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Vermont Law School

Law School Allowed to Cover Controversial Murals

Vermont Law School is now legally allowed to cover an artist’s slavery murals.

Chief Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford of the District of Vermont ruled that the law school’s plan to cover the racially charged murals does not amount to a destruction or modification banned under the Visual Artists Rights Act, the ABA Journal reports.


The artist, Samuel Kerson, had sued after the university planned to conceal his murals, which depict the fight against slavery and the Underground Railroad in Vermont. University alumni and students raised concern around the murals’ depiction of Black bodies as cartoonish and offensive.

“The School’s mission is to educate law students in a diverse and inclusive community, and it became clear over recent years that the mural — which many feel depicts Black bodies in a caricatured, stereotyped manner — was inconsistent with that mission,” Vermont Law School attorney Justin Barnard tells Reuters. “We believe the Court rightly decided that the law does not compel a private institution to keep such a work of art on display.”


In his lawsuit against Vermont Law, Kerson argued that the Visual Artists Rights Act prohibits the law school “from installing a permanent barrier of acoustic panels concealing and entombing the Murals” and that such an action would “amount to a modification or destruction of the artwork in violation of the artist’s right of integrity.”

Kerson also argued that the acoustic panels covering his murals would cause an acidic atmosphere and trap moisture, therefore, causing damage to his art.

Ultimately, however, Judge Crawford saw differently.

“For purposes of the VARA,” he wrote, “concealing the murals behind a wall of acoustic panels is the same as removing a painting from a gallery and storing it out of public view. In either case, the art has not been ‘destroyed.’”

Sources: ABA Journal, Reuters

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