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Villanova University, a Roman Catholic school in Philadelphia, has suddenly pulled the plug on a workshop to be led by gay performance artist and activist Tim Miller.
Miller was notified Sunday night of the cancellation of the weeklong April workshop, in which he was to lead students in a series of self-discovery exercises that they would then develop into performance pieces to present at the end of the week, and was given no reason, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Monday, the university issued a statement saying, "With regard to the upcoming residency and performance workshops by Tim Miller, we had concerns that his performances were not in keeping with our Catholic and Augustinian values and mission. Therefore, Villanova has decided not to host Mr. Miller on our campus. Villanova University is an open and inclusive community and in no way does this singular decision change that."
Miller told the Inquirer the cancellation was not a total surprise, because some Catholic blogs were reporting "this bizarre lie that I'm anti-Catholic. ... People tell these lies, and it gets people who read these blogs worked up." Some blogs described Miller as "militant," "radical," or "flamboyant" and noted his work with ACT UP, which they called "anti-Catholic."
Miller's art has often been controversial, as his performances sometimes include nudity or simulated sex and frequently involve political statements, but his academic workshops are a separate matter. He has given them at a variety of schools, including several with religious affiliations -- among them, DePaul University in Chicago, the nation's largest Catholic university.
Doug Long, the DePaul professor who set up Miller's appearance there in 2008, called the artist's work "terrific." "While he said Villanova may be reacting to some of the themes in Miller's own shows, the workshop was all about the students," the Inquirer reports. "One or two students focused on their sexuality, he said."
Miller, based in Los Angeles, is famed as one of the "NEA Four," who sued the federal government in the 1990s after it withdrew their funding due to the nature of their art, and more recently he has focused his art and activism on marriage equality and the plight of same-sex binational couples. He told the Inquirer he "has never taken on the Catholic Church in my performances" and has worked extensively with faith communities.
"Villanova tries to present itself as being this really tolerant place," he added, "but clearly they're really succumbing to homophobia."