Rep Schakowsky addresses the Artistic Discovery Competition Controversy

May 11, 2017

Now in its thirty-fifth year, An Artistic Discovery is a national art competition designed to showcase and reward the artistic ability of America’s young artists from around the country. Since the competition was created in 1982, hundreds of thousands of high school students have participated at the local level. Members of Congress have had the privilege of selecting artwork created by a student from his or her district to hang in the Cannon Tunnel, between the House office buildings and the Capital, as part of the Congressional Competition. Artistic Discovery invites young people to express themselves, challenge themselves and sometimes find themselves through art. I am a proud supporter of Artistic Discovery and see the impact it has on young adults in my District and across the county. For 35 years, the Art Competition was uncontroversial. But in December 2016, a student painting by David Pulphus of Missouri, entitled “Ferguson” which hung in the Cannon Tunnel for months was, on several occasions physically removed from the wall by Members of Congress who found it offensive and returned it to the office of the painting’s sponsor, Congressman Lacy Clay. After efforts to have Mr. Pulphus’ painting rehung in the Cannon Tunnel were rebuffed by the Architect of the Capitol and Speaker Paul Ryan, Congressman Clay and Mr. Pulphus brought a lawsuit against the Architect of the Capitol asserting that the student artist’s First Amendment Constitutional Rights had been violated. The litigation is ongoing. Now, for the first time in the Art Competition’s history, Speaker Ryan is imposing a new bar of political correctness or “suitability guidelines” on student art in the competition. Members of Congress will be required to submit a letter stating that each piece of art was reviewed by the Member and found to be “suitable.” The guidelines state that the art can’t depict “subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature.” These “suitability guidelines” are an outrage. Who ultimately decides what’s unsuitable anyway? It’s completely subjective. This new action invites us to become art censors, which I will not do. I object to this censorship and will defend every students right to create their art.