Wells Fargo orders removal of ‘controversial’ quilt display from Laguna Beach branch

A quilt from Allyson Allen’s “Piece-ful Protest” exhibition was removed from Wells Fargo in Laguna Beach on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Faye Baglin/ Community Art Project

A temporary gallery of quilts was removed within days of being installed inside the Wells Fargo branch in Laguna Beach after customers objected to its political messages, the artist said Wednesday.

Textile artist Allyson Allen was notified of the removal by a member of the Community Art Project who coordinated the rotating exhibit entitled “Piece-ful Protest” at 260 Ocean Ave.

“She was told by the bank manager that after customer complaints of the exhibit being too controversial for the bank public gallery, the request was sent from Wells Fargo corporate,” Allen wrote in an email. “Truly disappointing that a progressive art community like Laguna would still be controlled by the small-minded minority of individuals who cannot accept an art installation as art.

Among the 36 quilts is one that shows a Black man with “Enough!” above his head. Another is emblazoned with “Don’t let hate go viral.” A third has a clenched rainbow fist below “Pride – Love is Love.”

The exhibit was installed Jan. 20  and scheduled to run through April 22, concluding with an artist reception on that day. The quilts were immediately removed after the bank’s request came down Wednesday.

A portion of the exhibit will be displayed at the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance’s annual Art Stars Gala on April 24.

“Wells Fargo is committed to and invested in the Laguna Beach community – our support of the Community Art Project program is a reflection of that commitment. We’re equally committed to ensuring a culture and customer experience that welcomes all,” a Wells Fargo corporate spokesperson said in a prepared statement Thursday.

A former high school English and Special Education teacher, Allen has also taught quilting, doll making, and altered book art for 30 years, according to her website. She’s a multiple California Arts Council grant award recipient and twice nominated for the National Endowments for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship.

Allen won the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance’s 7° of Inspiration Grant for this body of work in 2019, said Faye Baglin, treasurer for the Community Art Project (CAP). Although CAP is very disappointed with Wells Fargo’s decision it has to respect the company’s decision to preserve a partnership and use of their gallery space.

“CAP was privileged to be able to display it even for a few days. In my personal view, art should make us think and possibly see the world from a different perspective. It’s sad that at least one or more customers disagreed,” Baglin said.

“It’s especially sad when the arts community embraced this talented artist,” she added.

A local Wells Fargo official was informed of the quilts’ content and signed off on their installation ahead of time, Baglin said. The Independent received calls from three Laguna Beach residents who were disappointed with the bank’s decision to remove the art.

The mishap surrounding the quilts lands at an awkward time for Laguna Beach. On Jan. 11, the City Council proclaimed February 2022 as Ethnic Diversity and Black History Month to celebrate ethnic diversity within the community.

Laguna Beach cannot allow the kinds of negative forces that prompted the removal of the thought-provoking quilts to gain steam in the community, Laguna Beach resident Rebecca Washington-Lindsey said.

“No community can move forward in unity and in just treatment with these wrong perceptions. Those negative perceptions are killers. They don’t do anything for ethnic harmony,” she said.

Sally Sanders, a Black Lives Matter activist and 20-year resident of Laguna Beach, has lobbied city council members to intervene and see the quilts put back. It’s depressing that a handful of prejudiced people could have an outsized impact in a historically progressive town, she said.

“This is kind of a trend that Laguna Beach is not what it used to be. Now it’s starting to lean toward the full right with racism and commercialism. I’ll protest outside that bank if I have to,” Sanders said.

A quilt from Allyson Allen’s “Piece-ful Protest” exhibition was removed from Wells Fargo in Laguna Beach on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Faye Baglin/ Community Art Project
A quilt from Allyson Allen’s “Piece-ful Protest” exhibition was removed from Wells Fargo in Laguna Beach on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Faye Baglin/ Community Art Project
A quilt from Allyson Allen’s “Piece-ful Protest” exhibition was removed from Wells Fargo in Laguna Beach on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Faye Baglin/ Community Art Project
A quilt from Allyson Allen’s “Piece-ful Protest” exhibition was removed from Wells Fargo in Laguna Beach on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Faye Baglin/ Community Art Project
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  1. Wells Fargo needs to follow their own website. This is just disgusting to take this Black artist’s work down. They need to make this right and put it back up!

