By Jay Blanton
(Feb. 4, 2016) — University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto has formed a broad-based committee to recommend a long-term resolution for a mural in UK's Memorial Hall that has sparked dialogue across the campus.
The Mural Committee is co-chaired by Melynda Price, a professor of law and director of the African American and Africana Studies Program at UK, and Terry Allen, interim vice president for institutional diversity.
"I have asked these dedicated members of our campus and broader community to move expeditiously, but thoughtfully, in recommending a long-term step with respect to the mural," Capilouto said. "Our campus has benefited greatly from the discussion fostered by the mural, its history and its meaning. Now, it is time to place it in a more historically accurate and complete context. It is an important work for our campus and our Commonwealth. But it can no longer be displayed in a context that is incomplete or one that unintentionally marginalizes members of our community.
To move forward, we have established a committee with varied backgrounds and areas of expertise that I know will deliberate and discuss this important issue in a thoughtful and comprehensive manner and arrive at recommendations that reflect our evolution and progress as a campus, even as we recognize that we have much work to do on many fronts."
Other appointees to the committee, which may add additional members, are:
- Rashad Bigham, student
- Terry Birdwhistell, dean of UK Libraries
- Jim Clark, director of the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, former executive director of the Public Art Fund in New York City and former president and CEO of LexArts.
- Anastasia Curwood, assistant professor of history at UK
- Jacqueline Hamilton, director of UK HealthCare's Arts in HealthCare program
- Nicole Jenkins, associate professor of accounting in the UK Gatton College of Business and Economics
- Allan Richards, associate professor in the School of Art and Visual Studies at UK
- Arturo Sandoval, professor in the School of Art and Visual Studies at UK
- Richard Schein, professor and chair of the Department of Geography at UK
"This issue has provoked a necessary dialogue on our campus," Price said. “Hopefully, the committee’s long term suggestions for solutions will more sensitively recognize the multiple meanings and reactions that this piece provokes in so many on our campus and beyond it."
"We have a committee with a deep and abiding interest and expertise in art, history, diversity and most of all the well-being of this community," Allen said. "We hope to use this discussion and process to arrive at recommendations that promote healing, reconciliation and continued dialogue about how we become the campus community we want to be for everyone who comes here."
As part of the process of dialogue, an email address — firstname.lastname@example.org — has been established for the committee to take feedback about the issue from the campus and broader community. Allen said a precise timeframe for the committee's work has not been established, except that the members know their charge is to move as quickly as possible.
The committee met for the first time last week to get organized and to begin discussing a plan of action for moving forward. Allen and Price, in addition to serving as co-chairs, will act as spokespeople for the committee.
The mural was completed in the 1930s by the artist and UK alumna Ann Rice O'Hanlon. A depression-era Public Works of Art project, the mural depicts scenes from Lexington and Kentucky's history. The fresco is considered by some observers to be one of the most important works of art in the Commonwealth.
At the same time, over the years it has been a point of controversy as many have objected to its sanitized depiction of the lives of African Americans and Native Americans in the state during the 1800s.
As part of a larger set of initiatives around the issues of diversity and inclusion, Capilouto last semester pledged to students as well as faculty and staff to examine the mural's future. A temporary shroud was placed over the mural last semester while the university continued to discuss the issues surrounding the work.
Capilouto has said that the piece will continue to be displayed but the question is how and in what context going forward.