“Lenin and Stalin on a New School wall: what could that mean except that the New School was in league with the Communists?,” President Alvin Johnson asked in the midst of a rising tide of anti-communism after World War II. The Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco finished the murals in the new home of The New School at 66 West 12th Street in mid-January 1931. In them, he visualized the contemporary moment as one of revolutionary change, in the marching armies of Russia, the nonviolent protestors of India, and, in a hoped-for vision of the future, around a table of universal brotherhood. Orozco and Johnson knew these scenes might be offensive to some; Orozco even offered to take out the one depicting the Russian Revolution. Johnson refused. “I had been given absolute freedom in my work,” Orozco testified later. “It was a school for investigation, not for submission.” Despite this exhortation, twenty years later the school covered the portion of the mural depicting Lenin and Stalin. Many thought the murals were a form of propaganda for a dictatorial regime. Others worried that the portrayal tied the school to Communist activities just as Senator Joseph McCarthy denounced “Communist infiltration” in the U.S. government, in the arts and entertainment industry, and, perhaps most troubling, in education. Still others thought it was not just the content of the murals that created unease but their placement in a busy cafeteria where people were subjected to them on a regular basis. The Board of Trustees advised the President to find a new home for the murals, saving them from destruction but removing the provocation. Students elevated the controversy into a debate about freedom and democracy, arguing that guaranteeing “the rights of minorities” – those who believed the murals should remain uncovered and, perhaps, American Communists themselves – ensured a truer form of democracy. After the glare of 1953, the murals moved increasingly out of view as the room transferred from a widely used cafeteria to a faculty lounge. Irving Howe, writing in the first issue of Dissent in 1954, used the curtaining of the Orozco murals as an example of “the confusion of modern politics.” This was not a matter of the school, he argued, but of a society in which civil liberties were in danger – especially because The New School began as a “refuge for liberalism and freedom.” A school for investigation had become one for submission, Howe implied. Should an artwork be taken down when historical circumstances make it charged with offense? Can a conflicted history bring new life to an old image? And what is the role of a school in reacting to these changes? To which moment -- and to whom -- is an institution most responsible?
The New School moves into 66 W. 12th Street, a building designed by Joseph Urban. Murals by José Clemente Orozco and Thomas Hart Benton are unveiled.
Academic freedom is a valorized principle of The New School, which was founded in opposition to universities rife with administrative power and bureaucracy. Realities soon war with ideals in the early years of the school, bringing both administrative structure and more rules. In the chill of the post-World War II world, the administration revises the school’s by-laws. In addition to accepting “the obligation to follow the truth of scholarship wherever it may lead, regardless of personal consequences,” every person employed by the New School community shall not be “a member of any political party or group which asserts the right to dictate in matters of science or scientific opinion.” Alvin Johnson, the longstanding first Director of The New School, writes a brochure explaining the three original murals of the building by Thomas Hart Benton, José Clemente Orozco, and Camilo Egas, which includes mention of various criticisms that Orozco’s mural has provoked.
As the chill of the Cold War becomes icier, The New School submits to New York state law that every teacher takes an “oath of allegiance to the American and State constitutions.” “Though I question both the wisdom and the logic of this decision, we have to act accordingly,” Dean Clara Mayer writes to the faculty.
Alvin Johnson discusses with President Hans Simons the mounting criticism regarding the Orozco murals. He presents a stubborn defense of the murals to the outside while working to contain the controversy on the inside. Worried about vandalism to the fragile frescoes, Johnson recommends covering the pictures with “burlap tacked or glued in such a way as to avoid damaging the picture.” He also suggests arranging an art exhibit as a way in which to install such a covering so as not to gather undue attention.
The administration covers the murals for an exhibit of faculty artwork. After some protest by Artists Equity and others, the curtains are removed and a plaque put up that attributes the ideas in the mural exclusively to Orozco in 1930. Queries increase regarding the school’s being “pink,” with “Communistic affiliations.” “The New School is considered pink only by dunces. It would certainly not place on its roster of instructors anyone who is addicted to either Stalin or McCarthy,” Johnson responds.
