Colby, Bates, Bowdoin College Art Museum Directors Respond to the Removal of the Maine Labor Mural Cycle

April 5, 2011

The recent removal of the Maine Labor Mural Cycle documenting key labor events in the history of our state, commissioned from artist Judy Taylor in 2008 and installed until last weekend in the headquarters of the Maine Department of Labor in Augusta, raises issues of critical importance to those of us who believe in the importance of public art. Among these issues are censorship, historical revisionism, and artists’ rights. 
We deplore censorship in any form, but we particularly deplore the censoring of art. Those who may claim that the Maine Labor Mural Cycle is merely being transferred to another, more appropriate, locale, and neither destroyed nor censored, miss the point. Destruction takes many forms, vilification (even by innuendo) being one of them. Marshalling, as evidence of the mural’s ostensible offense, one anonymous letter equating the Maine labor mural with North Korean propaganda demonstrates a disregard for consensus, due process, and transparency. Moving the work from the site for which it was made to a site for which it was not made is simply destruction by another name, its “dislocation” intended to strip it of its force, immediacy, and relevance.  

The situation has been exacerbated by the clandestine nature of the mural’s transference to an originally undisclosed, and still uncertain, location. Removed without, to our knowledge, the supervision of either a trained art handler or a museum registrar (or, for that matter, the artist herself), we neither know nor are able to assess its current condition. Given that the care and conservation of works of art are among a museum’s central roles, we are justly concerned. Until an independent assessment can be made, assurances that it is safe do not reassure us.   

The desire to silence the provocations of art by those who find those provocations offensive has a long and dispiriting history. The Colby College Museum of Art, Bates College Museum of Art, and Bowdoin College Museum of Art, dedicated as we are to the preservation and interpretation of the past through its cultural artifacts, to the often discomfiting dialogue between the past and the present, and to art’s immutable power, are heartened by the passionate response by Maine’s lively and committed arts community to the mural cycle’s removal. We unreservedly add our voices to theirs. 

Sharon Corwin 
Carolyn Muzzy Director and Chief Curator 
Colby College Museum of Art

Dan Mills 
Bates College Museum of Art

Kevin Salatino 
Bowdoin College Museum of Art