Friday, August 3, 2012
The San Diego Museum of Art issued a statement today denying a direct role in a hoax targeting the U.S. Attorney's office. The hoax originated in a workshop led by the Yes Men, activists known for staging elaborate pranks. The Yes Men were in town to give a keynote address at SDMA and held the workshop with local activist groups.
The Balboa Park museum refuted claims that they paid activist organizations support money for projects originating in the workshops. In an emailed statement, a museum spokesperson wrote "reimbursement of up to $100 was offered to participants in the workshop, but no group has requested funds nor have any been paid." He added that the SDMA funds were offered to help cover expenses in "getting to" the workshop, not to fund any of the activist group's projects.
The Yes Men stage elaborate pranks to advance progressive causes. They've impersonated officials from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and from major corporations like Dow Chemical. They call what they do "identity-correction" and use the internet and the media as tools.
The San Diego Museum of Art invited the Yes Men to speak at the museum as part of their Summer Salon series, which showcases performance art.
The Yes Men also sponsor Yes Labs, the commissioned workshops where they teach other activist groups how to stage hoaxes. The museum's website says a Yes Lab was held at Agitprop, a local arts organization. David White, founder of Agitprop, is a co-curator of SDMA's Summer Salon series. He can be seen in a video on a website for the Federal Accountability Coalition, a group that initially claimed responsibility for the hoax enacted earlier this week.
The hoax involved fake press releases coming from the U.S. Attorney's office announcing a campaign to close pharmacies in beach communities because of a high rate of prescription drug abuse. Some in the media took the bait, including the LA Times, and reported the fake campaign. It was later revealed to be a prank, with the Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, taking primary responsibility. The latter took part in the Yes Men-led workshops here in San Diego.
Mike Bonnano (not his real name), one of the Yes Men and co-director of Yes Lab, told the North County Times: "The museum really helped us by organizing which groups should come in. To our surprise and delight, they (the groups) were all willing to work with each other and they were really excited."
The museum issued the following statement:
Regarding The Yes Men and the recent hoax created by Americans for Safe Access, The San Diego Museum of Art did not have prior knowledge of the subject matter, what would be performed or how it would be displayed. We did not participate in the preparation of any of their material. For clarification, no money was paid by The San Diego Museum of Art to Americans for Safe Access to carry out any of their actions.
The San Diego Museum of Art did not pay for or support any component of this hoax, nor any other programs created by workshop participants. None of the workshop programs were created by the Museum staff, nor did this workshop take place at the Museum. Rather, we supported The Yes Men in developing a performance art piece involving social commentary, as we do all participants in our Summer Salon Series. While in San Diego, The Yes Men held their own workshop at another location in which Americans For Safe Access participated, independent of the Museum.
We regret any issues this has caused the U.S. Attorney’s Office or any parties offended by the acts of Americans for Safe Access.
The San Diego Museum of Art believes in inspiring a dialogue within our communities about art – in all its forms. We pride ourselves in being a familiar place for people to have conversations and explore a world of ideas, which is why we host the Summer Salon Series. This serves as an opportunity for those interested in art and culture to meet, discuss ideas and engage with artistic performances. We do not take sides , rather remaining apolitical and allowing individuals to form their own reactions and impressions about the art, whatever form that takes.
The debate about what constitutes “art” has endured since the beginning of history, and at The San Diego Museum of Art, we are proud to provide a forum where that debate can continue.
A spokeswoman from the U.S. Attorney's office declined to comment on the hoax citing an ongoing investigation.