The New School continues to combat accusations of connections with Communism, denying the charges while also battling against the infringement of civil liberties. The head of the art department asks a faculty member to resign because of suspicions of Communist affiliations. President Simons urges caution in responding to such accusations. “In times like these much is at stake for any individual whose competence or loyalty may be questioned erroneously.”
The Board of Trustees forms a committee to investigate the question of “what should be done about the Orozco murals.” A report from Board of Trustee committee recognizes the artistic merit of the murals but also that their political content has “provoked controversy and stirred the prejudices of many people for many years” and has had an adverse effect on fundraising (in contrast to Johnson’s earlier public denial of any impact). The committee also asserts that the removal or destruction of the murals would betray the school’s “liberal tradition.” President Simons states his belief that “the most significant aspect of it was not the existence of the murals, but the fact that they were in the cafeteria so that students necessarily became a captive audience.” “[W]hichever way the school moves on this, about half the people will applaud and half will condemn,” he concludes.
The Graduate Faculty unanimously adopts a resolution declaring that the murals do not express the policy of the school. The resolution of its Alumni Association states that “the murals on the fifth floor represent primarily propaganda and are inappropriate in a place devoted to science and teaching.”
The Board of Trustee committee concludes that “the existence of the murals was clearly a divisive element and has caused considerable annoyance.” They authorize the President “to find some way of selling or otherwise disposing of the murals in a manner which would avoid their destruction and results in no cost to the school.” The committee also approves the President’s action in curtaining the wall that contains the most controversial subject matter. The covering of the murals provokes a variety of reactions in the press, most claiming that the school has “bowed to hysteria.”
Students start a petition of protest. “The ‘Curtain Hysteria’ which is sweeping the world in such forms as Iron and Silken curtains, has unfortunately struck a resonant note here at the New School in the form of a cloth curtain,” students write. They berate the school for covering up controversy and debate, asking: “how about a point of freedom? Isn’t that also covered by the cloth curtain and hence cast aside?” “You can’t cover up Russia. You don’t judge a painting by its politics. It’s been there for 23 years without proof of its having corrupted anyone,” one student argues. President Simons claims that the dispute is a “‘problem of the school’ and does not concern ‘the outside’.”
Student committee petitions the Board to remove the curtain. Board Chairman William Davis answers that the school is committed to preserving the murals. “The Board is confident that the reputation and standing of the New School in defense of the democratic tradition and cultural freedom can well withstand any unfavorable implications.” ”
Students respond to the Board’s letter by announcing the dissolution of its Committee Against the Curtaining of Murals. But the students also make numerous recommendations intended to prompt continued widespread discussion about freedom, democracy, and the rights of minorities.
Irving Howe, writing in the first issue of Dissent, condemns the New School for covering of the mural and President Simons’ understanding of the issue as an internal problem that did not concern “the outside.” Recalling the New School as a “refuge for liberalism and freedom,” Howe charges: “Well, Dr. Simons, one is sorry to say this, but the mural is not merely ‘a problem of the school’; and one would be delighted to go back where one came from: New York.” The murals recede from the spotlight, as the room becomes a faculty lounge. Even events such as the luncheon celebrating the cornerstone of a new building (65 W. 11th St.) are located in the space outside the Orozco Room rather than within it.
At a meeting held in the Orozco Room, Board of Trustee members Ralph Walker and Alvin Johnson congratulate President Henry David for taking off the covering of the mural and bringing the room back into use.
In May 1970, students at Parsons School of Design sent an invitation to President Nixon to attend the opening of their exhibition, My God! We’re Losing a Great Country. An expression of their distress and loss of faith in the administration, the exhibition was a direct response to the May 4 shootings at Kent State University, and in solidarity with the National Student Strike. The White House sent a telegram of regret.
