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.