Artist Genevieve Waller, a former resident of Wichita, was scheduled to have an art exhibit open at Newman University’s Steckline Gallery. The installation, which featured "sculpture, photography and installation art," was entitled Rainbow in Reverse: Queer Kansas History. It featured art meant to "honor the achievements of queer Kansans in the fields of dance, film, literature, theater and politics," but now it seems these pieces won't be seeing the light of day. After complaints from the community, Newman University has decided to cancel the exhibit.
Kimberly McDowall Long, Newman’s vice president for academic affairs, claimed that the University strives for unique and diverse perspectives in all fields, but also commented on the exhibits cancellation:
Over the years, Steckline shows have featured art and artists that focused on topics such as feminism, racism and other potentially challenging academic areas. Although we believe there might be some confusion regarding the purpose and content of this particular exhibit, we thought it was best to make this decision.
The local religious community was reportedly activated by Catholic blogger Jean Heimann, who circulated an email comparing homosexuality to "a sickness in our society." She claimed the exhibit, which celebrated the achievements of LGBTQ individuals through history, would "expose students to evil." In her email, Heinmann wrote:
Why don’t they have someone who has overcome the temptations of this lifestyle discuss their redemption? Perhaps someone who has been active in Courage?
Horrible choice of words from Jean Heimann. It may be this exhibit is not suitable to be held at Newman, ie. if it promotes something that is against Church teaching - but do we know that? I think it depends on what exactly is in the exhibit.— Dan Mitchell (@mitchelld1) January 17, 2018
Clark Schafer, Director of University Relations, claimed the University had been contacted by a number of individuals voicing concerns about the installation. Though he suspected they had "the wrong idea" about the art's intention, the University feared there wasn't enough time to make it the exhibit's intentions clear, and so decided to cancel it altogether. Schafer wrote in an email:
In promotion of the event, some in the community thought it was inappropriate for the university to be hosting an exhibit they thought advocated for a way of life counter to the teachings of the Catholic faith. Knowing we were so close to the event, and that it would be difficult to effectively communicate what gallery organizers believed to be the focus of the exhibit, a decision was made to cancel the event.
Kevin Clack, a junior at Newman and President of Kaleidoscope, a group for LGBTQ students, told Huffpost in an email that he is unsurprised by Newman University's decision:
While attending Newman, I’ve learned that they don’t like going against the grain. They would rather get rid of something than be a voice of change and reason. This shows the community that LGBT+ issues are not important and not taken seriously on campus.
Time and time again, they make us feel like we aren’t as much a part of the Newman community as other students.
Meanwhile, a gallery called Harvester Arts has agreed to host Waller's exhibit. It's very important to the artist that students and residents of her hometown get the chance to see her art:
Gilbert Baker, the artist who created the rainbow flag – an internationally-known symbol for LGBTQ+ rights and equality – was born in Chanute, Kansas and grew up in the state. I think he and other LGBTQ Kansans should be better-known and celebrated in their home state.