Censored by SCAD

Censored by SCAD
This image was censored by SCAD administration; Photograph by Nicole Craine

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The "chilling effect" destroys discourse before it starts

Cinqué Hicks
Cinqué Hicks believes the public
has both the right and the
duty to call out institutions, even
private ones, that have
the power to set the terms
of what art counts and
what art doesn't

Cinqué Hicks wrote a spot-on editorial on Creative Loafing's site about the "chilling effect," or what happens when a culture of fear causes a society to self censor expression or speech before any offense could possibly be made (or not made).

This is precisely what has happened at SCAD, and what I and others have been fighting to change. SCAD has been attempting to isolate and placate individual outbreaks of dissent regarding its censorship practices by justifying their actions under benign umbrella causes. Dr. Griffis, associate VP at SCAD Atlanta tried to slough off the Open Studio censoring as strictly a quality issue. While it's not possible to say whether there were artworks removed for legitimate quality standards (there were several removed), in Nicole's case this has been refuted by faculty members and even the head of the department. It was not a quality issue.

They've offered promises that they'll change, that there are policies in effect that they'll monitor more closely to make sure this never happens again, that it was the professors' fault (many of whom I spoke with in various departments had no knowledge of these policies, even several heads of those departments). We promise, they say.

Yet they won't put any of those promises into any tangible form that has accountability. It's easier to assuage individual students into submission until they graduate and the problem (for SCAD) goes away.

The problem at SCAD does not lie in isolated individual occurrences, but in the greater culture of fear created through this censorship. As Hicks puts it, "Threats of censorship from above would seem like child's play compared to the self-censorship that arises out of a fear over what might happen if you say something someone doesn't like."

And this is what happens at SCAD, and this is what needs to change.

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