The School is Yours – Go Forth and Art Bomb


Being an artist means pushing the boundaries. But during “Art Week”, the Art Department missed an important opportunity to support student expression.

The week of February 9th – 13th was to be a celebration of art in all forms. Quartets played in the halls, Hamlet was performed in the Upstairs Theater. Prints of famous artworks peppered lockers. But when students decided to do something a bit more radical and unplanned, they were shut down by school authorities.

During Pam Baumgartner’s second period drawing class, students teemed down the hallways with rolls of tape and miniature artworks in hand. The instructions were as follows: Don’t tape over painted walls, and be mindful that class is in session. The south wing is yours – go forth and art bomb.

Great masking-tape murals exploded over lockers. ‘Art is Love’ stretched out over the floors. Hearts of every color were plastered over the mouths of teachers on ‘Read’ posters. A Banksy quote on artwork spanned the hallway: “Better out than in.” When the artists walked away, the hall was filled with evidence that something wonderful and exciting had happened. Even Fine Arts department chair Nick Gehl lauded one of the halls as reminiscent of “a New York subway, [with] street art.”

But by fourth period, everything was gone. Only the small half-sheets of artwork remained, like tattered survivors of a raid. The south wing halls were back to their beige, sad selves. The art-bombers, myself among them, mourned the loss.

The Art Administration, especially Nick Gehl who himself enjoyed parts of the installation, is responsible for the takedown. Though it is unclear who dealt the orders, the Art Department did not stand behind its student artists. Instead of supporting their spontaneous energy, the Art Department missed an important opportunity to defend student artistic expression.

Thinking critically about why the art was taken down, a couple practical reasons deserve some exploring. A security guard expressed his unhappiness by coming up to me directly. “Who’s going to take this down?” He accused. Then answering himself, “The janitors. The janitors are going to take it down.”

Yes, when students plaster things around the school, the responsibility of cleanup falls to our under-appreciated janitorial staff. We should always be asking how we could lessen their load, not make a bigger burden.

Also, what may start as an art-week sponsored action might turn into a graffiti free-for-all. But while of course ETHS doesn’t condone vandalism, the art bombing wasn’t an act of vandalism.

The Arts Administration let us down.

Next year, let’s sign a contract with the janitorial staff pledging that whatever we put up, we’ll take down. With better communication, the formality of “Art Week” can include organic actions like the art bombing, and leave room for whatever else the students dream. Next year, there should be a student participation in “Art Week” planning.

Let’s face it; the world needs more spontaneous happiness and love. The Administration should re-evaluate its response when students commit crimes of art.