In Brief

Maryland High School Removes Shepard Fairey Posters, Deeming Them “Anti-Trump”

Though the creators of the We the People posters claim they are non-partisan, administrators maintain that their display on classroom walls is of school policy.

From Shepard Fairey’s We the People series (all images via We the People)

Since inauguration day, artist Shepard Fairey has made his We the People poster series available online for anyone to download and share with their communities. But teachers at a public high school in north Maryland who recently hung the artist’s striking portraits of black, Muslim, and Latina women in their classrooms have been forced to remove them, as the administration has deemed them “anti-Trump,” and their display, therefore, a violation of school policy.

As the Carroll County Times first reported, officials at Westminster High School last week had initially removed, then allowed the posters to remain on the walls as the teachers said the works, rendered in the same style as Fairey’s famous “HOPE” campaign poster for Barack Obama, were simply messages of diversity. After researching them further, however, administrators decided they were political and were critical of Donald Trump, Carroll County Public Schools spokesperson Carey Gaddis said. The red, white, and blue works thus came down for good.

“We allow political posters if it’s part of the curriculum,” Gaddis told the Carroll County Times, adding that teachers would have to represent all sides involved.

From Shepard Fairey’s We the People series

Fairey’s posters, which feature phrases like “We the people defend dignity,” “We the people are greater than fear,” and “We the people protect each other,” are part of the Amplifier Foundation’s We the People Campaign. The campaign specifies that it is “a nonpartisan campaign dedicated to igniting a national dialogue about American identity and values through public art and story sharing,” and also invites people to send a postcard to the president, and apply for artist grants.

Photojournalist Aaron Huey, the executive director of the Amplifier Foundation, told the Huffington Post that the images are “definitely NOT anti-Trump in nature. … Anyone who believes that these messages are dangerous or divisive needs to check themselves.” Fairey himself added that he finds it “very disturbing that someone could find those ideas specifically, and by extension inclusion in general, to be partisan or problematic.”

Carroll County’s Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Steven Johnson said the issue, however, revolves around what the posters symbolized, saying that they were used in many protests. Not all protests that have occurred since Inauguration Day, though, are explicitly anti-Trump; the official stance of the Women’s March, for instance, where some of these posters appeared, was pro-woman, not against the president.

Gaddis confirmed to the Huffington Post that the teachers did put up the posters as a “show of diversity” rather than a political act. Their messages are especially important to spread within the Carroll County public school system: a report from last March noted that the county, which has one of Maryland’s lowest minority populations, has a percentage of non-white school employees even lower than that of the local population. For the 2015–16 school year, only four (or 2%) of the county’s 171 new hires were minorities. The school system has reportedly tried to reach out to prospective minority employees, but the county battles a reputation as a region home to unabashed racists; three decades ago, former school board president Jim Doolan said he would find invitations to Ku Klux Klan meetings tucked under his car’s windshield wipers.

While Westminster High School may not permit teachers to display Fairey’s contentious posters, it is allowing its students to parade them. On March 1, some plan to wear T-shirts printed with the images as a show of solidarity with the series’ message of diversity. The shirts were produced through an online fundraiser launched by Sarah Wack, an alumni of the high school’s class of 2012, after the poster censorship story became national news. As Mashable reported, the fundraising campaign quickly surpassed its goal of $4,000; Wack is donating the balance to the Amplifier Foundation.

From Shepard Fairey’s We the People series
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