UPDATE: The mural was reinstated after the students agreed to enlarge the golden snitch covering Adam/Potter’s genitals to the size of a soccer ball (the original snitch in the book sseries is the size of a walnut). See below for a comparison of the two snitches.
The Principal of Ashland High School took down a portion of a senior mural the very day it was hung, reportedly because of a school district policy that considers inappropriate any "excessive bareness." The mural, painted by four student artists, featured fictional wizard Harry Potter as Adam, Dumbledore as God, and other characters from the Harry Potter series as the cherubs in a composition based on the Sistine Chapel’s "Creation of Adam." Adam/Potter’s genital area was covered by an image of the “Golden Snitch,” a magic ball found in the series. A sketch for the mural had been chosen by a student committee and was approved by you on the condition that the ball covering the genital area be made larger.
The students – and some parents – are protesting this act of censorship.
Compare the original snitch (left) to the one painted to accomodate the Principal’s anxiety (right).
This is the letter NCAC sent the school on April 25th, 2008:
Mr Jeff Schlecht, Principal
Ashland High School
Re: Student Mural
Dear Mr. Schlecht,
I am writing on behalf of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), an alliance of 50 national non-profit organizations united in defense of free expression, regarding your recent removal of a portion of a student mural displayed on the school quad. Surely, the limitation to excessive bareness, which is reasonable when it comes to school dress codes, should not be used to limit student’s artistic creativity and to shield them from the classics of western art – Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescos included.
It is our understanding that the mural, painted by four student artists, featured fictional wizard Harry Potter as Adam, Dumbledore as God, and other characters from the Harry Potter series as the cherubs in a composition based on the Sistine Chapel’s "Creation of Adam." Adam/Potter’s genital area was covered by an image of the “Golden Snitch,” a magic ball found in the series. A sketch for the mural had been chosen by a student committee and was approved by you on the condition that the ball covering the genital area be made larger. The artists complied. Nevertheless, you took down the portion of the mural representing Adam/Potter the very day it was hung, reportedly because of a school district policy that considers inappropriate any excessive bareness.
While we recognize that school administrators have the authority to limit student expression when it could lead to a disruption of the educational process, it is well recognized by the Supreme Court that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969). There is nothing in the student mural at Ashland High that would cause a disruption in the educational process. And as the Count has concluded further, any attempt to “eliminate everything that is objectionable…will leave public schools in shreds.” McCollum v. Board of Educ., 333 U.S. 203, 235 (1948).
Your action is not only constitutionally suspect, but also educationally unsound. In the 20th century, art historian Kenneth Clark has noted, the nude “remains our chief link with the classic disciplines.” The beauty of the human body has inspired painters, photographers, sculptors, and choreographers for many centuries. A blanket ban on “excessive bareness” in art would encompass the work of Praxiteles, Michelangelo, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Renoir, Manet, Picasso, and so many other classical and modern artists. The only thing such a ban would protect students from is a comprehensive education.
Not only have nudes been a central subject of art from ancient times, but figure drawing is a staple of art education. Trying to teach art while excluding the human body is hardly possible. And putting a chill on the expression of budding artists goes against the principles of an education whose goal is to produce the responsible, free and creative citizens of a democratic society.
The decision to remove the work without any advance discussion with the artists themselves, and after approving the sketch, sends a dangerous message to all your students – i.e. if you disagree with something, just eliminate it. We urge you to reconsider your decision and to restore the wholeness of the mural as soon as possible. As a school principal you must be fully aware of how important it is not only to support the creativity of young artists, but also to set an example of respect for free speech principles.
If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at 212-807-6222 ext. 23.
Very truly yours,
National Coalition Against Censorship
275 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10001
Juli Di Chiro
Ashland School District
[email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>