New ARC + ID Interactive Art Series Asks "What About George?"


George Washington statue as work of art.

Students returning to Miami University are experiencing a changed campus. The Healthy Together safe return to campus plan is making the campus safe for everyone with new physical distancing guidelines and barriers. However, students returning to Alumni Hall will be confronted with a different kind of change, one that asks “what about George?” 

As 2020 navigates a global pandemic that has changed our daily lives, it also ushered in a time for contemplation and reflection as Americans witnessed repeated acts of racial violence and injustice. Cities across the country started to reconsider their Confederate monuments after numerous statues of Confederate generals were vandalized or destroyed during public protests. While there are no Confederate monuments on the Miami campus, a beautiful bronze sculpture of George Washington sits in the Rotunda of Alumni Hall, and part of its history is rooted in the Confederacy. So, what about George?

The McGuffey House and Museum at Miami University provides a website where you can read the history of the statue including the inspiration for its creation by William James Hubard of Richmond, Virginia, “The Virginia General Assembly wanted to honor George Washington, native son, Revolutionary War leader, and our nation’s first President” The description omits one very important and defining designation: the owner of people who were enslaved. 

The Department of Architecture and Interior Design (ARC + ID), housed in Alumni Hall, is engaging in a year-long interdisciplinary conversation that includes exhibitions, installations, and interventions exploring the life of George Washington and the placement of the statue in the rotunda. Other departments involved in the dialogue include the departments of history, music, theatre, and art as well as the Miami University Library. ” The inaugural temporary art installation titled “Under Construction” wrapped the George statue in a cotton muslin cloth. The idea of the piece was to create a “pause” and visually detach the sculpture from the space in an attempt to start the conversation fresh. “I can understand why some people thought that wrapping the statue was disrespectful, but that wasn’t the intent,” said Mary Rogero, Department of Architecture and Interior Design Chair.

Recently, a group of upper-level architecture students, led by professor John Blake, explored a redesign of the rotunda. Blake indicated that “the goal of the exercise, and the spirit of our studio, is not to cancel, but rather to frame the statue in its relevance to Alumni Hall and current discourse.  The text we're reading discusses strategies, from a museum director's viewpoint,  for opening up to wider audiences and re-establishing narratives within organizations/institutions.”  

Miami University Officials issued a statement on the new art series: The George Washington statue on the Miami University campus is the subject of a temporary art installation organized by the Architecture and Interior Design Department. The project—titled "What About George?"—is designed to engage the students and the larger university community in a series of conversations about race, racism, and the meaning of monuments in our nation. The piece calls to mind the work of the artists Man Ray and  Christo. By wrapping George, the intention is to provoke a question among the viewers: “What About George?” A website that explains the project has been created as well as a Facebook page. This installation is one of several interdisciplinary projects slated to take place throughout this academic year. Responding artistically and educationally to major national issues is a time-honored method of artistic expression. There are no plans to remove the statue from campus.

“It is understandable that not all students will have the same reaction to George,” said Rogero. “But creating an opportunity where different points of view can be voiced and honored is extremely important.” Rogero, along with Professor Jeff Kruth, is coordinating all the interdisciplinary collaborations, initiated the temporary shrouding as part of the current art display, and created a private project website to document the work. Students and faculty will have the opportunity to propose temporary art installations in the rotunda during the academic year. The Dean of the College of Creative Arts Liz Mullenix added, "This art piece and the larger project--initiated by colleagues in the Department of ARC + ID in the College of Creative Arts and other partners--provide a framework for critically engaged conversations about both art and national issues. Responding artistically and through dialogue is exactly what arts colleges should be doing within a university. This expands a conversation to include all perspectives and helps us see the issue from multiple vantage points. Art often makes one consider something from an entirely different view. This is valuable, especially at a university."

So, what do you think about George? 

You can engage with the project on the website or Facebook page.