Education

Eli Capilouto appoints task force on controversial mural at University of Kentucky

Photos of a mural inside Memorial Hall that UK says it will shroud after being called racially offensive on Monday November 23, 2015 in Lexington, Ky.
Photos of a mural inside Memorial Hall that UK says it will shroud after being called racially offensive on Monday November 23, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. mcornelison@herald-leader.com

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto has formed a task force to advise him on what to do about a controversial mural in Memorial Hall.

The committee will be co-chaired by Melynda Price, a professor of law and director of the African American and Africana Studies Program at UK, and Terry Allen, interim vice president for institutional diversity.

In November, Capilouto ordered the mural — a 1934 fresco depicting the history of Lexington —to be shrouded after he met with a group of black students who said they found the scenes of black people, possibly slaves, working in fields to be offensive.

“I have asked these dedicated members of our campus and broader community to move expeditiously, but thoughtfully, in recommending a long-term step with respect to the mural,” Capilouto said. “Our campus has benefited greatly from the discussion fostered by the mural, its history and its meaning. Now, it is time to place it in a more historically accurate and complete context. It is an important work for our campus and our commonwealth. But it can no longer be displayed in a context that is incomplete or one that unintentionally marginalizes members of our community.”

Capilouto’s decision to cover the mural provoked a wide-ranging campus decision about censorship and microaggressions on campus. Because the mural is painted into the wall, it could not be moved without destroying it.

“This issue has provoked a necessary dialogue on our campus,” Price said. “Hopefully, the committee’s long-term suggestions for solutions will more sensitively recognize the multiple meanings and reactions that this piece provokes in so many on our campus and beyond it.”

An email address — mural@uky.edu — has been established for the committee to collect feedback about the issue from the campus and broader community. Allen said there is no timeline for making recommendations, but the committee plans to work quickly.

The mural, a depression-era Public Works of Art project, was completed by artist and UK alumna Ann Rice O’Hanlon.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford

Mural task force members

  • Melynda Price, professor of law and director of the African American and Africana Studies Program
  • Terry Allen, interim vice president for institutional diversity
  • Rashad Bigham, student
  • Terry Birdwhistell, dean of UK Libraries
  • Jim Clark, director of the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, former executive director of the Public Art Fund in New York City and former president and CEO of LexArts.
  • Anastasia Curwood, assistant professor of history at UK
  • Jacqueline Hamilton, director of UK HealthCare’s Arts in HealthCare program
  • Nicole Jenkins, associate professor of accounting in the UK Gatton College of Business and Economics
  • Allan Richards, associate professor in the School of Art and Visual Studies at UK
  • Arturo Sandoval, professor in the School of Art and Visual Studies at UK
  • Richard Schein, professor and chair of the Department of Geography at UK
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