March 30, 2011

MECA president weighs in on mural controversy

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Don Tuski, president of Maine College of Art, has added his voice to the Labor Department mural controversy.

In an open letter published this morning, Tuski called Gov. Paul LePage’s removal of the mural “an act of censorship,” and said the governor’s actions show a “lack of respect.”

He asked the governor to return the mural to its original spot.

Here is his letter:

“Maine College of Art believes that art and artists play a critical role in society. The removal of the mural from the Department of Labor in Augusta illustrates just how powerful art can be: it can incite controversy, galvanize communities, inspire dialogue, and serve as a catalyst for social change.
“As part of their arts education at MECA, our students learn to understand and respect process because it is a crucial component of any civil society.

“Gov. LePage’s demonstrated lack of respect for the process of commissioning artwork is an act of censorship.

“In the original call for art, the Department of Labor asked for a mural in which ‘the value and dignity of workers and their critical role in creating the wealth of the state and nation should be emphasized. In essence, Maine workers should strongly be portrayed as more than an “impersonal cost of production.”’ It was the responsibility of the art review committee, consisting of representatives from the Department of Labor, to select the proposal which best met these criteria. They selected Judy Taylor who created the site-specific artwork depicting the requested theme.

“Four years later, newly elected Gov. LePage reacted to the content of the mural calling it ‘one-sided’ and had it removed it from the lobby of the Department of Labor and asked instead for a neutral decor. Art is not decoration, nor is it neutral. It is provocative and should elicit a response from individuals. It is not created to please all who view it. Art, like democracy, allows for differing opinions, for discourse, for expression of personal beliefs.

“Art serves as a mirror that reflects a moment in time. This mural captures a piece of history. Gov. LePage did not like what he saw. By removing the mural, he smashed that mirror – an attempt to rewrite history.

“This public mural is meant for the people of Maine. Maine College of Art requests that Gov. LePage respect the process by which the artwork was selected and installed. Put the mural back.”

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