Villanova to Gay Artist: No Thanks

The Catholic university cancels a creative workshop with Tim Miller

Tim Miller first gained notoriety in the 1990s when the National Endowment for the Arts took him and other gay artists to task over controversial works that a few conservative talking heads found offensive. At the time, works from gay artists like Robert Mapplethorpe were also on the chopping block thanks to senators like Jesse Helms who were outraged over statements they were making about being gay during the AIDS crisis.

Courtesy of Tim Miller

Sadly, some things never change.

This week, Villanova University canceled a workshop with Miller that was to address the creative process. We’re told that Heidi Rose, an assistant professor of communications and a member of the university’s Gay Straight Coalition, booked the event last year (a quick search even yields a few of Miller’s book in the school’s library).

But Miller told the Inquirer that he found out just this weekend that April’s event was off after Catholic blogs began criticizing the school for hosting someone who has been described as “the patron saint of the gay performance world.”

“People tell these lies and it gets people who read these blogs worked up,” Miller told the Inquirer.

Miller’s attention-getting work has got him in hot water before – mostly for its gay themes. He’s also received a great deal of praise from leaders in the arts, like Tony Kushner. And he’s the author of the books Shirts & SkinBody Blows and 1001 Beds, which won the 2007 Lambda Literary Award for best book in Drama-Theatre. His solo theater works have been published in collections O Solo Homo and Sharing the Delirium. Miller’s newest book is 1001 Beds, an anthology of his performances, essays and journals. Over the years, he’s also been arrested for protesting AIDS research funding.

Villanova released a statement about the cancelation, saying:

Villanova University embraces intellectual freedom and academic discourse. Indeed, it is at the very heart of our University and our Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition. With regard to the forthcoming 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.

DePaul University, meanwhile, the largest Catholic university in the country, held a similar workshop with Miller without any problems. And Villanova, to its credit, also staged Angels in America, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play centered on a gay couple during the height of the AIDS epidemic. It makes this latest decision all the more puzzling.

Miller has performed at other schools in the state with great reviews, including Penn State and Kutztown University (the home of gay artist Keith Haring). He’s also performing at Muhlenberg College – a Lutheran-affiliated school – on April 12, and at Philly’s InterAct Theatre (April 8 – 15).

He admits that he’s never taken on the Catholic Church in his performances. “Quite the contrary,” says Miller, “I have a rich history of ecumenical dialogue.”

So what gives, Villanova? So much for higher education.