The year had not been without event at the university—only in February, a merger had been effected joining Parsons with The New School. Three months later, graduating students were hard at work getting ready for their end of year showcase at Parsons’ uptown building. For the nation, these had been years of tumultuous protest—against the war in Vietnam, and for civil rights and women’s rights—but by the end of 1969, even a disillusioned and shocked population had hopes that the troops would be withdrawn. Nixon’s announcement, on April 30th, 1970, of the expansion of the war into Cambodia was perceived as a reversal. Four days later, the National Guard at Kent State University in Ohio shot, killed and wounded unarmed students. Campuses across the country exploded, calling for a nation-wide strike.
On May 7, at Parsons, 650 students voted not only to suspend classes but also to cancel the end of year show that they felt would be a ‘travesty’ at this time; instead, the students mounted a radically different exhibition, demonstrating how “an academic institution can function in dissent at the height of its productive powers,” as the Parsons dean phrased it. Created over four feverish days by students, faculty and administrators working together, and led by the student council, it included posters, graphics, photographs, drawings, sculpture and installations. Fierce, direct and anguished, the swift-grown exhibition packed a “crude socko,” as one critic put it.
During the same period downtown, student-organizing committees, with the initial support of the faculty and the administration, had turned The New School Graduate Faculty’s new home, 65 5th Avenue, into a center for rallying protest. Over the course of the next twenty days, however, the university’s perception of student ferment went from legitimate action to disruptive occupation. It ended in the removal of students from the building by the police at the request of the administration.
The 5th Avenue building was also home to The New School Art Center whose director, Paul Mocsanyi, had a progressive bent, organizing exhibitions on provocative social and political themes. He invited the Parsons students to re-mount their exhibition downtown.
Critics writing about the My God! lamented its limited impact outside the university as they recognized the political potential of techniques of persuasion. Within the school itself, the powerful possibilities of this moment of merger—of art, design and politics—would be unclear for a long while. The strategies of the two student bodies, uptown and downtown, were distinct—one deploying its arsenal of art, design and visual methods to serve a political rather than a corporate end, and the other, enlisting its training in politics and theory toward political organizing and demonstration. This historical episode prefigures The New School’s current commitment to the intersections of design and social research.
This pivotal junction raises several questions. Can multi-disciplinary training encourage more effective social and political intervention? Is the university, as an institution, able to handle the far-reaching effects of its own education on the students? What are the limits of productive and effective forms of student dissent?
See exhibition catalog HERE.
The New School for Social Research celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. Its Graduate Faculty has only recently moved from the iconic Joseph Urban building on 12th Street, and its 11th Street extension, to a new building at 65 Fifth Avenue, formerly Lane’s Department Store. The campus of the New School is now divided between two locations. The following February, the school will expand further in a merger with Parsons.
Nixon announces on television that the U.S. has begun incursions into Cambodia to clear out “major enemy sanctuaries.” He had been elected in 1968 on a promise to end the Vietnam War. In 1969, the killings by U.S. soldiers of unarmed civilians in the My Lai massacre had come to light and a new draft lottery was instituted creating further opposition. However, troop withdrawals were believed to be underway by 1969. The Cambodian incursion is seen as a betrayal and protests escalate across the country.
Ohio National Guardsmen open fire at unarmed students at Kent State University. Four are killed and nine wounded. Some were protesters and others simply on their way to classes. John Filo’s Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of a young woman, Mary Ann Vecchio, kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller becomes the iconic symbol of the killings. Campuses across the country erupt in response.
Images used by students as exhibition source material. From photograph by John Paul Filo, Valley Daily News and Daily Dispatch (Tarentum and New Kensington, Pennsylvania)
May 4: An informal steering committee of students at The New School votes to suspend normal university business, including classes. May 5: The Graduate Faculty at The New School passes a resolution supporting the strike and in solidarity with the students. President Everett issues a statement shortly thereafter in support and suspends classes until May 9. May 7: Uptown, Parsons students vote to suspend classes for the rest of the term in solidarity with the National Student Strike and “as a dramatic indication of the loss of faith in both the credibility and morality of the Nixon administration.” Downtown, at The New School, in a mass meeting, students vote to extend the strike to the end of the semester.
