BANNED!

I’ve been BANNED from the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show!

Here is the story of how I have been officially banned from the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show and, in fact, all future Flower Shows. You can have fun imagining all the atrocities one would have to commit to earn such a ban (Blasting the Begonias! Annihilating the Asters! Exterminating the Euonymus!) but the reasons are much more mundane and, frankly in my opinion, quite petty.

First some background. Some of you will recall that I wrote a blog post two years ago lamenting the condition of the Flower Show miniature exhibits in the 2017 show. My main concern (and it was a concern, not a criticism) was that there was no one guiding the exhibitors to understand scale and quality construction techniques. When Ron Hoess was chair of the Miniature Settings, he and I (I was vice-chair) conducted workshops for the exhibitors. There were high quality instructions at our in-person meetings and also online. Ron also met with exhibitors who needed help. Before Ron as chair, both Nancy Grube and Chris Donahower as chairs were helpful to incoming exhibitors. I reintegrated these ideas in a blog about the 2018 show which had the same problems.

But in an effort to regain their control over the Miniature Settings when I was about to become chair, the PHS staff enforced their incomprehensible goal of awarding entry into one of the historically high quality display of miniatures to the people who can get the earliest postmark on their entry form. I enter art shows and other exhibitions all the time and not one has ever awarded a place in an exhibit based on postmark. I had already recruited a group of exhibitors for the 2016 show when I was planning to be chair but apparently having prepared a list of quality miniaturists was forbidden and I gave up my plans to be chair in part because of that (see my explanation at the time).

So, since I wasn’t going to be chair I decided I could at least try to enter the Miniature Settings as an exhibitor. But for 4 years something strange happened: my email requests to obtain an entry form were ignored and (I found out later) PHS staff were apparently instructed to not respond to me (if I am wrong about this, I welcome their clarification; does PHS condone their staff not answering emails from potential exhibitors?). So I was never again in the show.

But I had other questions. Was it just me or, alternatively, was the class of Miniature Settings actually closed ahead of the postmark deadline and sending an entry form in was not the basis of acceptance? Or was something else going on? I decided to test out these ideas and if I was being shadow banned that meant an entry from me directly would be ignored again. So my family entered using the family name rather than my apparently toxic persona. My family’s entry, postmarked before the deadline but not all that early, was accepted. We received our acceptance letter in April:

When I attended the first “mandatory” meeting for the Miniature Settings class, it was clear that they had not done any vetting of the entries because they were surprised when I walked in. The entry form does not in any way solicit information about who has sent the form in. There were no questions about your experience as a miniaturist or as a horticulturalist (both crucial aspects of putting together a quality entry). Instead (and this is what I had been objecting to 5 years earlier) any civilian off the street could enter and be accepted and then was expected to uphold the long tradition of quality Miniature Settings exhibits. As a family entry we were those civilians off the street and would have been fine entrants except for: ME!

So, at the end of the meeting, Betty Greene (PHS professional staff member) came up to me and bluntly stated I could not be in the show. She continued that if she had known that I was part of my family (implying I was using a fake name?) she would not have accepted our application. Her claim that she was “just the messenger” and that Sam (Lemheney,  PHS Chief of Shows and Events) had banned me 5 years earlier was both comical and infuriating (and when I got peeved at her she replied with something like, ‘see, that’s why you can’t be in the show’).

Betty vehemently stated three reasons for my banning.

