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New HFHR publication: “Artistic freedom – practical guide”

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has issued the publication “Artistic freedom – practical guide” by Dominika Bychawskia-Siniarska and Dorota Głowacka. Artists and other persons in the cultural sphere can read there how to handle various forms of contemporary art “censorship”.

“We explain in the guide how far artists can go in their work and where the lines are that they should never cross. At the same time, we discuss safeguards protecting artistic freedom that are enshrined in the Constitution and put forward arguments which artists can use to refute unsubstantiated accusations of breaking the law”, says Dorota Głowacka. The publication also shows artists how they can defend against acts of vandalism against works of art, the intimidation of artists or disruption of cultural events.

Increasingly often artists, heads of galleries or workers of community centres report to the Foundation cases involving the limitation of artistic freedom. “The laws most often invoked in order to stifle artistic freedom are the provisions on offending religious feelings, public morality, protection of national symbols or good name of individuals and companies”, notes Ms Bychawska-Siniarska. “Another important issue that we highlight is the pressure put on artists by local politicians or officials and a lack of transparent cultural policy principles, specifically at the level of local government”, adds the HFHR’s lawyer.

The publication is intended not only for artists who are already facing legal problems. It is also addressed to creators who are worried that a specific work of art they plan to create or display may result in their legal liability. “The reason for this is that artistic freedom is at risk not only from courts – after all, penalties imposed against artists are still a rare phenomenon – but also from self-censorship among artists themselves who are fearful of sanctions”, explains Ms Głowacka.

The creation of the guide was preceded by two workshops on the legal aspects of artistic freedom attended by representatives from cultural spheres. “Talks with the workshops’ participants allowed us to better identify the most serious legal problems in the area of artistic freedom. The Foundation remains open to further collaboration with artists who may report to us cases of interference with artistic freedom. It is also important that we continue educational activities concerning the Constitution and international standards of artistic freedom”, says Ms Bychawska-Siniarska.

The publication has been developed as part of the “Artistic freedom in practice” project implemented in partnership with the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Warsaw.

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