Students, faculty and administration of The New School act in concert for the first week after the Kent State shootings. The 5th Avenue building is designated the regional work stoppage headquarters by the National Student Strike Committee. It is abuzz with activity: Meetings are held, flyers printed, music plays, labor organizers hold rallies, and resolutions passed. High school students pour in from all over the city to join in the protests. “If you want to keep cool, go to the beach or the New School,” goes a popular slogan. In the lobby are caricatures of Nixon, Vice President Agnew and Ellsworth Bunker, ambassador to South Vietnam, a member of The New School’s board of trustees and a Vietnam hawk. A metal sculpture in the lobby with an indeterminate head bears a sign: “We are sad but the time for gargoyles has passed.”
In the aftermath of the shootings, students at Parsons, some of whom had been working on their senior show, gather in the vast auditorium space of their building to discuss what they should do. Recalling this time, David Levy, then Dean of Parsons, says he reminded them that unlike other students in the country, they had spent two years “learning to be propagandists” and urged them to use their skills: “Don’t go out and sell Corn Flakes, sell ideas.” And so, the exhibition is conceived, the title taken from an exclamation of one of the members of the organizing committee.
The installation fills the entire floor of the building, a former truck garage of Bloomingdales. Students pool funds to buy Nixon a round-trip airline ticket and include it with their invitation. When the White House declines and returns the ticket, it is blown up into a 7-foot poster. Jane Snyder, organizer of the graphic peace offensive said, “ We have more unity in this school than there’s ever been.”
By mid-May, the administration is beginning to see the students’ activities downtown as disruptive. President Everett issues a notice prohibiting access to 65 5th Avenue by protesters, such as the high school students, outside the New School. He announces that he will seek an injunction against the strikers and orders doors closed at 10pm. Accounts suggest that there were different factions and points of view—those who disagreed with the overt political takeover and the disruption of academic life, and those who supported a narrowly anti-war agenda, wanting distance from the labor, civil rights, feminism and other issues in the mix. By the end of May, student presence is considered an occupation. On May 25, 1970 The police are called in to arrest the students, 18 of whom are charged with criminal trespass.
The New School Art Center’s programming, which included films, lectures and exhibitions, had not been without its detractors. Established in 1960 with a mission to represent the efforts of The New School to recognize art as a human and social endeavor, it had a history of presenting exhibitions with strong political and historical themes— Protest and Hope on Civil Rights and Vietnam in 1967 and an exhibition on art made by children and adults in the concentration camp, Terezin in 1968. Just in March 1970, Arab students of the New School for Social Research decried an exhibition called Baghdad Gallows as Israeli-Zionist propaganda, demanding the chance to present an exhibition that displayed their point of view. After the My God! exhibition, the Center would go on to present the Hiroshima Panels, works by two Japanese artists who were eyewitnesses to the atomic holocaust, from October to December, 1970.
My God! We’re Losing a Great Country is on view. About a thousand posters are also distributed all over the city. Entering the exhibition, visitors are met with four vigil candles for the dead in Ohio in front of tombstone-like structures. They must walk through cut-outs of soldiers in combat in order to reach the rest of the exhibition. Tank trap-like structures display paintings, posters, and photographs. There are no attributions, no authors. Music by Joan Baez and Bob Dylan accompanies a film projection of photographs. The final section of the exhibition is a hallway with an empty coffin with a flag folded on its pillow and a small placard reading “My God! We’re Losing a Great Country.” Didactic and propagandistic, it is also recognized as sincere and eloquent, with a power to stimulate change.
