Las Vegas City Life on the Neon Museum Controversy

She's Electric
Dahl-Beck neon sign, San Francisco

Las Vegas City Life Las Vegas City Life, a newspaper in Las Vegas, interviewed me last week regarding my difficulty in obtaining permission to photograph the Neon Museum’s neon boneyard, a collection of old and historic neon signs in Las Vegas.

I attempted to shoot the signs on a recent visit to Las Vegas and my request to shoot was denied and I was told that the museum did not want images of their signs on photo sharing sites like Flickr and Zooomr due to potentially “unscrupulous” use.

I originally posted on this here and Cory also published the story over at Boing Boing here.

My own opinion is that by attempting to restrict photography and photo sharing of their collection that the non profit museum is in direct conflict with their stated mission to:

“collect, preserve, study and exhibit neon signs and associated artifacts to inspire educational and cultural enrichment for diverse members of our international community.”

Photography and photo sharing represent perhaps the single best vehicle to in fact share their neon signs with the “international community.” It is difficult to see how making someone fly from India or China to Las Vegas to see the signs in person vs. allowing them the ability to view them on Flickr or Zooomr supports their claimed mission statement.

Las Vegas City Life’s coverage of the issues surrounding this museum is fair and balanced. In addition to interviewing me they also interviewed Nancy Deaner, the Museum Board Chair.

I found it ironic that Deaner brought up the subject of copyright as a potential reason for restricting photography of the signs. This objection was never brought up to me in my initial rejection. I find it difficult to see how when these signs were originally designed to be on public display, with the full knowledge that anyone could take a public photo of them, how now, after the fact, the museum feels it their job to somehow enforce copyright issues.

The museum’s stance towards photographers is both backwards to cultural enrichment and antithetical to their stated mission.

As a non-profit the museum enjoys favorable tax exempt status. This fact makes their collection something that ought to be of public interest and for the public benefit. By restricting their collection they work against cultural enrichment of an international community. I would hope that the Board of Directors of this museum would reconsider this position.

I have long been a fan of neon art and have a set of neon images up on Flickr here.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    “I don’t know enough about copyright law,” says Hawk”

    Boy you are right about that!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Wow, this place has such horrible restrictions! It’s like no one will ever be able to see these signs unless Thomas Hawk photographs them. All the people that go and take the tour to see the signs in person must be cultural idiots because they should have just stayed home and let Thomas Hawk show them a picture of the exhibits instead.

    No one in the world will ever be able to see these signs unless they’re featured in a photograph taken by some amateur photographer.

  3. Matt says:

    I kind of see it a different way. By whatever means, the museum has acquired these pieces of art and are now the rightful owners. And while granted these were once on public display, they are not anymore. The museum is a private company (a non-profit one) and charge a fee to visit the boneyard (according to their website) and may charge a fee to see the rest of their pieces. Basically, they have every right to prohibt any photography or the publication of photos of their pieces of art. Now, I’m note sure if they are making the right decision here, maybe having lots of photos of the boneyard floating around the web will entice more folks to visit their museum, but either way, they have that right.

    You know, their mission statement is probably no different that many well-known “art” museums that have restriction on photography (beside of the potential harm to the photographs).

  4. Anonymous says:

    Is it a controversy if you are the only one who cares?

  5. Anonymous says:

    As an artist, I would be pleased if someone came to photograph my work. Even if they made money off of their photographs of my work. It would have been art of art. So the flippin what! I don’t think it is a controversy so much as it is a point to be made. So many people think they need to protect something that really doesn’t deserve to be protected. They are freaking old lights! Just like old paintings hanging in a room.
    So those policing the museum have a power trip or those owning the museum have their head up their attorney.

  6. Anonymous says:

    How do you pay the bills for free?

    Just because you want to starve does not mean others have to be as foolish.