the Arts has denounced ArtWorks' action, and three local attorneys have offered to assist the Caporales if they decide to mount a legal challenge.

        Meanwhile, an anonymous supporter has offered to pay $500 for a signed copy of the controversial poem, said Ms. Caporale's father, Mike.

        William Messer, director of the Campaign Against Censorship in the Arts, said it's wrong for an arts organization to encourage young poets to express their convictions, then penalize them for it.

        Even though ArtWorks didn't prevent Ms. Caporale from reading her poem, he said, its action could impede future students in its programs.

        “It's a very unfortunate message to other artists in the program and to kids who are trying to grow into artists,” he said. “Treat them like artists and allow them to speak.”

        Representatives of ArtWorks, which sponsors the popular Big Pig Gig Public Art Project, and Ms. Caporale and her parents have been discussing an amicable resolution.

        “We're not out to damage ArtWorks or to make this a big legal battle,” Mr. Caporale said.

        Tamara Harkavy, ArtWorks executive director, decided to revoke the scholarship after Ms. Caporale's reading. She said the poem had artistic merit but should not have been read on that occasion to that audience. The reading took place at Eden Park's Seasongood Pavilion.

        Ms. Harkavy was out of town Friday and was unavailable for comment.

        Ms. Caporale, a Mason resident, said she had been encouraged to read the poem by her fellow students and her teachers.

        She is a graduate of Summit Country Day School and will be attending Sarah Lawrence College.

        Because she has a $20,000 grant from the college, the loss of the $500 scholarship offered by the KnowledgeWorks Foundation through ArtWorks isn't a financial hardship, Mr. Caporale said.

        But the principle of free speech is at stake, he said.

        “Nina didn't do anything wrong,” Mr. Caporale said. “Hopefully, Nina and the other poets will learn that you can fight city hall and win.”


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