District Bans Artwork from Public Viewing

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For this year’s district art fair, P-CCS decided to add a new exhibit: “The Dark Room.” This new room was intended for artwork that the board office deemed controversial and not appropriate for the younger audience who may also be in attendance.

While having a Dark Room already limited students’ artwork from being viewed, the district took this another step further by censoring some pieces all together, and not allowing them to be displayed at all.

According to a P-CEP art teacher, the district took these actions in response to a previous complaint from a community member who had threatened to involve the media over the content of certain pieces at the show.

Following a backlash from P-CEP art teachers about this decision, the school board then said they would permit the rejected pieces to be put in another room where only the judges of the show could view them. This allowed the pieces to be a part of the competition, but they would still be withheld from the public.

The Perspective reached out to multiple art teachers, but they said that because of their involvement in the union and possible consequences they could face, the teachers did not want to comment.

P-CEP union representative William Johnston, Salem science teacher, had a similar viewpoint as the art teachers, and spoke on their behalf.

“We’re making sweeping changes because a very small percent was offended, and now we’re making changes of the change, so now we’re gonna censor the censored,” Johnston said.

Johnston said he understood that censorship might be needed for younger audiences, but what he did not understand was how the district was deciding which artwork to censor.

“I guess I’m confused on why some pieces are being rejected while others are not,” Johnston said. “It becomes very difficult, especially in art, to set a specific standard or guideline.”

“Most people I’ve talked to have a similar viewpoint,” Johnston said. “They understand the need to shield some younger kids from certain themes, but the inconsistency on the policies or the guidelines on what’s accepted or not accepted is what’s frustrating.”

Students who had their artwork censored or rejected from the art show were frustrated with the situation as well.

Salem junior Dana Vaughan, who had her photos put into the Dark Room, said she did not like how the district was stepping in to make that decision.

“I personally believe that they want to reject our pieces because they can’t handle or choose not to handle our own personal opinions and viewpoints on what art is and how we present the art,” Vaughan said. “I feel like it just tries to shelter us when we don’t even need it because it’s all around us, and it will just make people more unaware of what is going on.”

Salem senior Jeremy Armstead was selected by Salem art teacher Lindsey Pignatiello to have a series of his photos displayed on Saturday, but three of them ended up getting pulled out of the show.

“I don’t understand why they are rejecting things from the Dark Room,” Armstead said. “It seems to eliminate the point of even having that room.”

Armstead added that the subjects the district viewed as “disturbing” were a part of how he wanted to artistically portray the darker parts of life.

“It seems as if the board office is silencing our voices as artists and trying to tell us what we can and cannot show in our work,” Armstead said. “In my case, the images were denied for suicidal messages which is dark and disturbing in itself, but there are millions of teens across the U.S. and world that deal with those thoughts every day.”

While Vaughan and Armstead were upset over the censorship of their artwork, they both also expressed concern about how other students would be impacted by the district’s decision as well.

“The students who are rejected [will] feel like their art is not good enough to be shown to others, and it just puts the students down when all of their hard work that they put into it doesn’t get shown,” Vaughan said.

Armstead said he was worried that students might change their ideas to fit the “conservative mold” the board office was pushing for in order to have any of their artwork in the art show.

“I’m afraid that they will censor almost any conceptual works,” Armstead said. “The best works that the intermediate photo students do are from the concept project, and almost all of us do themes that are somewhat dark. I’m scared that the project itself might be stopped.”

Johnston said he was disappointed with how the district was limiting students.

“Other times this year we’ve been encouraging students to express rights and viewpoints, and now we’re giving another opportunity with this, but that’s being undermined,” Johnston said.

“I hope this doesn’t deter them (students) from taking risks,” Johnston said. “When you’re exploring and [get] denied without a whole lot of explanation, in life that makes people not want to take risks again. I hope [this] doesn’t do that for students, but that’s my fear.”

The Perspective did not receive a comment from P-CCS Director of Curriculum Carlos Lopez about the school board decision.

If you would like to give your opinion on the matter, please email The Perspective at [email protected]

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