Sacramento State still responding to controversial art display

Cailin Jessup

After a controversial student art display in December depicted two male students suspended from a tree outside Brighton Hall in a way that was reminiscent of lynching, President Alexander Gonzalez issued a university-wide memo regarding the act, calling for revision of current policies regarding public art and safety.

“The University did not approve the display and I want to assure everyone that I am working to address the multiple issues raised by this incident,” Gonzalez said.

Senior art major Christina Edwards was the student behind the display and issued an open letter in response to the president’s memo, explaining her reasoning behind the project and to assure that she did not mean for it to be offensive.

“I choose to express my art in a way that resonates with me, but I did not intend to offend anyone in or outside the project,” Edwards said.

Edwards said the installation, which was a part of her art portfolio, was meant to shed light on the issue of racial discrimination and social injustice.

“The goal of my art was to capture the community’s response while witnessing a display of the historical fact and tragedy,” Edwards said. “I decided to use the reversal of race to shine a new light on an old, but standing matter.”

Edwards said she had followed the proper procedures and safety precautions and was given verbal approval from her department to stage the display.

Vice President of Administrative Affairs Mike Lee said campus police were dispatched to help end the display quickly to ensure that no students, either the subjects or passersbys, were harmed.

“Our first priority was the safety of our students,” Lee said.

Some felt that the university was justified in stopping the display.

“Yes, the artist has the right to prove her point, but maybe not in that way,” said junior studio art major Rose Lopez. “The school was right for stopping it. Something like a hanging could be really triggering for some people on campus.”

Lee said the university’s Risk Management and Public Safety departments are currently reviewing the safety measures in place before making any alterations.

“We do not know at this time if any policies will change, but I do believe that the issue was handled appropriately at the time that it happened,” Lee said.

Edward Inch, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, has met with the art department and begun discussions of revisiting and changing policies.

Art Chair Catherine Turrill said the issue is that there is no cohesive policy regarding public installation art at Sac State.

“There is no single umbrella policy,” Turrill said. “There have not been many instances that I can recall where student art was displayed outside of our galleries. Student projects are done through individual courses and instructors who work with students one-on-one when they want to work outside of gallery space.”

Turrill said the department will be reviewing its policy regarding the use of human subjects and safety.

“Sac State has a policy in place, but the language is limited to science projects, not expressive arts,” Turrill said. “We are first consulting with the College Art Association and will check with the National Association of Schools of Art and Design to look at the policies they have and see if we can do something similar.”

In addition to this review, Turrill said that the next step is to make sure these guidelines are aligned with the practical policies regarding use of public space as set by the university.

“There need to be clear, visible, understandable and regularly updated policies about how a person can use campus space, especially in terms of temporary art, like how much a piece can interact with buildings or trees,” Turrill said. “It should include a single list of people to contact about matters like this, so that there can be better communication between artists and the university.”