April 17, 2002
By Bernie Delinski
FLORENCE - The art exhibit hanging in the Visual Arts Building of the University of North Alabama is certainly eye-catching.
The problem is, it's not at eye level.
Senior UNA art student Denise Taylor said she will not comply with a department requirement that her senior exhibit be hung at eye level. She said the exhibit includes portraits of children, and one of her mother, who has multiple sclerosis and has to use a wheelchair or walk stooped over.
That is why she hung the exhibit 45.5 inches high. She wanted it to be at eye level for children and people who use wheelchairs.
UNA officials say the exhibit must be hung about 5 feet 8 or 5 feet 9 inches off the ground. That is among the requirements for all senior art exhibits. If the requirements are not met, the student fails.
A senior exhibition is required for all art students to graduate. If Taylor does not receive a passing grade, the 37-year-old mother of two, who has a 3.7 grade-point average, will not graduate in December as she had planned.
"I have a choice, either raise it or fail," Taylor said.
She said that's not an easy choice.
"The display just means too much to me," she said. "This is a First Amendment issue. They've put me in position where I'm not allowed to express myself."
One part of the display that she calls "Mom's Bars" is a drawing of her mother. The drawing also includes walkers her mother has used to help her get around. The legs from the walkers make it appear she is behind bars.
The exhibit opened Tuesday and runs through May 3, Taylor said. Initially, she was told the exhibit would not remain unless it was raised.
But Elliott Pood, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, told her the exhibit can remain at its height, but the faculty has the right to fail her.
Pood said the faculty has set policies on the senior exhibits, including height restrictions. He compared those to an English paper that has certain requirements such as length and subject matter. If the requirements aren't met in the paper, the student would fail.
"This is a university," Pood said. "Students can't set grading criteria."
He said the professors who grade the student's artwork are the art critics and will grade according to their criticism.
"She has to expect the grade will reflect her refusal to comply with the requirements of the course."
Pood said Taylor's professors offered to allow her to hang the exhibit at 45.5 inches while her mother views it, then raise it to the required height.
But the student said her mother and children are such major sources of inspiration, she wouldn't feel right about raising the displays at any time.
Taylor adds that she went to an exhibit in Chicago last week where the art was not hung at one mandated height.
"People will lean down and be able to work with the art in my exhibit," she said.
"People in wheelchairs always have to accommodate themselves for the rest of us. This is one time we can accommodate ourselves for them."
Bernie Delinski can be reached at 740-5739
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