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New College paints over student murals to “beautify” campus

Written by on Thursday, July 13, 2023

Interim President Richard Corcoran, who is in charge of New College’s conservative makeover, wants to beautify the campus. One of his first measures was to have student-made murals painted over.

By Sophia Brown

Original Air Date: July 12, 2023


Official Transcript

Johannes Werner: Richard Corcoran, the interim president of New College, who is in charge of a conservative makeover, wants to beautify the campus for incoming students. One of his first measures was to have students-made mural art painted over. Students and the art community are aghast. Sophia Brown has the details.

Host: It goes without saying that Sarasota has a vibrant art scene. A quick drive through downtown will give you a tour of multiple art studios, sculptures nestled in roundabouts and striking murals on almost every street corner. And while it’s no Ringling, the New College of Florida has its own modest art scene. Just this winter, a series of student murals cropped up at the campus’ Fine Arts Complex, the Iserman Gallery on Caples campus.

However, Interim President Richard Corcoran has announced plans to beautify the campus this summer to achieve a “pristine” look, which has included painting over these student murals without prior notice.

While these beautification efforts were first announced on July 1, no further information about what these efforts are has been released. New College’s Communications and Marketing department did not respond to requests for information by deadline. The college’s own Landscape & Signage Task Force committee, the group that would typically vet these kinds of renovations, has also been kept in the dark.

One community member close to the discussion, who wished to remain unnamed, said that the New College Board of Trustees has given Corcoran “a lot of latitude to do what he wants,” and that “he’s very interested in the college looking fantastic. It’s just that there may not be a lot of agreement about what fantastic looks like and there may not be a lot of thinking about the implications of different decisions.”

Five murals were painted over, including one by Danielle Dygert, a New College alum and member of the local art collective SARTQ. Her mural at the Iserman gallery was painted in 2016. The four other murals were designed and painted by four current students, students like Annie Dong, who is studying art and psychology.

Annie Dong: Yeah, I specialize as an artist into public works, so I have done murals. I have done a couple of murals on campus at New College, and one of them is you know, the Hamilton mural, and then the other one is the mural done at Caples. I have done murals in St. Pete, I have done murals around Sarasota.

Host: Annie explained that she found out that the murals had been removed last Thursday, when she received a frantic text from the professor who had overseen the project. The professor had been driving by the Iserman Gallery, only to see that the murals had disappeared. Annie says that neither her professor nor any student muralists were warned ahead of time or given any justifications since then.

All four of these recent murals were created during the fall semester for the On Site Mural Painting course taught by Professor of Art Kim Anderson. The murals were all brought before the Landscape & Signage Task Force committee in October for approval. These murals each drew upon individual students’ personal histories and experiences with the campus community, with themes ranging from the Florida environment and wildlife, to celebrating personal cultural heritage, to embracing diversity.

The mural of one student, Hannah Barker, combined elements and imagery of Florida with Nepal, where she was adopted from. Hanh Nguyen’s mural was inspired by the mythology of sirens and the ways that LGBTQ+ students might relate to these stories about alienation and otherworldliness. Emma Curtis’ mural was a tribute to Sandhill cranes, and themes of community and migration that often characterize the college experience.

Annie’s own mural focused on red-crowned cranes and their symbolism in Chinese culture.

AD: The reason why I produced Chinese based, inspired mural is because New College especially has a Chinese department that teaches about the literature, the culture, and that meant something big to me, because I didn’t have that growing up.

Host: One possible explanation as to why these murals would be painted over is if there were cracks in the walls or the stucco needed to be repaired. Except, Annie says that the walls these murals were painted on had been repaired in advance to avoid this exact scenario.

AD: Before we even did anything, before this class was ever produced, we had to get it approved by, obviously, like, the higher-ups and in the landscape department. After they got approved, we select our walls. Once we select our walls, we proposed our design and we had to go through a landscape committee and we got it approved by votes.

And once we select the walls and we got approved by the landscape committee, they sent people in the next couple of weeks to power wash the walls, fix some cracks, whatever issue that the wall had, that way it can be clean and it can be ready for the student to paint over it.

Host: Additionally, $2,000 had been raised by the alumni association for scaffolding to create these murals.

In light of these developments, there’s one other mural on campus the people are now keeping a closer eye on: a mural and memorial commemorating Nan Freeman, a former student and activist of the United Farm Workers movement who was killed in 1972 during a protest when she was hit by a truck. The mural was painted by Danielle Dygert last year, the alumna and artists who has already had one of her murals at the Iserman Gallery erased. The Nan Freeman mural is located in the breezeway on the first floor of the Academic Center, otherwise known as the ACE building.

Nan’s story is well known at New College, and many of her classmates, friends and family are still active members of the campus community, like Julie Morris, a former Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs. Julie and several others have been increasingly concerned that the Nan Freeman mural would be the next one to go.

Julie says that she received confirmation from the Assistant Director of Facilities Planning and Construction that the mural will not be painted over, but that she has not heard the same from interim president Corcoran. Given the sudden and sporadic nature of these beautification efforts so far, they will be keeping an eye out.

A few other beautification efforts have also gone underway, like replacing all of the grass in front of the campus’ library and the ACE building with astroturf. While astroturf is low maintenance and uniform looking, plastic lawns often overheat and give off odors in what’s called “off-gassing.”

And then there are the renovations of the Dort and Goldstein dorms this summer, which Corcoran announced during the July 6 Board of Trustees Meeting. Typically regarded as upperclassmen dorms, new floors, ceilings, furniture and appliances are being added. Why? Because these dormitories are being reserved specifically for incoming student athletes and transfer students.

Returning students who have already been assigned to the rooms in these buildings earlier in the summer are now being relocated to other unrenovated dormitories.

Annie says that these beautification efforts defy the meaning of the word, especially in the case of the murals.

AD: They approached this beautification of the campus art, they’re just erasing art. They’re just wanting to patch them, making it look modern, making a look plain, but what they don’t understand is that these students spent over 200 hours literally painting in the hot heat, doing this. So it’s like one of those things, that it’s like, that doesn’t define beautification.

Host: Annie also spoke about the many campus renovations that she feels could better benefit students, but that are not being considered by this new administration.

AD: What sucks is that they have so much money, but are they really caring about the students well being? We live in these dorms that have mold issues. What’s going on there? Like, what, you have so much money, you’re not fixing mold issues, you’re not fixing any, like—we have students on campus that don’t have access to food, like, what are you doing there?

I literally moved off campus because of this whole entire issue, because I was so stressed seeing so many people and knowing this is happening. Now my friends are getting affected and now we have people leaving.

Host: The future of student art and beautification initiatives under this new leadership is uncertain. But Annie doesn’t want this to be the end of New College students’ public art initiatives in the community at large. To see more of her art, you can go to anniedartist.wixsite.com/anniedartist.

This has been Sophia Brown reporting for WSLR News.


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