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Skinny dip or performance art? Jury will have to decide

~ Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune

Skinny Dip or Performance Art?

Patrick Scully and the city of Minneapolis agree on one thing: his naked midday swim at Sweeney Beach was more than a refreshing dip on a hot July day.

Scully, a longtime performance artist and crusader for an au naturel lifestyle, says it's art -- an extension of his vision to live in a world where we're no longer afraid of our bodies. The Minneapolis Park Police officers who gave Scully a ticket say it's a misdemeanor, punishable by a $125 fine.

A jury of six will decide who is right. In a statement against what he claims is an oppressive society, Scully has decided to take his case to trial in Hennepin County District Court. Scully, 58, who has pleaded not guilty to the offense against Proper Attire Required in a Park, will call witnesses from the local arts community and present evidence, including nude statues smattered throughout the city, that support his point that nudity is not a crime.

Sure, he said, he could save a lot of time and effort by simply paying the fine and moving on. But just like the day he pulled off his swim trunks and waded into the water, Scully says, this is a teachable moment to inspire others to live more freely.

"I believe that you have to be the change that you want to see in the world," said Scully, a 6-foot-7 dancer, founder of Patrick's Cabaret and outspoken gay rights activist who frequently performs nude onstage. "I'd like to live in a world in which our relationship to our bodies is much more relaxed and much less fearful."

Scully, who was scheduled to stand trial in late March, planned to represent himself but said he must now hire a lawyer to help prepare jury instructions. Trial is now set for May 30.

Despite years of on- and off-stage nude performances, it's Scully's first nudity-related citation. City prosecutor Deborah Styles, who is handling the case, forwarded a request for comment to a city spokesman, who said pending cases would not be discussed.

The ordinance and challenges to it are nothing new. Lee Ann Turner challenged her 1984 conviction for sunbathing topless at Wirth Lake in Minneapolis as a violation of her First Amendment rights. The Minnesota Court of Appeals was not persuaded.

Officer Danny Kagol's report is straightforward: Shortly before 3 p.m. July 10, he and another officer were patrolling Sweeney Beach, located on Twin Lake, the smaller of a pair of lakes between Hwy. 100 and Theodore Wirth Parkway on the Minneapolis-Golden Valley border. They spotted Scully walking toward the shoreline.

"As I continued to observe Scully, I was able to see that he was wearing no clothing. I was able to clearly see his penis as he walked to shore," the report read.

Scully allegedly pulled on a pair of shorts when he got to shore and was ticketed. A formal criminal complaint reads the same.

Scully said he arrived that day at the beach, which he says is one largely embraced by the city's gay community as a gathering spot. A few other men were there, he said, and he stripped down and entered the water. One warned him that it was risky to swim without a swimsuit.

"I replied that it was riskier to live one's life in fear of what the police might do," he said.

He didn't contest the officer's account of what happened, but disputes the report that describes him as "angry." He was calm and collected, he said, and knew immediately he would challenge the citation. Witnesses slated to testify in his defense include David O'Fallon, president of the Minnesota Humanities Center, avant-garde film curator Sally Dixon and musician, mixed-media and public artist Camille Gage.

In an interview, Gage cited experimental artist Allan Kaprow, who once said art in its purest form is lived by the artist, not acted. Scully, she said, is embracing that same philosophy.

"Certainly the whole act of Patrick's deciding to proceed with trial is part of the work, if you will, because wouldn't it be so much simpler to pay the ticket?" she said.

Scully, who teaches English as a Second Language at the University of Minnesota, has performed as an artist since 1976 and once considered a run for mayor, said he's not a pot-stirrer without reason. You'll never find him strolling naked down Nicollet Mall, for example. His performances are generally limited to the stage, or to the homes of friends or other supporters.

"I'm very conscious of not doing it in a situation where somebody could be offended by somebody being there naked," he said. "I'm very conscious as an artist of the opportunity to inspire or even provoke, but I'm also conscious of not wanting to injure."

No one, he said, was injured or offended by his nude swim that day, he says. The men in the lake warned him out of concern, but went back to their business. Although police noted houses were visible from the shoreline, Scully contends the beach was more than 200 yards from the closest home -- recently built homes, he said, that resulted in more frequent patrols of what was once a secluded beach.

Scully says he's not trying to use his status as an artist to squirm his way out of a ticket. Instead, he's capitalized on it artistically with performances of "Not Guilty" at Patrick's Cabaret.

"In the big picture, I think that we fear our bodies, and we live in a society in which people are easily manipulated by fear," he said. "Governments since at least Julius Caesar have been aware of that."

Abby Simons 612-673-4921


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