Full Sail University, the recently accredited Winter Park technical school that dropped the "real world education" part of its title and now grants bachelor's and master's degrees, bills itself as "one of the premier media arts schools in the world." But as Full Sail student Gabriel Haze learned in March, that label only goes so far. At the first sign of controversy, he says, the school's dedication to the fine arts takes a backseat to its need for profit.
The work Haze says the school censored is called "We Are All Captives Here." It's a multimedia installation that depicts a nude female angel in chains who is "trapped by her inventors and bound to earth." Haze, who is gay, says the piece was inspired by his own struggles with his sexuality. It's focused on the paradox between religious espousal of love and the practice of prejudice. The word "lost" is scribbled in the margin and there is a crinkled pamphlet warning of the coming Judgment Day (which dramatically proclaims that Jesus will return in 1992).
It is controversial, albeit in a conventional sort of way.
In March, Haze's work was awarded Full Sail's Best of Show and put on display in a school lobby. And then, unbeknownst to Haze, it vanished. School officials suddenly deemed the piece inappropriate for public display, and shut it — of all places — in a closet, with a piece of cardboard inelegantly placed over the angel's breasts. Because it was taken down, Haze says, he missed an opportunity to sell the work.
Bill Galbreath, Full Sail's program director of digital art and design, sent Haze an e-mail full of support and praise for Haze and his work, but noted that "some people reacted to the nudity" and that the school didn't want "anyone of a certain faith to feel unwelcome or persecuted." Those people apparently included Full Sail president Garry Jones, whom Haze blames for his work's removal.
Galbreath also told Haze that the venue was problematic. While people may choose to enter an art gallery, this piece was in a public lobby, and the for-profit school doesn't want to do anything that may offend visitors, particularly the parents of potential students.
"It was in this spirit that we were asked to move your great piece from that location," Galbreath told Haze via e-mail.
According to another e-mail obtained by Orlando Weekly, the teacher who assigned the project, Kim Lomas, wasn't happy with the school's decision. "There are many considerations here, not the least of which is the university's violation of Gabriel's First Amendment rights and the student body's reaction to this censorship of an award-winning work of art. … Throughout history, great art has often been viewed as controversial and/or offensive when it is thought-provoking. Gabriel should have the support of his school.
"Students from three degree programs voted to display the work, honored it with an award and it should be allowed to remain … for the month." (Lomas could not be reached by press time.)
Instead, the project was shoved out of sight after just three days on display — which is, of course, entirely within Full Sail's rights. And indeed, it's easy to see Full Sail's point of view. The painting is a nude, and the work as a whole is intended to push Christians' buttons. Those Christians may be future students, who in turn pay the tuition that makes the school run.
The question, though, is whether a school that bills itself as "one of the premier media arts schools in the world" should be in the practice of praising and then censoring art at the first sign of resistance.
In a statement, Jones says he respects Haze's work and "incredible art talent," but that the work was simply too controversial to be displayed in a lobby. "Due to the nature of this space within a public lobby, as much as I respect Gabriel's work, it is also my duty to respect the feelings and the beliefs of all those who pass through the Full Sail University doors," Jones says. He adds that this situation has prompted the school to "review the potential for a traditional, private art gallery on campus," where student works could go on display without potential for inadvertent offense.
There is an upshot for Haze. On Aug. 6, his work will be shown at the Orlando Museum of Art for its 1st Thursday event. OMA agreed to display it after learning about what happened at Full Sail, Haze says.
At least it's a better venue than a email@example.com