Panel to Discuss Controversial UC Ballroom Mural

KNOXVILLE — On March 15 and 16 a mural covering the west wall of the University of Tennessee’s Carolyn P. Brown Memorial University Center ballroom will be on public display for the first time since 1972.

The unveiling is in preparation for a panel discussion and open forum set for 7:30 p.m. March 15 in the ballroom. Sponsored by UT’s Issues Committee and Visual Arts Committee, the event will feature national panelists to discuss the history of the mural, the intersection of race and art and race relations on the Knoxville and other university campuses.

The Marion Greenwood painting was commissioned for the University Center and was unveiled in 1955. Greenwood was a well-known mural artist noted for her painting on the native life on islands of the Caribbean and murals in Mexico. She served as an artist-in-residence at UT from 1954-55 as she completed the mural which depicts the musical heritage of Tennessee illustrating West Tennessee’s delta blues, Middle Tennessee’s country music and Grand Ole Opry and East Tennessee’s religious mountain music.

Students in the early 1970s objected to its depiction of African-Americans. The mural was vandalized in May of 1970 and after its restoration was concealed behind a wood-paneled wall in 1972. Covering the wall was deemed a temporary measure to protect the painting.

“Some of the students on the Central Program Council felt the painting should no longer be covered, but instead revealed to the public in a way that encourages discussion about the painting and the racial issues that surround it,” said Edee Vaughan, assistant director of student activities at UT.

More than 30 years later, UT officials are working to remove the artwork to make it part of UT’s permanent collection.

“We are committed to removing the mural from the UC so it can be curated in a museum and we are exploring the best alternatives to do so,” said Jan Simek, executive assistant to Chancellor Loren Crabtree. “We want to preserve the Greenwood mural as the important part of the university’s history it is in the most appropriate location and manner.”

“The students who planned this unveiling and discussion are doing a great service for the university,” Simek added. “The university has made great strides this year in its international and intercultural awareness initiative and this is a perfect example of the students’ willingness to address controversial issues head on and make informed decisions for themselves.”

Five panelists will discuss the issues surrounding the mural.

-P. Eric Abercrumbie is director of ethnic programs and services and the African-American Culture and Research Center at the University of Cincinnati. He serves as a racial/human relations consultant to corporations, community groups and educational systems throughout the country.

-Tina Maria Dunkley is the director and curator of Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries. She oversees one of the largest collections of African-American art in the Southeast and has served as a fellow at the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution.

-Sylvia Rhor, is an assistant professor of art history at Carlow University in Pittsburgh. Rohr was the guest curator of the exhibit “Too Hot to Handle: Creating Controversy through Political Cartoons” at the Andy Warhol Museum. She brings a wide range of experience in controversial art, art of the 1950s and murals in educational settings to the panel.

-Dr. Bruce Wheeler, UT history professor emeritus, was a member of the faculty from 1970 until his retirement in July 2005. He has written or co-written several books, including “Knoxville, Tennessee: A Mountain City in the New South” and “Discovering the American Past.” He’s now writing an updated history of UT.

-Saadia Williams is executive director of the Race Relations Center of East Tennessee. She directs Knoxville Project Change, an anti-racism initiative that addresses complex issues of race at the local level through diverse community coalitions with the community, public and private sectors.

More information on the mural can be found at the Issues Committee Web site: http://web.utk.edu/~issues/


Contact:
Edee Vaughan, 974-5455; evaughan@utk.edu
Jan Simek, 974-4408; jsimek@utk.edu
Anton Reece, 974-5455; areece@utk.edu
Beth Gladden, 974-9008; beth.gladden@tennessee.edu

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