Blues Fest planners have a change of art

May 28, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Blues music might be smokin' in Hagerstown next weekend, but the publicity images won't be.

The official painting for the ninth annual Western Maryland Blues Fest shows an old-time guitarist smoking a cigarette. However, the Blues Fest organizing committee decided that smoking is a bad habit they did not want to appear to promote and removed the cigarette from all T-shirts, posters, mugs and ads.

"It just was an unnecessary element to the beauty of the painting," said Carl Disque, the chairman of the committee and Blues Fest founder.

Francisco Amaya of Buffalo, N.Y., who teaches college art classes and works at a silk-screen shop, painted the image.

Amaya said the cleansing of his image bothered him.

"No kid or person is going to look at a painting and want to smoke a cigarette," he said.

But, under his contract, Amaya does not have control over how his painting is used commercially. The unchanged original is at the Washington County Arts Council Gallery on South Potomac Street.


Eli Pollard, the director of the gallery, who recommended Amaya, said the agreement is standard for commissioned pieces.

The Blues Fest committee has altered other commissioned pieces to improve their graphic reproduction, committee member Karen Giffin said.

Disque said the Blues Fest committee is against promoting or portraying alcohol, tobacco or drug use.

"It's a family event," he said.

Part of downtown is shut down each year for Blues Fest Saturday. Music stages and food vendors are set up. Alcohol is sold to adults.

This year's Blues Fest will be June 4, 5 and 6.

Giffin said beverages, including beer, are "definitely part of the event," but only adults can buy alcohol, so that doesn't contradict the idea of Blues Fest as a family activity.

The distinction with the cigarette is that it's part of an advertising piece promoting the entire festival, including the children's area, she said.

Disque said one consideration is that it's illegal to advertise tobacco products.

Pollard and Amaya went to West Virginia University together. Amaya, a Wheeling, W.Va., native, qualified as a "local artist."

Pollard sent Amaya copies of past Blues Fest artwork for guidance.

In a telephone interview from his home, Amaya, 31, said he loves the blues and used the style to teach himself to play guitar. As a fan of The Who and Led Zeppelin, he discovered how blues influenced their rock 'n' roll.

Amaya's guitarist is swathed in blue tones. There is red fire in front of him and a blazing orange sun behind him.

Amaya said he gave up smoking because it made him sick, but still felt that the cigarette belonged, as part of "the mystique of the blues player."

After venting through a blistering e-mail, Amaya calmed down and now accepts the change, although he doesn't agree with it.

He said an art instructor once told him that in some cases, artistic freedom is a losing battle.

"There's bigger fish to fry," he said.

Although he speculated that sponsors' objections might have fueled opposition to the cigarette, three Millennium Blues Club sponsors contacted said they didn't know about the alteration.

Members of the Millennium Blues Club contribute more than $2,500.

The Herald-Mail also is a sponsor of the event.

Blues Fest committee member Kelly Redmond, who represents Washington County Health System, the hospital's parent company, said she knew about the change but wasn't involved in the decision.

Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel said he supports the alteration.

"You see cigarettes too much," he said. "And you never know what may be the model for someone.

"We should not do any advertising or promotion or showing people smoking cigarettes. It gives the appearance of acceptance," he said.

In 1994, the U.S. Postal Service made a similar change for a stamp honoring the late blues guitarist Robert Johnson. The photograph on which the image was based shows Johnson smoking, but the cigarette is absent in the stamp.

"We're honoring the individual for what he is and not as a smoker," Postal Service spokesman Mark Saunders said Thursday.

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