As you’re probably aware, Rice’s light pole banners changed to a series entitled “Art at Rice” over the summer. The banners feature public art, works that were displayed in on-campus galleries and architectural objects. The campaign seems to respond to recent criticism of the administration’s lack of support for the arts, especially surrounding the closing of the Rice Gallery and the opening of the Moody Center for the Arts.

Ultimately, the fact that student artwork goes uncredited in a project intended to demonstrate the university’s support for the arts is unacceptable and more than a little ironic. 

A map and descriptions of the banners are available through the Rice News article “Shedding light (poles) on art across campus,” most of which include the artist’s name, the title of the work and where it is or was displayed. Of the 128 banners, nine are works by Rice students. Strangely, the format of these banner descriptions is a little different. For some reason, they don’t include the name of the artist or the work. Instead, eight of these nine descriptions hold only three (fairly nondescript) words: “Rice student art.” The ninth has some more description: “Rice art student photograph.” Even the description for Herzstein Hall’s doorknobs is more specific. Each student work sharing the same generic description conveys that “student art” was a quota to meet, a box to check off. With this campaign, Rice Public Affairs is only paying lip service to student artists’ legitimate concerns.

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Ultimately, the fact that student artwork goes uncredited in a project intended to demonstrate the university’s support for the arts is unacceptable and more than a little ironic. Were the artists asked permission to use their work? If so, why aren’t their names included? In the likely case that they were not, isn’t that copyright infringement? Student artists deserve the same basic respect and legal consideration that this project gives professionals.

It’s also worth noting that exhibits shown at the visual and dramatic arts department’s Emergency Room Gallery weren’t credited either. Furthermore, while the series includes eight photos of four different fountains, there are no photos of the many incredible Rice Media Center exhibitions, also sponsored by VADA.

Although the campaign wasn’t ill-intentioned, it’s still problematic and comes across as insincere. It’s concerning that the administration fundamentally misunderstands what it means to support the arts and especially fledgling artists. Using someone’s art without their name isn’t exposure, it’s exploitation. Honestly, even when all artists are appropriately credited, supporting the arts on campus isn’t as simple as decorating light poles. It means providing young artists opportunities to display their works in gallery spaces. It means encouraging attendance to their performances and exhibitions. Most importantly, it means giving them a say in the future of the arts in their community.