Protests in the form of blog posts on arts sites and a petition followed Kennesaw State University’s decision to remove artist Ruth Stanford’s installation “A Walk in the Valley” from the school’s Zuckerman Museum of Art before its grand opening last weekend.
Signed by more than 1,300, the petition demanded the reinstatement of the work — a meditation on the KSU-owned farm of Corra Harris, the late author (1869–1935) who wrote in support of a black man’s lynching. It also called for an apology from the school to the artist
On Wednesday, KSU issued the following statement, updating that it has asked Sanford to reinstall the commissioned work. The full text of the KSU statement:
On Tuesday, March 4, Kennesaw State University officials received a petition from people who are disappointed by and object to the withdrawal of the exhibit “A Walk in the Valley” from the opening of the Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art. We deeply respect the views of the petitioners, and at the same time ask that they understand our views. The exhibit does not exist in a vacuum; it is connected to a sensitive controversy in Kennesaw State’s recent past, which remains extremely raw for many University constituents.
Given that the opening of the Zuckerman Museum of Art was intended to be a celebration of new space dedicated to the arts, withdrawing the exhibition was a difficult decision that we knew would not be well received – and one which was unfortunate due to the administration’s late knowledge of the subject matter. This was the result of communications breakdowns in our internal processes, which are being addressed.
That notwithstanding, we felt, and continue to feel, that the display will be more appropriate and meaningful when both the on-campus and off-campus communities will not be surprised by revisiting this issue and can be proactively engaged in its scheduling and the development of related programming.
With this in mind, the executive director of KSU’s Department of Museums, Archives and Rare Books and the curator of the Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art are holding conversations with the artist to explore re-instating “A Walk in the Valley” in the Zuckerman Museum, accompanied by related programming. This is in keeping with the University administration’s statement on Friday, February 28, that it believed the exhibit should be displayed at a later appropriate time.
The administration’s action was in no way a statement about the art or the subject matter with which it deals, nor was it intended to limit freedom of expression of the artist. Indeed, we fully
recognize that art has numerous purposes – including but not limited to creating beauty and aesthetic value; commemorating and celebrating events, people, and structures; influencing people to think about difficult subjects in new and different ways; and challenging accepted value systems. We embrace these broad applications of artistic expression.
More on myajc.com (subscriber site), including quotes from the artist: