Today's Paper Newsletters LEARNS Guide Fish Story Contest 🎣 Asa Hutchinson 2024 Today's Photos Public Notices Digital FAQ Razorback Sports Puzzles Crime Distribution Locations Obits

NWA EDITORIAL | UA chancellor reacts with calm reason after artist exhibit exposes too much to public

UA chancellor deal with art melee reasonably by NWA Democrat-Gazette | March 5, 2023 at 1:00 a.m.
Charles Robinson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas, speaks Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, during the “Real Conversation with Chancellor Robinson” after a group of university art students and faculty interrupted the event to speak to the chancellor about how the university addressed a current exhibit by artist M’Shinda Abdullah-Broaddus in the Arkansas Union on the university campus in Fayetteville. The event was originally hosted by the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the College of Engineering Office of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Visit for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

If you're subject to traumatization when someone puts reasonable barriers in place so that the public isn't surprised by an art exhibit's nudity and sexual images, don't read this editorial.

Stop. Do not go any further.

We're about to support University of Arkansas Chancellor Charles Robinson's well-considered treatment of a graduate student's art exhibit once it became clear the work pushed the limits of what should be openly displayed in a public building.

So, really, resist the urge to read on if that's going to bother you.

Readers may have seen in the news pages how, on Feb. 23, Dr. Robinson opened a "Real Conversation with Chancellor Robinson" session designed to let the campus leader answer questions from students directly. If the goal was for the situation to "get real" real quick, organizers should count it as a success.

Once the session started, a gaggle of students and staff from the School of Art commandeered all the attention, arriving en masse and ready to challenge the university's response to graduate student M'Shinda Abdullah-Broaddus' thesis exhibition in the new Studio and Design Center. The exhibit includes nudity and images of sexual acts.

Now, if you've never seen a piece of art that offended you, you haven't been looking at enough art. Art can depict beauty or ugliness. It can evoke joy and pain. It can be exhilarating or disturbing, or both. Nobody should go into an art exhibit expecting to see only works that make them feel happy and safe.

Still, even the most appreciative of art appreciators, we suspect, wouldn't necessarily suggest the halls of an elementary school should be lined with Robert Mapplethorpe images.

So when university officials heard concerns that an exhibit in the newly opened Windgate Studio and Design Center on Martin Luther King Boulevard offended some who saw it, they did what they should: Look into the concerns. Here's Robinson's explanation:

"I was hearing from people who were offended, and it's a public building," Robinson said. "I wanted to give people a choice." The choice was whether to see the student's art or not, and to be advised beforehand that some of the pieces contained graphic content. Forewarned is forearmed, so to speak.

The UA didn't overreact and take the exhibition down. Rather, it changed some sight lines and provided warnings that sexually explicit imagery was included in the exhibit. They also prohibited minors from the exhibition area.

Abdullah-Broaddus called the response "deplorable." He considers the changes punishment. He and other student artists at the meeting said what happened was traumatizing to them.

Robinson said the UA's response was an attempt to respect the artist as well as the public's right not to stumble into works in a public building that they'd find offensive.

"In this instance, the student art display happens to be located in a room with walls made of glass, and that is visible to an area of the building where members of the public [including minors] could be present, and that is also visible to passersby, so appropriate screening measures were undertaken without modifying the work or its location, and without preventing its availability to interested members of the School of Art community," said Mark Rushing, associate vice chancellor for university relations.

To his credit, Robinson stood up for the decision.

"This is a state institution, [so] I have to serve students and the public," he said. "I fully own the decision."

He also said the incident was an opportunity to learn how a similar situation might be approached in the future.

Fair enough. A chancellor ought to listen to students' concerns, as Robinson has shown a willingness to do since he took the post last year.

Outrage, faux and real, is in vogue these days. And if you're outraged enough, one can become convinced nobody else's perspective has any validity. The artist's claims of censorship were dramatic, as were the claims of traumatization. The university didn't shut down the exhibition. Rather, it applied reasonable limitations for a public building to ensure only the people intending to view images of nudity and sexual acts actually did.

The lesson the students can learn is that they don't operate in a vacuum. And that provocative art provokes. Maybe they already know that.

Chancellor Robinson balanced is duties well.

What's the point?

University of Arkansas Chancellor Charles Robinson responded reasonably to an art exhibition that showed too much to be openly displayed.


Print Headline: Artistic differences


Sponsor Content