This poem was the caption for a 1987 ad for Calpis, a milk-based softdrink beloved of Japanese children since 1924. Kuroku natta, the standard way to describe one’s skin darkening with the sun, literally means “turned black.” The accompanying logo didn’t depict a Japanese person, however, but a caricature of an African American man from the age of minstrelsy and blackface, eyes rolled back in delight. Only in 1989 was the logo retired, under international pressure over racist imagery in Japanese popular and commercial culture. In 1989, too, three months before the last bottles with the logo were produced, the Calpis logo appeared on the wall of an exhibition at the Parsons School of Design. Part of a show of the work of Japanese graphic designer Shin Matsunaga, it triggered a series of protests which ultimately forced a reckoning with The New School’s weak record on issues of race. The turmoil eventually led to revisions in exhibition policies as well as the presentation of a pioneering exhibition of work of African American designers taking on racist stereotypes at Parsons, a comprehensive student- and faculty-driven curricular reform at Eugene Lang College, and a university-wide effort to diversify the school community. Galvanizing these reactions was an intervention in the work itself by spoken-word poet and Eugene Lang College faculty member Sekou Sundiata. A week before the exhibition was to come down, Sundiata drew an X in blue pen through the image and added his own caption: This is racist bullshit Then he signed his name: Sundiata. Other names soon appeared—and more intense controversy. Was Sundiata’s act vandalism, even censorship? Civil disobedience or, as he described it, “resistance”? Demands that the university take the offending image down or add a disclaimer to it were joined by calls of both condemnation and support of Sundiata’s action. The New School community found itself in a painful bind. Only weeks before the exhibition opened, the Trustees had approved a strong Statement on Freedom of Artistic Expression (it was the time of the Religious Right’s attacks on artistic freedom) and University President Jonathan Fanton had endorsed a “right to be free from intolerance.” Perhaps The New School’s most widely reported episode of the “culture wars,” the “Matsunaga Affair” raises questions about the responsibilities of universities and their constituents to each other. How can spaces and communities of learning, creativity and engagement be structured and supported? How should issues of intolerance and difference beyond the university be engaged within it?
In response to political attacks on artistic freedom, the University explicitly extends its 1987 Policy on Free Exchange of Ideas to art and design. Going beyond pledges of academic and artistic freedom, these statements articulate the responsibilities of the university and its faculty in maintaining an environment open to these freedoms. At Convocation New School President Jonathan Fanton describes the forthcoming Statement on Freedom of Artistic Expression and also makes a commitment to make the university a more welcoming place for all people: The New School stands behind its members’ “right to be free from intolerance.”
It is a time of political organizing among students at The New School. Weekly meetings are held by Students and Youth against Racism (SAYAR). Changes in the Weather is created as an “umbrella group” for discussions to address the “lack of connections made between our classes, our lives, and the world outside,” especially on questions of gender, sexuality and race, at Eugene Lang College.
An exhibition of works by Japanese graphic designer Shin Matsunaga opens at the Parsons Galleries. Parsons’ Chancellor David Levy commends the “inventive and far-reaching” work; “blending a Japanese calligraphic sensibility with modern typography and western approaches to graphic design” it “provides a deep and educational experience into the working of the graphic process.” Matsunaga’s first show in the U.S., it comprises 350 works spread over three gallery spaces. The space visible from Fifth Avenue includes small posters that Matsunaga’s company used for in-house celebrations of successful and beloved projects.
One of the small posters in the small gallery is a 1987 newspaper advertisement for Calpis, which includes its racist logo. Associate Dean of Milano School of Management John M. Jeffries sees it and writes a letter to Fanton and Levy. He describes the image and the “pain” of encountering it – “especially at The New School and just weeks after the president’s commitment to creating a more inclusive university environment.” Jeffries appends copies of recent articles from American magazines about racist imagery in Japanese popular culture.
Chairman of the Parsons Exhibition Committee Keith Long responds to Jeffries. Procedures were followed and there was “no intention to offend.” The exhibition was curated “in its entirety” by Matsunaga and his team in Tokyo. Especially in light of the Statement on Freedom of Artistic Expression, it “would be presumptuous of the committee to edit or censor this work.” The exhibition remains unchanged.
On the day New Yorkers elect their first African American mayor, David Dinkins, Jeffries meets with Fanton and asks that the Calpis image be taken down or that a written disclaimer be put up next to it. Fanton refuses on the grounds that “such an action would have implied university approval for all other works in the Matsunaga show, which contained prints that might have offended women.”
