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NEW YORK TIMES, April 27, 2001
229 W. 43rd Street, New York, NY, 10036
(Fax: 212-556-3622 ) (E-Mail: letters@nytimes.com  )
( http://www.nytimes.com )
City Museum Is Accused of Altering Its AIDS Exhibit
       The curators of a new exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York about a gay group's 20-year struggle against AIDS said yesterday that they were upset that museum officials softened the sexual content of some of their work and that the alterations changed the tone of their story.
       The exhibit, "Aids: A Living Archive," opened April 21 without a number of sexually graphic materials that some consider historically important, said Jane Rosett, who was the curator of the exhibit with her colleague and companion, Jean Carlomusto.
       The exhibit, which is part of "Gay Men's Health Crisis: 20 Years Fighting for People with H.I.V./AIDS," includes art and historical items documenting the public campaign against AIDS, as well as interactive informative elements for museum visitors.
       Dr. Lawrence D. Mass, one of the founding members of the Gay Men's Health Crisis, said that the museum distorted the message of some of the pieces on display by ordering that they be altered. Dr. Mass, a physician who treats addictions, supplied some of the art from his collection.
       "It's very disturbing," he said. "I've begun to feel very incensed about this and upset. They really are documents of art and history of the organization. In that sense it seems like real censorship and distortion of history."
       Dr. Mass and Ms. Rosett said that photos were cropped to exclude images of intimacy between men, and that museum officials rejected representations of condoms in the show. Ms. Rosett also said she was told to exclude depictions of male genitals.
       The curators, who were hired by the Gay Men's Health Crisis, said that they were not advised of any overall museum guidelines when they started work on the exhibit, and that they found the absence surprising. When asked to talk about their guidelines or say what was excluded from the show, museum officials declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the museum, Sabeth Ryan Albert, said in a statement: "It would be unfortunate if the important messages of this exhibition were obscured by other agendas."
       Marty Algaze, a spokesman for the group, said the artists and Dr. Mass did not speak for the organization, which is "very proud" of the exhibit. He said the group, a treatment and advocacy group for people with AIDS, understood the compromises that were necessary to have a partnership with the museum.
       "I was told the museum gets a large number of children and some sexually explicit material would be inappropriate for them to see," he said. "If you're having a discussion about sexual issues with gay men, you might be more graphic. It would be different if you're talking to young people, or to the public, or a group of politicians for that matter."
       But the curators said any exhibit dealing with AIDS and sexual issues should be as unfiltered as possible, in the interest of public health education. They added that a history of AIDS could not be fully told if references to sex were deleted.
       "AIDS is not pretty, AIDS is not Disney," Ms. Rosett said. "We didn't submit anything for shock value for its own sake. We edited and culled from hundreds of images. We submitted what we considered to be the most crucial documents of the movement's history."
       One such work, a poster entitled "800 Men," had been cropped to such an extent that its meaning was altered, Dr. Mass said. It is from the group's first prevention program and fund-raiser, and was intended to advocate the use of condoms. At the museum, however, only the words are visible and the "overall effect is lost," he said. An image of two men was taken out.
       Ms. Rosett said she included some materials over museum officials' objections, and even slipped a few items in, one being a keychain in the shape of winged male genitals. She said the keychain was important because it showed that some people with AIDS were able to maintain a sense of humor.
       Ms. Rosett also said that, against the museum's objections, she included part of a poster that reads "Great Sex! Don't Let AIDS Stop It." The poster, which was meant to tell bathhouse patrons about AIDS prevention, was altered so that a graphic cartoon and disease prevention tips were removed, she said.
       Mark Baum, a patron of the exhibit, said he had dealt with the same issues in the public art space at a downtown restaurant he runs.
       "These are always complicated issues," said Mr. Baum, the chief executive of an Internet company. "I have a lot of respect for anybody who tries to find a way through these issues."
       The exhibit will be on display until Sept. 10.

901 Mission St., San Francisco, CA, 94103
(Fax: 415-896-1107 ) (E-Mail:  chronletters@sfgate.com )
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Big rent increase burdens chorus
Lord Martine, Chronicle Staff Writer
       The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus is facing a mammoth rent increase after losing its sublease at 400 Castro St.
       The chorus was paying a $1 per year rent in an agreement with Bank of America, which was leasing the building from the Lurie Co. However, Lurie did not renew the bank's lease, which forced the chorus to seek new headquarters at 18th Street and Hartford. The chorus' rent will increase to $4,400 monthly.
       In 1994, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a law regarding buildings at Castro and Market streets. It required fast-food stores there to make two-thirds of the buildings available rent-free to nonprofits. Recently, Supervisor Mark Leno added retail establishments to the legislation.
       The chorus must scrape together first and last month's rent, as well as a $4,400 deposit, before its June move.
       "We knew the lease was coming to an end," said Scott Mandell, chorus executive director, "but it was always a possibility that Bank of America could renew the lease, and we'd get to stay."
       How this all came about depends on which of the parties you talk to.
       Last fall, Mandell's calls to Lurie, to find out exactly what was happening with 400 Castro St., went unreturned until Leno stepped in, Mandell said.
       With Leno's push, Robert Peltzman, of Real Property Advisers in San Carlos who represents Lurie, contacted Mandell and, according to Mandell, Peltzman said the company received no offer -- at that time -- from Bank of America to renew the lease.
       Eugene L. Valla, executive vice president of the Lurie company, said that they offered the building to Bank of America, but the bank was only interested in it as a site for ATMs.
       However, Mandell said that Phil Kelloff, corporate property manager for Bank of America, told him that the bank had made an offer above the going rate on the entire building and intended to let the Chorus remain.
       Kelloff did not return phone calls.
       Bank of America spokesman Harvey Radin said: "I think that at one point there was some consideration given to leasing the entire building. But because we don't have other operations in that building, our focus was, in fact, on the space for the ATMs only. But we couldn't come to an agreement."
       With no agreement between the corporations, the Chorus was caught in an expensive middle.
       Peltzman suggested the chorus submit a letter to Lurie requesting relocation funds. Mandell said he asked for $25,000 for moving costs, $2,500 to replace usage fee they received for an AT&T Cellular antennae on the rooftop, and -- because Peltzman told him to throw in the kitchen sink -- $100, 000 to the Golden Gate Chorale Foundation, a nonprofit that assists the Gay Men's Chorus financially.
       But after the submission, Peltzman told Mandell the chorus would get no money from Lurie, and if he wanted cash for moving, the chorus should contact Bank of America.
       While in rehearsals for its next concert, the chorus is frantically applying for grants from the Wells Fargo Foundation and California Lawyers for the Arts/Arthouse, which provides one-time emergency assistance to nonprofits. And it may have to borrow against its restricted endowment fund.
       "I'm still hoping Lurie will do the right thing," Mandell said.
       "We're all working at our end and the bank's end," Valla said. "Bank of America and the Lurie Co. had a very constructive and positive meeting and were working toward a fair and reasonable outcome that's positive for the neighborhood, the property and the next generation of users."
       Radin said, "The only negotiations under way now are focused on the condition of the building and returning the space back over to the landlord."