Washington’s transit agency has reversed its decision to reject the advertising campaign for the Phillips Collection’s ambitious summer exhibition, “The Warmth of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement.”
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) this spring rejected the ad campaign for the 11-week exhibition, a sprawling show that examines global migration. Metro cited guidelines that prohibit advertisements “intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions” and those “intended to influence public policy.”
Dani Levinas, the chairman of the Phillips Collection’s board, questioned the decision in an op-ed in The Washington Post three weeks ago.
“This exhibition, with no specific political point of view or policy stance, strives to illuminate the humanitarian crisis,” Levinas wrote.
Neither the rejection nor the reversal decision came with an explanation, Levinas said Monday.
“When this happened originally I was upset and concerned about the way they made the decision,” he said. “They just quoted the regulation and said you violate it. We didn’t agree. There was no transparency, no conversation.
“It’s hard to understand why they did it, and now why they changed their mind.”
A WMATA spokesman declined to elaborate. “We are unable to comment on deliberative process matters,” spokesman Ian Jannetta wrote in an email.
In 2015, the transit agency adopted guidelines that banned issue-oriented advertisements, as well as those related to religion and politics. The ban has been subject of several lawsuits, including one brought by the Archdiocese of Washington. Last summer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favor of Metro over the archdiocese.
“The Warmth of Other Suns” is midway through its run at the Dupont Circle museum, and features three floors of galleries showcasing sculptures, photographs, video art and paintings by 75 artists, many of whom are refugees or have been displaced by war, persecution, climate change and other factors. The artwork reflecting current crises is on view alongside pieces by such artists as Jacob Lawrence, Dorothea Lange and Diego Rivera.
Levinas said the exhibition is an educational exercise, rather than a political one.
“It’s about artists showing the suffering of people, and the sacrifice they make in doing it,” he said.
It’s unclear whether advertisements for the exhibit will appear on Metro platforms or on the sides of buses because the museum has allotted its advertising funds for the show, including for ads with Capital Bikeshare, Levinas said. But the museum will continue to work with the transit agency, he added.
“It’s a good way to advertise,” he said, “but they have to be more open.”