Old Cabell Hall mural controversy

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- As controversy over Confederate statues in Charlottesville's public parks continues, there's ongoing debate over another piece of public art: a mural by renowned artist Lincoln Perry that covers the walls of Old Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia.

"I think it should go," said music professor Bonnie Gordon, who works in Old Cabell Hall and sees the mural every day. "It condones a certain kind of party culture in which women are depicted in ways that look problematic to me."

She says the most controversial panel depicts a professor and a student who "obviously have been doing something that would be a Title IX violation."

The full mural was painted by artist Perry over 16 years. The most controversial section was finished in 2012, and criticism increased after the now retracted Rolling Stone article about a campus rape was published in 2014.

Gordon says she's troubled when she sees prospective first-year students come through Old Cabell Hall with their parents.

"This is what they walk past," she said. "This is not the image that I want my son or daughter to associate with college."

After the Rolling Stone article ran, UVA did form a committee to consider various options for the mural. A year-and-a-half later, Gordon wonders why nothing has been done.

"Could we ask the artist if he'd be interested in redoing this panel," she asked. "Could we move the panels? Could we have a contest and put student art in this section?"

One issue that comes up in conversations about censoring art is free speech, but in this case, one legal expert says the First Amendment probably doesn't apply.

"The question here is, whose speech would be violated if the mural were removed or covered or changed in any fashion," said Josh Wheeler, director of The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

He says, since the school owns the painting and the building it's in, it can do whatever it wants with the mural unless that's prohibited by contract with the artist.

"For them to take this painting that they own and change it somehow, i don't think would raise a First Amendment issue," said Wheeler.

A UVA spokesperson says no decision has been made about the mural, and efforts to reach Perry were unsuccessful. Wheeler says he's glad the school isn't rushing.

"I think it's to the university's credit that they formed a committee from a variety of people representing a variety of different interests and that they are really looking to explore what is the best option here," he said.

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