The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Op-ed: A reflection of public art on campus

In April 2023, the art department submitted a statement to The Lafayette regarding the reception of public artwork on campus. Part reads, “[public art] represents in a very real sense the intellectual labor of students at this institution.”

As someone who is going to be an alum in a few short months, and has seen firsthand the relevance public installation on this campus holds, I want to again highlight this message to make a case for the abundance of public art on campus going forward.

I had indulged as early as sophomore year in experiences of displaying artwork on campus that served as an awakening in the relevance public art has on our campus. I witnessed close friends exhibit sculptural work regarding their experiences with safety and violence on this campus – a bitter reality many students can attest to in their own experiences. I also witnessed the reception of these works in the form of jokes, backhanded comments on anonymous forums and in some cases, the destruction of the work itself. The nauseating disregard for these works was a testament to the core of our campus culture, and somehow very eloquently elaborated on the points specific works were commenting on.

It was then enlightening to collaborate on the Lady Leopard project, which was a 9-foot temporary installation in front of Skillman. Its placement was intentional, although scrutinized as “disruptive” in its presence on otherwise blank space. The message of the work was about co-education at Lafayette, and how there is a lack of recognition of the first class of women – that like many women still at Lafayette, are scrutinized and violated.

Students detached from the work wasted no time in making their comments about the absurdity of the work’s presence. Admin too. Lady Leopard, like many other public installations before her, forced the comfortable to for a moment experience discomfort with something appearing overnight on the front steps of Skillman.

Public art is meant to prompt discourse and discomfort. A majority of students on campus may feel at ease to discredit what seems like a “silly” sculpture or print piece that finds its way to corners of campus. In doing so, it devalues so much of the core of this institution and what we can be. Do we support the arts in that regard? Do we draw the line when it makes its way up the hill and begs to be heard in the form of a public installation? If so, then Lafayette needs to reflect.

I firmly believe in student art and the institution’s recognition of it in all its unruly natures. Student art is deserving of recognition in time and space on this campus, as much as any sort of research or institutional-funded project. Public installation on campus is an essential avenue for student expression and understanding one another as a community, even if the commentary is not necessarily comforting or easily understandable to engage with in immediacy.

I would urge more students engaged with art making to extensively oppose our sense of normalcy with art installation on this campus. It is something that I have experienced the transformative value of, but I also wish I had done unapologetically more in my time here.

Emily Mackin ’24 is an English and studio art double major.

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    Azalea DanesFeb 26, 2024 at 10:49 am

    So well put Emily. Thank you for helping to put the ~arts!~ back in the liberal arts.