  2. The Quilt Art Display should be returned and displayed. This was a bad decision by Wells Fargo Bank. The art is beautiful, colorful and imparts a message that makes you think! Many of the messages sewn into the quilts are taken right from Newspaper Headlines! How can that be offensive??

  3. Wells Fargo: where we create THOUSANDS of fake accounts, charge customers for paying off their mortgage and fire entry level employees to boost the corporate bottom line……and acquiesce to rich old white folks who can’t handle progress…or equality…or art.

    All wrapped in the guise as the city of art…..?

  4. This is just wrong! Reinstate this beautiful and timely artwork. I chose to live here years ago because this town was progressive and inclusive, what in the world has happened to us?

  5. Heartbreaking to see that something this narrow-minded and non-inclusive happening in Laguna Beach. Shame on Wells Fargo for kowtowing to a few whiners while disrespecting an amazing artist’s work. It’s art…What are you so afraid of?

  6. All the folks in any business with an account in Wells Fargo need to make their disgust known by removing their monies, and not shopping at stores and companies who support that removal of the art installation. Isn’t the biggest leverage an artist seeks is the attention over an emotional or charged topic they choose to point out? The bank could have actually used this to show how open and inclusive this community is. But no, they chose to represent this bohemian and open community as closed off, repressed and wholly white, old man scared inspired. I personally will NEVER spend any money in Laguna again, if this judgement stands. Pitiful. Narrow. Ignorant. Economically crippling.

  7. Wells Fargo’s decision was wrong on so many levels. If they “we’re equally committed to ensuring a culture and customer experience that welcomes all” the quilts would be displayed on the first floor.

    However, the controversy has at least provided the artist and her work with some very well deserved praise. I would encourage the City to display the work at City Hall and one of the many galleries in display the work in an area where it is easily seen by the public. I would also like to know the name, address and position of the Wells Fargo “corporate” employee who made the decision, As a long-time Wells Fargo customer I would like to write a letter explaining my thoughts and encouraging them to correct the error of their ways or…I will no longer be a customer.

  8. I’m absolutely appalled at the treatment of this artist by Wells Fargo and the Laguna Beach community. It needs to be reinstated. Put it back up for the community to see. If it makes people uncomfortable, good, that’s what is needed for change. Don’t look away.

  9. Allyson Allen, your exhibition “Piece-ful Protest” was such a gift to our community. As a former Executive Director of a prominent art museum who exhibited hundreds of powerful and diverse artists works, I find the decision of Wells Fargo appalling. CAP should have refused to remove pieces from the exhibit or removed the entire exhibition and then dropped Wells Fargo from its list of community art display venues. No tolerance for this type of thinking.

  10. I’m guessing Wells Fargo took this junk down because it was not up to artistic standards and was snuck in and pushed through by flunkies trying to help us understand their issues. Well, if you’re appalled by the treatment of artists in banks, start your own bank and don’t use Wells Fargo. We’re sick and tired of hearing how much holier-than-thou you are, when we don’t agree with your point of view. Gift to our community? It was a public display of pandering for PR (to sell more art). I’m wondering why wasn’t this famous artist ever in Sawdust or Pageant? Because of low quality art using Woke messaging.

  11. How will we keep our United States of America united if we refuse to look at our history, learn, understand and heal?

  12. The US has a terrible reputation of racism, the old white guys still willing to shoot down anyone/thing that does not align with white superiority .. wake up Laguna Beach don’t let the small number of anti-progressives taint this world-class artists colony with their demand to remain white entitlement rule..

  13. Daniel: Thanks for excellent Indy reporting on artistic censorship at Wells Fargo Bank and beautiful photography by Fate Baglin. The quilts by Allyson Allen are wonderful examples of how versatile and powerful that art form can be.

