Statement from Angelique Acevedo ’19 and Lars Healy ’20 on behalf of protesting student artists:
On Tuesday, March 26th, three art students pulled their artworks from the Annual Juried Student Exhibition in protest of bias within Art Studio courses. As the show opened, these students, several supporters, and a few artists who spontaneously joined the demonstration quietly removed a total of nine artworks from the gallery, leaving their visible absences on the walls. Labels and signage stand in place of the removed artworks, reading:
“This artwork was removed because the Art and Art History department do not recognize the voices of marginalized identities.”
“If my voice as both an artist and a student is not appreciated within the Art Department, neither is my Art.” -Angelique Acevedo
“The missing artworks were removed by their respective artists in protest of the biases present within the Art Department as well as Gettysburg College.” -Student Artists
What’s been happening?
Multiple communities have been impacted by the bias present within Art Studio courses. There have been different forms of bias expressed, such as behaviors that promote discriminatory rhetoric against people of color. Multiple black and brown student artists have experienced discomfort within classroom settings as a product of present racial biases, and have voiced such experiences. These students, as well as others, have also identified artistic pressures to render within a particular artistic style.
One of the main functions of art is to provide an opportunity for people to creatively and visually express themselves, regardless of their identity or their artistic ability. Art is a unique area of knowledge in that it is highly subjective, which can play a major role in the grades that students receive while being enrolled within studio courses. If a studio professor, knowingly or not, expects and demands work created within Eurocentric parameters and western training, it will be difficult for students creating work outside of these parameters to receive a grade that they are proud of from these instructors. This should not be the case within an institution for higher education.
Why did the demonstration happen?
The strategic choice to remove the nine artworks was to visually express how the value of marginalized individuals is only acknowledged within their absence. In order to truly diversify a department, the student body must reflect diverse communities. Once a department diversifies their student population, the curriculum must draw parallels to the lives of the individuals who are studying the material. The lack of representation in both the faculty and core curriculum excludes and invalidates students who are a part of marginalized communities.
Over the past few weeks and months, students in studio classes have been voicing their concerns over classroom racial dynamics and general discontent with the limiting assignments and pedagogy of faculty in multiple ways. When students are experiencing discomfort and are also struggling academically within their own department, they are expected to reach out to faculty and staff in order to come to a consensus of what would be an effective solution. For the student who is experiencing these racialized tensions within their academic environment, it is not simple to express the difficulties they are experiencing. Our voices were not given spaces through traditional routes of official and unofficial conversation with faculty, student feedback in hiring processes (during which it was explicitly requested), and bias reports. This meant we now had to take space, and elevate our message in a way that forced people to hear it. In other words, we tried all of the sanctioned routes for complaints, and received definitive proof that we weren’t being heard by the bureaucracy of Gettysburg College. Our hand was forced to act outside of that bureaucracy.
When protesting, one has to look at opportunities for spaces to take, leverage, and amplification. This means our options for venues were severely limited, and so we ultimately decided that the most effective space to make a statement on bias, specifically within the art community of Gettysburg, was the Juried Student Exhibition. As a collective we would like to address that the gallery is not directly associated with the Art and Art History departments and has no influence in how these departments function. However, to quote the Director of the Schmucker Art Gallery, Shannon Egan, “The mission of the Gallery is to support student engagement, promote various artistic voices, provide a safe space for difficult and challenging conversations, and to promote creative student work.” Because of this long-term commitment to active student engagement and conversation, it made sense for us to bring the elephant in the Art Department, so to speak, into this space, at a time when we knew we would have the attention of faculty and administration. We know the show as a whole suffers without our work, and are hoping the absence of our pieces and the fact that others cannot enjoy our art may galvanize others to speak and act in solidarity with us.
What’s wrong with the courses and department?
Our Art Department is, in many ways, a reflection of both the college and the greater art world. It comes as no surprise that implicit racism is present in our curriculum. Studio Majors are required to take three Art History classes, two of which are Western Survey and Art After 1945, a continuation of Western Survey. Their titles speak to their eurocentricity. 12 of 15 faculty listed in the department are white, and 5 of 6 full-time professors are white. In the past 4 years, 3 hires have been made- all white men. We have no studio professors of color. What does this say about our commitment to diversity as a department? As a College?
Students experiencing racial bias as well as a stylistic bias fosters a toxic learning environment that is truly impactful for a particular group of students, since these students do not align with the traditional outlook of what art and artists are supposed to mirror. As a liberal arts institution, interdisciplinary courses and diverse viewpoints are quintessential for our learning. The promotion of diverse areas of knowledge cannot occur without the presence of a diverse student and faculty community. If receiving a diverse education is embedded within the foundation of this academic institution, why are diverse perspectives neglected when they are the focus at hand?
This is not a Gettysburg-specific problem. Artists have historically been neglected, even punished if their work is not informed by a digestible and predetermined western canon. If we want to have a robust and innovative Art department, we have to be questioning what we teach and be actively searching to curate a curriculum that can foster any student’s growth, instead of simply replicating that western canon and its supposed supremacy. Though we speak from experience within the Art Department, we are sure other departments could benefit from questioning what practices they teach as well.
Though there are many changes that need to be made within the Art Department and Gettysburg College more broadly, we’ve decided our hiring demands are as follows:
- Art and Art History Majors and Minors will be notified in advance of interviews and presentations of candidates during staff hiring processes.
- Following these presentations, formalized feedback forms (or electronic forms) will be distributed to those in attendance and collected for consideration by hiring committees during deliberations.
- Art and Art History Majors and Minors will be included among the hiring committees entrusted with decision-making on hires.
- Choices are being made about our future education by a team of 3 professors and the department chair, but these are not the people who have or will be taught by the professors they hire. Perhaps students on the hiring committees will be selected by professors in the department, perhaps they will be volunteers. If we as students cannot trust our faculty to make hiring decisions with our interests in mind, then we ask to be the ones instead making the decisions.