Curtain covering art exhibit leads to student frustration

Maria Lacroix’s exhibit, “Void” finished being shown on April 28, 2023. This photo encompasses many of the paintings Lacroix displayed as part of her senior exhbition.
The curtain that covered Lacroix’s exhibit in McCarthy Hall. PHOTOS COURTESY OF MARIA LACROIX

Aurora York I News and Feature Editor I

At 6 p.m. on Friday, April 21, Maria Lacroix’s ’23 held the open reception for her final senior art exhibition, titled “Void.” By the end of the night, the entire exhibition, including the wall adjacent to it, was covered in a black curtain. Neither Lacroix nor any of the Fine Arts faculty were informed of the decision to cover the exhibition. The President’s office was not informed either. 

“If I had known about it beforehand, I would not have been in favor of putting up the curtain in front of the Gallery,” said Lorraine Sterritt, president of St. Michael’s College in an email to the Defender. 

The curtain stayed up the entirety of Saturday morning and early afternoon, coinciding with Admitted Students Day. According to an email sent out by Admissions on April 20, St. Michaels was “expecting approximately 700 visitors.” The admitted students (as well as prospective students) and their families were taken on tours throughout the campus on Saturday. Student tour guide Jarrett Sweet, ’25, said accepted students were brought to academic buildings, Alliot, and the Chapel. “We were told not to bring them into McCarthy because there was a reception occurring at that time,” Sweet said. According to the itinerary sent out by admissions, a parent-student panel took place at 10:15 and 11:00 a.m. in McCarthy Hall. 

No one from Administration expressed any concern to Lacroix or any art faculty before her opening night about it coinciding with Admitted students day. “There was no concern about my exhibition dates lining up with this event. I was expecting backlash, but nothing like this,” Lacroix said. Brian Collier, the professor who runs the gallery, spoke on how he felt about it “Nobody had the courtesy to come to us and talk to us. I understand that the work was strong. But the fact that we were not able to have a conversation, whatever that might have looked like was the issue.” Collier said. 

Around 1:30 p.m on Saturday. Lacroix was alerted to the covering of her exhibition by a friend. “I got a text from my friend with a picture of the curtains, saying, like ‘Have you seen this?’ and I said ‘No, I haven’t. Shortly after I made an Instagram post expressing my feelings on the subject,” Lacroix said. The Instagram post included the picture of the covered art exhibit with the caption “Well it’s been less than 24 hours after the opening and my show has been censored by Saint Michaels College Admissions under the pretense that the gallery is ‘under construction.’ I hate it here.” In the email sent out by the President’s office to the community, it was never said that the gallery was under construction.

Lacroix’s artwork consists of paintings that explore issues of gender and dysphoria, many with images that resembled genitalia. Throughout these paintings were themes of horror and anatomy. Lacroix is also a biology major in addition to majoring in art, and she said this affects how she views and creates art. “A lot of it is just exploring the human condition with discomfort in gender, discomfort in bodies, and things like mental illness-depression, anxiety,” Lacroix said. 

Several other students posted the photo on their Instagram stories, most tagging the St. Michael’s Admissions Instagram account with a call for them to apologize and take action.  

By 2:00 p.m. all accepted student tours were over. Shortly afterward, the curtains were taken down and the exhibit was left uncovered. The Gallery is typically closed on Saturdays but is simply locked so nobody can go inside to look at the exhibit. 

On Monday, April 24, two meetings regarding this incident were held. The first took place at 11:30 a.m, which, according to William Ellis, chair of the Fine Arts department, contained  “The Reps from Fine Arts, admin, and admissions were all present including President Sterritt, VPAA Jeff Trumbower, Interim VP of Enrollment Jerry Flanagan, Director of Admissions Marcella O’Malley, and five of the fulltime Fine Arts faculty (myself as chair + John Devlin and Peter Harrigan in theater, and Will Mentor and Becca Gurney from Art & Design).” 

The second was a closed meeting at 6 p.m. for all tour guides who had any questions or concerns to meet with Interim Vice President for Enrollment Jerry Flanagan. According to Sweet, Flanagan took full responsibility for the event and the lack of communication regarding it. Unfortunately, due to personal reasons, Flanagan was unable to comment on this story. Flanagan apologized to all tour guides affected by the situation and to Lacroix personally. 

Shortly after this meeting at 6:20 P.M, President Sterrit sent an email to the entire student body, faculty and staff regarding the situation. The email explained the curtain was put up in regard to children being in McCarthy “He [Flanagan] made the decision in consideration of the show currently on display and the families, some with small children, attending a reception and breakfast in the lobby” the email said. There was never a clear answer as to why the content shown in the exhibition was to be hidden. 

Lacroix, however, thought the answer was obvious. “At a first glance it might be explicit and hard to look at, but I’m urging people to confront why it makes them uncomfortable,” Lacroix said. She went on to explain that she didn’t create this art to make people uncomfortable but rather to bring attention to a topic that often was censored or not talked about. “Oftentimes these topics are avoided because they are uncomfortable. I wanted to explore those topics and invite others to do the same,” Lacroix said.  

Lacroix said that her initial response to the covering was anger. “That Saturday afternoon I walked over there, and I just had this sickening feeling in my stomach. I was angry that I had to experience this,” Lacroix said. This exhibition was Lacroix’s final project as a senior. 

Many students on Instagram expressed their disappointment with St. Michael’s, often pointing towards St. Michael’s Catholic connection as the reason behind it, with some saying that the reason why it was done was to “be more palatable to incoming students” as one user commented. Michael Bosia, a longtime member of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and chair of the Faculty Welfare Committee, both organizations focused on the issue of academic freedom said that Lacroix’s exhibit, as part of the school’s curriculum was had rights associated with academic freedom. “The art exhibit in particular, because it is part of an academic curriculum, is subject to academic freedom,” Bosia said. 

When asked how she felt about the censorship and if she wanted further action, Lacroix said no. “I wasn’t surprised about the whole situation, but I was still disappointed. I’ve said my part and they’ve said theirs and nothing more can be done about it,”  Lacroix said. “I just hope it never has to happen to another student artist.”  

Since the attention on social media, as well as the email sent out by President Sterritt, there have been considerably more visits to the exhibition. “As an artist, having my art deemed too controversial and censored is kind of like a badge of honor,” Lacroix said. After graduating this May, Lacroix will be working at a Pathology lab using her Biology degree while doing art on the side. She said this event and the support from some students and faculty here at St. Michael’s has motivated her to keep making art that pushes the boundaries of society