Officials resolve dispute about student art exhibit
BOULDER» University of Colorado officials have come to a resolution with the student who said they censored his artwork when they demanded that he move it out of a prominent display in the Visual Arts Complex lobby.
Kaelen Williams, a senior seeking a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, created 22 paintings and 15 small drawings for an exhibit titled “Less Than Nothing” but drew complaints from students about numerous pieces, including one that displayed a noose.
Williams was informed by the Art and Art History Department that his exhibit could remain in the lobby for its opening last week, but he would need to move it to a basement room over the weekend. He created an online petition that garnered more than 200 signatures, protested the decision and gained support from anticensorship organizations, including the National Coalition Against Censorship.
CU announced Wednesday night in a news release that the department and Williams had come to an agreement that Williams’ artwork will remain in its current location through Sunday; he will work with a faculty member to create a mural to be displayed in the lobby next semester; and faculty and students will plan a symposium to discuss art, free expression and academic freedom.
“I think it’s a really good solution because we’re addressing the issue, but we’re doing it in a collaborative and constructive way rather than having a fight or a court case or something, which I don’t think anybody is really interested in,” Williams said.
As for the symposium, he said: “We just want to have some kind of discussion event, so we can talk about these kinds of issues of speech and imagery, and how do you balance free speech and sensitivity?”
Students complained about several images in Williams’ works, including a noose, hooded figures and satanic images, but Williams and curator Kendall Goduto said they were under the impression that the noose was the primary point of concern for students. They said they had not considered how the image, which they displayed on promotional posters and in the exhibit, might affect black students in particular.
University of Colorado senior Kaelen Williams holds a piece of his artwork for his gallery exhibit “Less Than Nothing” on Monday in a basement studio space inside the Visual Arts Complex on campus in Boulder.