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Longmont Art School’s Future Blighted by Landlord Conflating Pornography with Nude Figure Drawing

November 10, 2018

Lys Anzia speaks to local residents before watching a video of an art exhibit during an opening event for Longmont's Trace Fine Arts Center in May.

Longmont’s Trace Center for Integrative Arts and Activism is facing an uncertain future just months after opening due to a landlord specifying no pornography be created after learning the center would hold nude figure drawing classes.

Trace Center’s founder Lys Anzia said she nearly had an agreement in place to lease a new space to hold art classes in commercial space at Roosevelt Park Apartments, 600 Longs Peak Ave., after leaving the 400 block of Main in July, where the art center opened earlier this year .

But negotiations with the new location’s landlord, Niwot-based Burden Inc., fell apart when Anzia informed the business’ leaders she intended to occasionally hold figure drawing classes featuring nude models.

That led to Burden inserting a new phrase into the lease Anzia believes inappropriately conflated nude figure drawing with pornography.

“At all times, tenant is required to utilize screens to block nude models from public view. Tenant shall not engage in any activity within the premises that would be considered pornographic under Colorado law,” the lease said, according to a copy shared with the Times-Call by Anzia.

She said she cannot bring herself to sign the document because of the inclusion of the word “pornography,” and the suggestion figure drawing is close to the same category.

“The idea of jumping into pornography as a possible situation is very demeaning. That’s a way of controlling the arts,” Anzia said. “The fact that was put in there like that, in a document I was supposed to sign, I was set aback. I have never ever had to deal with anyone doing that or saying that.”

Drawings or paintings of nude people can potentially be considered illegally obscene under state law, according to Colorado Springs-based attorney Elizabeth McClintock, but they rarely are.

Nude depictions violating the law would either have to be of children, show adults in a sexual act focused on the genitalia or otherwise appeal to “purient interests,” and would have to be located somewhere people can reasonably expect to not see such drawings, McClintock said.

“As long as it’s a depiction of adults, it’s not really a crime,” she said.

If Anzia were to sign the lease, and Burden were later to claim she violated the lease due to the pornography clause, the Trace Center’s leader could have grounds for a First Amendment-based lawsuit against the landlord, McClintock said.

″(The lease’s reference to pornography) seems to me overly broad, and getting into things that a landlord shouldn’t be getting into,” McClintock said.

The Trace Center was started by Anzia as an art school focused on demonstrating and teaching new art forms that can be used to achieve social justice. It aimed to offer an experimental arts curriculum entailing poetry, painting, dance and acting, the Times-Call reported in May.

But its status in Longmont is “in limbo” because of Anzia’s unwillingness to sign the lease as written, she said.

“We do not publicly discuss private lease negotiations,” Burden Inc. Chairman Cotton Burden said. “Suffice it to say that we determined that a lease with Ms. Anzia would not be a good fit for either party. We wish her the best of luck in her search.”

Anzia and Peggy Sands, a Boulder resident and artist who planned to lead courses at Trace Center, noted nude figure drawing has been practiced by apprentices in the arts for thousands of years.

“We’re going back to the Dark Ages. To think a figure drawing class has anything to do with pornography is provincial,” Sands said. “That’s like telling a doctor you need to learn the laws regarding pornography when he’s operating on a human because he’s naked.”

Longmont Assistant City Manager Sandra Seader said city officials welcome the services the Trace Center hoped to provide.

“We are always excited to see new arts and culture opportunities downtown. ... The city supports all kinds of artistic and creative expressions,” Seader said.

Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com and twitter.com/samlounz .

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