Things of the Week: Budget slashes & unnecessary student censorship

Justicia Barreiros / Free Press Staff

Posted on April 08, 2013 in Henry's Head, Perspectives
By Andrew Henry

Unnecessary student censorship of the week

Three weeks ago, art students Lydia Brown and Sarah McCullough received an administrative complaint about their mural that was displayed on the top floor of the New Science Building’s Ci2 lab in Portland, a complaint that resulted in the removal of the mural. The mural depicts a bare-breasted woman giving birth as part of an assignment for their experimental drawing class. Brown and McCullough received special permission to work in the lab because the walls and surrounding space were large enough to accommodate the size of the mural.

“We had a tough time finding a large, consistent wall space,” McCullough said. It was placed on the wall on the right side of the elevator entrance in the lab. McCullough was in the middle of adjusting the mural on the wall when she was informed of the complaint. She and Brown talked about the possibility of moving it to a different part of the lab rather than removing it entirely.

“I just wanted to be able to keep working,” McCullough explained. “We just needed a space where we can step back and see how our work looks from far away.” The administration and the pair of artists came to a compromise, and moved the mural to the backside of the left wall outside of the elevator in the lab.
The mural itself is a thing of beauty. While I can understand the administration’s complaint, I side with the students on this issue. The mural is an artist’s interpretation, and the center of the piece shows a woman with her breasts exposed. I really don’t think it’s a matter that requires the threatened total removal of the art. When asked about the piece, Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell responded, “It wasn’t the art that was the problem, it was the placement of the piece. The lobby [of the lab] is a public space, and we should be a little more sensitive to off-campus students and younger groups of students from other schools.”

If the mural were at all pornographic, I can see how it would pose a problem. But the mural is psychedelic, not pornographic, and even with the occasional group of visiting students, I don’t see what the fuss is about. They’re going to see a breast eventually and have most likely already seen the cleavage-baring clothing that some women wear.

I sympathize with McCullough. “We’re students, and the idea of [the removal of the piece] is aggravating.” She explained how someone pointed out that the nipple of an exposed breast seemed accentuated. “Of course it is!” she responded. “She’s pregnant!” If anything, the complaints have inspired for them confidence and a stronger sense of pride in their work. After four weeks of working on the mural, 50-plus hours of drawing by each and over 25 permanent, it’s clear that there’s no stopping McCullough and Brown. “It’s our baby,” McCullough said.

Budget slashing of the week

The College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at USM is facing between $645,000 and $760,000 in budget cuts, and the School of Music is one of the departments facing a portion of the cuts. Several faculty positions within the music department are either being eliminated or non-replaced, and the school of music as a whole will suffer as a result.

In the midst of many large budget cuts, I think that USM should emphasize programs like the School of Music that are consistently highly-ranked and successful with students, not cut them down. As someone who participated in almost every musical program offered at my high school, I understand the importance of the arts in education. I’ve been a tour guide at the admissions office for three years, and a typical selling point is that our School of Music is in the top five in New England, and we compete with schools like the Berklee School of Music and the New England Conservatory. In fact, the School of Music is the only department to have an entire building in Gorham (Corthell Hall) designated just for classes in that major. USM’s music performance program has also drawn more students since the University of Maine’s music performance major was dissolved into a minor in 2010. It seems like whenever budget cuts have to be made, the arts are often the first place administrations turn to for cuts, and it really should be one of the last.