  1. Apparently I “damaged” the Miniature Settings 5 years ago and it has “taken them 5 years to repair the damage.” I have no idea what damage she had in mind since she was able to go back to her post office standard of entries after I left. But we did, for two years while I was vice-chair, have to correct and make accessible the information she sent out to show participants ( we did it with a lovely brochure) so maybe the “damage done” was to her control of the information exhibitors received? Did I show up some flaws in the system? Or was it my farewell message?
  2. The second offense was that “we (PHS) paid for you to go to Singapore.” Huh? You mean I wasn’t grateful for that? But wait! The Singapore Garden Festival invited me and two other miniaturists to bring our exhibits to their show in 2014. Singapore paid our expenses (and we personally paid additional expenses not covered by them) and PHS did nothing to help us get our exhibits there. We proudly represented the Miniature Settings there even though PHS figures at the show mostly ignored our presence. You can see our fabulous Singapore adventure here, including the classes we taught, the beautiful exhibit area they prepared for us, and the delight of the Prime Minister when we met him (also go to the menu item “Singapore Garden Festival”).
  3. Finally, my next apparent crime was that I wrote a blog criticizing some of the miniature exhibits. I believe this is the blog post she is referring to, written two years ago (not five years ago): “The Life and Death of the Flower Show Miniature Settings.” Yes, true, that is what this blog is all about: evaluating miniature exhibits that somehow lost their way and did not measure up to the reputation of earlier Flower Show exhibits. I stand by this evaluation of the 2017 exhibits and many that have come after (see the 2018 blog): if you don’t want critiques of the exhibits, do something to make them better.

But really, are these the real reasons that Betty (“I’m only the messenger”) Greene was using? Let’s look at whom she was a messenger for: Sam Lemheney,  PHS Chief of Shows and Events. Here’s one possibility. In 2015, when I was vice-chair of Miniature Settings and the theme of the Flower Show that year was celebrating the movies, I wanted to put up a small film poster next to each miniature exhibit to highlight the miniature and its inspiration. This is how that ended up looking (and everyone really liked it):

Seems like my making this decision would be a minor issue but because I had arranged to get the posters printed for free by a local film institute/theatre, I was confronted at a public PHS meeting by Sam Lemheney who blasted my arrangement two inches away from my face in a “how-dare-you” bullying accusation that made no sense (take note, PHS: this is how your staff deals with its volunteers). But then he explained that he had tried to get the same film organization to do something for him and they said no (for legitimate scheduling reasons). Is this what it is all about, that I had been able to get this film organization I had a relationship with to get something done when he failed at it? That’s the incident five years ago that had me shadow banned? An ego-crushing challenge I made to him in order to make the Miniature Settings even better that year? Who knows, but I add it to flesh out a story that makes no sense to me.

And so, I now have my official banning email from Sam (dated May 31, 2019) and this closes out this episode of how the Flower Show turns.

5 comments

  1. Wow! A lot of politics going on, even in the miniature world. So sad! I’m sorry you have been treated in this manner and that attendees have lost out on your expertise and art.

  2. Oh, Louise. I am so proud of you for speaking up and explaining this stupidity and smallness. Thanks also, for publishing your explanation! I am convinced that one of the reasons that this kind of smallness is allowed to get away with itself is that the processes by which many organizations conduct themselves are not transparent and when people speak up or criticize — even when this is done in a measured and logical fashion! — we are shamed into silence. Not that this always works — you are speaking up! And please notice my degeneration into the “we”! In other words, I have experienced similar kinds of push back when I have spoken up. The art world is so chaotic and broken and there are so many people out there making wonderful creations who don’t have venues for their work, that those who just want to have their work seen are often held hostage by our need to be seen and thus our silence is assured.

    Oh how I love how you tested the system by entering yourself as a family, and then making known your prejudicial treatment! Your miniature work is simply out of this world, as evidenced by your being invited to Singapore and one can also see that for oneself, by familiarizing oneself with your incredible body of work.

    I am so proud to call you a cousin and also this post makes me feel a bit less lonely in my recent outspokenness, which maybe I will share later.

    • I know that you would say these things whether we were cousins or not! It is so important to speak out at any injustice. This is a seemingly silly event but it truly is an example of the kinds of retribution we outspoken women face every day. So I’m glad I could bolster outspokenness and we will never stop being Babci’s confident and mouthy grandaughters!

      • Yes! I thought of Babci too!

        Sorry for the double post. I can’t for the life of me figure out how to delete the repetition — if you know how, please do dump the double posting.

        By the way, regardless of how this event fits into the big picture of what is important in this world, there are larger principles that ARE important and that your speaking up does address…

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