On April 19th, Stacy Lotz’s “Creating Change Through Art” class and many other supporters gathered in the Veteran’s Memorial Great Room on the second floor of the CSB to watch students present their art project before choosing to take it down. In the Creating Change Through Art class, students are expected to create a project public art installation throughout the semester that is community-based and is put together with the idea of advocating for an issue that they are passionate about. This class is a community engagement course.
The project was a large fishing net extending over the railings of the third-floor CSB, containing clean recyclables, sharing a space that hosts the Veterans Memorial Great Room. Under the net was a fish tank containing crumpled pieces of paper with facts about ocean pollution and overfishing written on them. This project was created by three Biology seniors, Alexa Johnson, Jaid Sellers, and Jazmyn Gentry, and was titled “Causing Commotion About the Ocean”.
“The purpose of this project was to show how large overfishing and pollution are as issues. We’ve picked this area because it’s an open high-traffic area, it shares a floor with the Biology wing, and most importantly, the intent was to put people in an immersive experience. It is in a place where it shouldn’t be, therefore showing that trash – clean or not – shouldn’t be in a fishing net and shouldn’t be in our oceans” says Gentry.
The work of art caused some controversy as several anonymous complaints had been sent to administration. An email was sent to Lotz informing her of potential issues about the project. “With an influx of alumni and friends joining the campus this weekend from the board of trustees and alumni board, a few concerned individuals shared their thoughts with me. I’m not sure what if anything should be done, but I wanted to at least convey these sentiments to you”, which was sent as a portion of the email. This raised the question of whether or not these students should take it down because some viewed it as disrespectful, being above the Veteran’s Memorial Great Room. “I have a feeling that if the art were different, it may not have generated the same reaction. No use of that space to date has meant any disrespect” was in the last half of the anonymous email to Lotz.
There’s an implication in the email that without saying take it down, implies that it might upset somebody or somebodies. Sellers said, “We were not told to take it down, nobody approached us or emailed us saying you must take it down, but when you hear comments and there’s a sense of pressure to take it down, we decided amongst ourselves that we were going to take it down without being told that we have to. It’s better to take the high road than to get an email saying it’s disrespectful. We by no means meant this in any disrespectful way. This is in the Biology department, these are all our Biology professors here, and we got everyone with offices in that area on both floors permission to put it here.”
These students felt that the missions and values of Monmouth were contradicted by the response they received from the anonymous complaints. “At Monmouth College, we believe the liberal arts change lives, creating committed learners capable of exploring their passions, solving difficult problems, and understanding their responsibilities to society; pride ourselves in close professional relationships among faculty, staff, and students that challenge and nurture students in their personal development” from the Monmouth College Mission and Values page on the website.
“What does this mean for the voices of Monmouth college students?” said Lotz. “They have lived their academic life on campus in this building as Biology majors; this is their place. What has occurred is that a lot of times when public art is put on display, it is misinterpreted, and that is exactly what has happened in this instance. It saddens me when student voices aren’t allowed to be heard or aren’t asked the questions that need to be asked if there is a problem.”
“We are all Biology majors. This is our last year and we wanted to finish this semester strong and make an impact. Although it was short-lived, we are so proud of it. This took a week to put up and we just finished it on Tuesday. Even with the little time it was up, it got a lot of attention and it got a lot of positive feedback. With that we thank you guys for supporting us” says Johnson. The community was asked to help take the project down as a sign of continued support and everyone around contributed to the clean up of the fallen project.
Ali Vorhies – Features Editor