Forum seeks to find proper place for Lexington’s sometimes controversial public art

Rebecca Watters

The UK Art Museum, the University Senate Council and the UK Division of Undergraduate Education hosted a public forum regarding art on campus in the wake of discussions regarding the controversy of art in public places both on and off campus.

Panelists for the event included Jim Clark, executive director of Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, Melynda Price, director of the UK African American and Africana Studies Program and the Robert E. Harding Jr. Professor of Law, Arturo Alonzo Sandoval, Alumni Endowed Professor of Art at the UK School of Art and Visual Studies, and Richard Schein, professor and chair of the UK Department of Geography.

The forum was moderated by Art Museum Director Stuart Horodner. According to Horodner, the purpose of the event was to extend the discussion of art after a similar discussion in the fall about confederate monuments in downtown Lexington. He said he hopes that this discussion will spark a similar thought train about art on campus.

“Our goal is not to end the conversation; it’s to create a place in which we can engage in a very thoughtful discussion and determine how we view art as an extension of the classroom,” Horodner said.

With the current debate regarding the Memorial Hall mural, alongside a discussion of controversial monuments in the Lexington Town Square, many feel that the ideals of certain art may be outdated. The forum aimed to address this issue and give a voice to the campus population.

“Art often reflects what is historically accurate and what we know about the time,” Price said. “We have to think that we are people that are grounded and that are part of a culture they’re embracing.”

The panel also discussed the role of culture as an important component of these controversial works of art, including the idea of art determining the identity of a place.

“Art reflects the culture of the environment and the composition of the people around it,” Clark said. “There are expectations of inclusion when things are created that represent that place.”

According to Associate Provost of Undergraduate Education and former Art Department Chair Ben Withers, discussions such as these are a chance to determine what the campus considers public art.

“Public art can, and should be, a part of education, but we haven’t had a comprehensive strategy about how to address it,” Withers said. “These discussions are an educative and administrative opportunity to determine what we mean by public art, both on campus and in the community.”

Clark said he believes providing students and faculty with a chance to display temporary exhibits may aid overcoming the conflict surrounding controversial art.

“A temporary public art program that embraces work done by faculty and students, as well as commissions major artists, could demonstrate the vision and encourage students.”

Aside from discussing the possible controversies of art, the forum also aimed to allow students and faculty a chance to appreciate the work surrounding them and to inspire them to succeed academically.

“Works add beauty to the spaces,” Sandoval said. “Beauty is a part of the world and environment on a campus.”

In addition to these forums, UK has contributed to the Kentucky Museum Without Walls project and the creation of their “TakeItArtside” app, where iPhone and Android users can post photos of public art or find public art in their area.

Going forward, Horodner said his hope is that these forums will continue to discuss the issues and successes of art on campus.