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September 14, 2020

Citing School's Response to BLM Protests, Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts Students Boycott Annual Show

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—More than a dozen students are forgoing participation in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ 2020 Annual Student Exhibition in reaction the school’s handling of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, Hyperallergic reports.

The school drew ire from students and faculty alike with its request, earlier this summer, that staff not mention their affiliation with the institution in relation to their activism. The request came after nine faculty members signed the “Philly Arts for Black Lives” petition, which demanded the reinvestment of police funds into human services.

In response to the outcry, PAFA announced it would hire a diversity, equity, and inclusion coordinator and two full-time BIPOC faculty members, and host a series of “listening sessions.”

Many perceived the measures as insufficient, among them the boycotting students, who are passing up the annual show, typically the venue from which graduating students launch their careers, and instead showing their works at the independent Philadelphia galleries Automat, Pink Noise Projects, Grizzly Grizzly, and Practice. New York’s Anna Zorina Gallery has organized an online show and fundraiser featuring work by recent PAFA graduates.

Several of the boycotting students chose to install protest signs or teaching materials in the PAFA exhibition in the spots where their work would otherwise of been hung. At least one student found that her protest sign had been removed from its original spot in the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Gallery to a peripheral gallery housing the protest work of the dissenting students.

“PAFA looks to be trying to erase our gesture of protest not only by hiding the empty physical space in the galleries but also by claiming that 26 graduate students are participating in the exhibition in their recent email newsletter,” the sign’s maker, Julia Way Rix, said.

“At PAFA, we support and champion free speech and artistic expression in all its forms,” said Clint Jukkala, dean of the School of Fine Arts. “[W]e fully support those students who have made the decision to protest this year’s exhibition.”

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