(Reuters) – A Vermont law school can permanently conceal two murals that depict Black people in a way that members of the law school community consider racist, despite the artist’s objections that doing so would violate his rights under a rarely litigated law, a Vermont federal court has said.
U.S. District Judge Geoffrey Crawford ruled on Wednesday that Vermont Law School’s plan to permanently cover the murals, which artist Sam Kerson painted to portray the evils of slavery and Vermonters’ efforts to help those trying to escape through the Underground Railroad, doesn’t violate his rights to prevent the modification, mutilation or destruction of his work under the Visual Artists Rights Act.
Kerson painted the work, titled “The Underground Railroad, Vermont and the Fugitive Slave,” at the South Royalton, Vermont, school in 1993. The school has received complaints about the murals’ “cartoonish, almost animalistic” depictions of Black people, and it announced plans last year to build a wooden frame around them and hide them with acoustic panels.
Kerson sued the school last December, saying that covering the murals would violate his rights under VARA. He also said permanently concealing his work would mark it as “offensive” and “unworthy to be viewed,” and damage his reputation as an artist “committed to progressive causes.”
Kerson’s attorney Steven Hyman of McLaughlin & Stern said in a Thursday email that he was “disappointed” in the decision and will appeal.
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