Paul L. Caron

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Vermont Law School Moves To Dismiss Lawsuit By Artist To Protect Underground Railroad Murals That Black Students Call Racist

Vermont MuralFollowing up on my previous posts (links below):  Valley News, Vermont Law School Claims Right to Remove Mural:

Vermont Law School has responded to a lawsuit filed by an artist seeking to protect murals he painted at the school 25 years ago by arguing that the paintings have “not aged well” and that “its depictions of African Americans strikes some viewers as caricatured and offensive.”

The motion, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Burlington, asks Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford to dismiss the suit, which artist Sam Kerson filed last year after the South Royalton law school said it planned to paint over the murals.

“This lawsuit raises a simple question: Does federal law compel a private educational institution to continue to display a work of art, notwithstanding the fact that members of the school community find the work offensive and hurtful? The answer is plainly no,” the law school said in its motion to dismiss the case.

Kerson, who lived in Vermont when the murals were painted and now lives in Quebec, filed suit on Dec. 2, claiming that the federal Visual Artists Rights Act prevents the removal of his work. Kerson and several assistants painted the two 8-by-24-foot murals, Vermont, The Underground Railroad and Vermont and the Fugitive Slave, in 1993 and 1994. The murals were painted directly on a wall in the law school’s Jonathan B. Chase Community Center.

Last summer, VLS officials said they planned to have the murals painted over after students complained that their depiction of African Americans was primitive. The law school later modified that plan, intending to obscure the mural behind acoustic tiles. Kerson argued that either course of action violated the Visual Artists Rights Act, or VARA. ...

A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 24.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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