The Memorial Hall Mural
November 2022 Campus Message:
In a Nov. 22, 2022 message to campus, President Eli Capilouto shared that UK's Board of Trustees in June authorized the university to move forward with millions of dollars in modernization projects in the core of our campus.
One of the projects that passed is a renewal and revitalization of Memorial Hall. After continuous study and evaluations of the building, it was determined that the controversial mural could be removed and relocated. Following these efforts, Memorial Hall will be transformed into a multicultural space for our students.
Beginning more than a year ago, a group from our community visited other campuses to examine what other institutions do more closely in terms of multicultural spaces. As we move forward with this important project, we will be pulling together a broad-based group to discuss the design elements and other facets of the building.
“Our respect for Wendell Berry is deep and abiding. His contributions to our state and literature are profound. Moving art, however, is not erasing history. It is, rather, creating context to further dialogue as well as space for healing. As President Capilouto wrote to our campus last month, after years of community conversation, ‘our efforts and solutions with the mural, for many of our students, have been a roadblock to reconciliation, rather than a path toward healing. That’s not a criticism. It is a statement of fact and, I hope, understanding. We need to move forward.’” – Jay Blanton, spokesman, University of Kentucky
“For decades, the mural in Memorial Hall has provoked conversation and controversy. We were reminded of that range of emotions this past week when more than 100 students gathered for a more than two-hour dialogue with President Capilouto. They discussed a range of issues, including the presence of the mural in Memorial Hall, which was among their reasons for occupying the Main Building for approximately 24 hours during the first week of April.
For many, the work is an important historical piece – completed in 1935 as part of the New Deal and depicting the state’s evolution from an agrarian to industrial economy. For others, it presents a sanitized version of the slavery and subjugation of Black and indigenous people in our country. In that sense, it provokes strong reactions.
Many have suggested that the most appropriate place for the mural is a museum—a place where individuals choose to, on their own terms, experience, contemplate, and be touched by art. However, we cannot move the artwork. It is embedded into a load-bearing wall. And we do not believe that painting over it is the answer, either.
Instead, we are envisioning ways that Memorial Hall could more appropriately serve our campus. Rather than as a classroom where attendance is mandatory, perhaps it can be utilized as a space for art, creativity, introspection, and contemplation. We are working with our students to explore how we do this in a way that is respectful and empathetic to all perspectives in this conversation.
That is the project that great universities uniquely embrace as their mission and responsibility – to forge answers where there seem to be none.” – Jay Blanton, UK spokesman
Campus message, November 22, 2022: Reflecting on what happened; moving forward together
Blog, June 5, 2020: Memorial Hall Mural: Our Past, Our Present and Why It's Time to Move Forward
Blog, August 29, 2018: Witness: A Testament to Who We Are and What We Value at the University of Kentucky
Blog, June 28, 2018: The Importance of Place
Blog, October 1, 2018: UK Community Called to 'Witness'
Blog, March 29, 2017: Telling a More Complete Story
Op-Ed, September 1, 2016: Memorial Hall Mural