    The “Honor Treaties” quilt hit home for me at a time I am serving as a legal historian fir a State Department treaty negotiating team, based in the same Department of the Interior that did not honor our treaties with Native Americans. I am proud to be serving under our first Native American Interior Department Secretaries.

    I am writing to let you know I have been a life long WFB customer, and banked at that LB location for decades. I love the building and the bank employees are people I consider friends. But I am going to contact WFB tomorrow and tell them if they don’t return and properly curate the quilt art exhibit I will be ending my banking relationship with WFB.

    I will let you know what happens.

    Howard Hills

    Sent from my iPhone

  14. Allyson Allen is an artist who beautifully tells stories of our culture via her quilts. To remove her quilts is a form of censorship. This is a whitewash of history. As an African American woman, I demand the quilts be displayed for all to see.

  15. Shameful but if any bank was going to engage in such narrow-minded censorship it would be Wells Fargo. This is racism at its worst. There is absolutely nothing offensive in the beautiful quilt work of Allyson Allen. And what is the purpose of art if not to make us think?

  16. Not advocating for either deeply divided side on this thread, but I wonder if Wells Fargo took down art with “right wing” elements (say “pro life” against “pro choice”), would it spark the same outrage or be received with praise?

    Removing of art is suppression of the freedom of speech, and Wells Fargo shouldn’t have done that. But on the positive note, it actually created more publicity for the artist and her work. It has every chance to make the national headlines too. I hope it actually makes her famous and she gets what she deserves.

    Laguna Beach is a very politically diverse town. Based on 2020 data, we have 37% registered Democrats, almost the same 35% of registered Republicans, and independent voters in between. So you can’t say it’s liberal or conservative, it’s really in between, as it has always been, since the beginning. And this is what makes it so balanced and great to live. Well, until people stop being civil and start attacking each other.

  17. Wells Fargo has the right to remove the artwork, it’s a place of business that should not be political. All too many places, people, news outlets are being too political, that’s whats driving the division in this country. The people who immediate think that the removal was “Racist” because they disagree with it. Come up with another story already, this country, this city, Laguna, that I have lived in for 62 years has Never been as diverse and accepting as it is now. Just because someone doesn’t agree with you doesn’t make them wrong, a racist, a socialist, or anything other than another human being with a different opinion.

  18. John Lindsay and Rick Banks. Racism? Is that why 90% of the incarcerations are black? Is that why Black on White crime accounts for 90% of the incidents? Your rarified town has a very low crime rate because your stranglehold keeps blacks out.

  19. I am so saddened by this censorship. What irony that an artist’s portrayal of the plight of the oppressed is “too aggressive” for those not at all affected (insert Tom Cruise, “You can’t handle the truth!”). It is telling that those who complained are unable to experience the oppressed reality of others by viewing Allyson Allen’s art for the 10 minutes they are in the Wells Fargo bank.

  20. Ellen Dowd is “saddened”. (?) Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party. And because Wells & Customers found this inappropriate, and you don’t, you’re sad?

  21. Wells Fargo and CAP missed a perfect opportunity to create a dialogue between the artist and the community about the purpose of this work, and Wells Fargo chose instead to censor and pull the show entirely. Kudos to Pastor Rod and the Neighborhood Congregational Church for coming forth to offer a venue for the work.
    This city’s artists and arts organization need to discuss and strategize on how to deal with this type of censorship, for surely this won’t be the last time a few voices of dissent can result in that form of censorship.

    Surely we are capable of demonstrating to our artists and community a more enlightened approach than the one shown by Wells Fargo. And I have to ask, where were the artists and arts organization’s leaders that might have shown support for CAP during this time? Maybe I missed something here. I hope so.

    Wouldn’t it have been great if every gallery in town had come forth with an offer to show even one quilt?

    I’ve been told I am overly optimistic to think there was energy or interest in this type of dialogue. I hope that person is wrong! Silence is not an option in a situation such as this.
    Carole Zavala


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