Amid a variety of discussions pink flyers sporting the Calpis image appear. SAYAR (Students and Youth against Racism) announces a protest for November 17, the day the exhibition closes, asking: “Is racist art ‘freedom of expression’?”
Sekou Sundiata, urged to visit the exhibit by Lang colleague Gregory Tewksbury, seeks out the Calpis image. In an unpublished essay on teaching writing at The New School, written some years later, Sundiata describes what happened. “Offended and highly peeved,” he leaves the building only to encounter the limousine of ex-president Ronald Reagan, who was receiving a prize in the Forbes building next door. Sundiata returns to the gallery and in an act of “simple, spontanous combustion” crosses the image out. “This is racist bullshit,” he writes above it and signs his name. Soon, dozens of students add their names in support.
Director of Exhibitions Clinton Kuopus writes to Hiroko Sakomura, liaison to Matsunaga, to describe what has happened. Sakomura responds quickly, explaining the history of the Calpis logo. It was designed by German painter Otto Dunckel in 1924 at a time when “the image of black people symbolized health and beautiful bodies” in Japan. An appended article from the Japan Times confirms that the logo was officially retired in July.
The exhibition closes in a flurry of protest. A statement from “New School Students and Staff” deplores the image and the administration’s refusal to take the offending image down or accompany it with a disclaimer: “this kind of racism is a disgrace.” 50-75 people march to the President’s Office. Under pressure Fanton promises to pen a school-wide statement on the topic.
Lang faculty member Ann Snitow writes a letter to Fanton, describing the increasingly robust political culture of Lang and explaining her participation in the siege of his office. While she “associate[s] censorship campaigns with group impotence,” she supports the students in their protest. “There are finally enough black students at Lang for them to be able to join together and state their feelings about how few they still are – an irony of progress.” Snitow joins other Lang faculty members in a meeting with Fanton.
In a letter to the university community, Fanton characterizes the controversy as an instance “when the values of freedom of expression and freedom from intolerance and harassment come into conflict.” He too finds the Calpis image “deeply offensive and racist,” expressing gratitude for the protest against it, but invokes the Statement on Artistic Freedom: “the university does not and cannot sponsor, or give approval or disapproval to, the content of speech, written expression, or works of art, design, and performance.” It has no “official” sanction to give or withdraw. At a time when Jesse Helms is pushing legislation to censor the National Endowment for the Arts, the university should stand together for freedom of expression precisely as the best vehicle to bringing about an end to intolerance.
The controversy gains the attention of the Village Voice and, a week later, the New York Times. Sundiata defends his action to the media: “The New School doesn’t have the right to invite someone into my community to insult me. Matsunaga can say or draw whatever he wants, but you don’t have to invite him in.”
Claiming to write for the “overwhelming majority” of his fellow students, an undergraduate at Parsons upset at Sundiata’s “vandalism” and the university’s reaction to it writes to Fanton. The student demands that Sundiata be fired and that those who signed their names in support be suspended or expelled.
The Lang student magazine The Seminar includes several articles related to Sundiata’s defacement of the Calpis image. The cover art makes resonances with contemporary controversies clear. An editorial takes Fanton’s line.
At a forum at Lang, Sundiata apparently asserts: “I didn’t deface it, I resisted it.” Snitow counters Fanton’s argument about the need to balance freedoms. A predominantly white institution in a mixed-race city “can’t afford the abstraction of balance,” Snitow argues. “These freedoms are simply not equally placed here at the New School.” Snitow goes on to express her support for Sundiata: “The New School is in Sekou’s debt for the shove his act has given to the inert mess which is any big institution.” She also calls for protesters to broaden their focus from the Matsunaga episode to structural questions, proposing a five-point agenda: “1) affirmative action plan with goals! 2) student recruitment with goals! 3) money to support tuition etc! 4) a curriculum of diverse courses, so that – at least some of the time – people can recognize themselves in what they read w/o having to perform endless acts of cultural translation! 5) a curriculum that helps people repair the ravages of high school.”
Two days before the end of the semester, hate mail is sent to Sundiata, distributed to Parsons faculty and the Graduate Faculty, and left in the mailbox of a student protester. In the new year, Tewksbury sends a letter to the Lang community with copies.
Students stage a “disruption” at Lang Student Orientation, placing the Calpis image and controversy in a global history of intolerance and violence. They call for their classmates to walk out of classes on Valentines Day, to make it a “working day on homophobia, sexism and racism.” The February 14th “Day of Love and Outrage” begins with a staging of intolerant claims within the classroom.
Matsunaga writes to Kuopus, expressing his regret about the “trouble.” He has learned “first-hand about the sensitivity of the American public to the racial issue, and as a result, I myself will be able to be more sensitive in the future.” In a published acccount a decade later, he again expresses his gratitude to Parsons for allowing the exhibit to run its course and draws lessons from the episode. “They concluded that regulating an art exhibit would be censoring artful expression.”
In response to a demand from Fanton, new guidelines are adopted that spell out the implications of the Statement on Artistic Freedom of Expression for exhibitions at the university. If the new policies are followed, an exhibition cannot be changed once opened. If “some members of the university community … take exception to the display of certain works of art,” however, the university has “a responsibility to be responsive” and “an obligation to facilitate … discussion when these circumstances arise.”
At Parsons Commencement, Fanton discusses the NEA’s anti-obscenity rider, using the Matsunaga controversy to call for ethical awareness on the part of artists and designers. “There can be no doubt that defacing the print was wrong, constituting as it did a form of censorship. … However, I believe it is also wrong for a designer or artist to employ images that gratuitously insult groups in our society on the basis of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other personal characteristic.” Government must never “dictate or proscribe the content of art or design,” but it is “perfectly appropriate for you to ask yourselves questions such as whether you are using racist, sexist, or homophobic imagery.”
Faculty at Lang apply for and receive a grant from the Ford Foundation to reconceive the college’s curricular and extracurricular activities to “create diversity throughout the college community.” Pedagogy and student-faculty relationships are discussed, and sixteen new courses collectively developed. Sundiata’s work is prominent among faculty projects supported. The 1995 Final Report describes these initiatives and their “ripple effect” across the life of the college and the university.
The Parsons Gallery revisits the question of racist stereotypes in popular culture and advertising, sponsoring the groundbreaking exhibition curated by Michele Washington and Fo Wilson, “Visual Perceptions: 22 African American Designers Challenge Modern Stereotypes.”
Barbara Emerson is hired as Associate Provost in wake of million-dollar grant from Diamond Foundation for promoting diversity. Articulating principles of “awareness, appreciation, and alignment,” she leads efforts to diversify faculty, students and staff, and —with Sundiata’s help—puts together a major series of multicultural arts events around the city. She and some of her key staff leave in 2000 as a new presidency scales back the university’s commitment to diversity.
What evokes strong responses at The New School in 2014? In a present-day investigation, we invited faculty, staff and students to initiate a dialogue with an image, installation, or an element of design that they regularly encounter at the university. Their brief was as follows: 1. Select a work of art or an aspect of design that you regularly encounter at the university to which you have a strong reaction, positive or negative, that you may not necessarily share with others. The work should be either an image or installation from The New School Art Collection that is in the hallways, offices, courtyards and classrooms of the university or an element of design—graphic, interior or architectural—on campus. 2. Describe briefly why you are provoked or disturbed by the image or design. How do you encounter this work? Why does it disturb or delight you? How do others feel? Does it exclude some people in its address? Are you left out, drawn in, disgusted, bored, taken aback? If you could effect a change with regard to the display, design, or reception of this piece of work, how might you begin? 3. Suggest three questions that you could use to initiate a conversation with your university colleagues to make such a change possible. This installation of texts, questions, and images extends the historical discussions of image, conflict, and belonging into the present. The divergences and alignments among the responses manifest again and again the unstable unity bound up in the pronoun “we” in our—or in fact, in any—institution.