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Gainesville State panel to debate removal of disputed painting
Today's discussion to include students, faculty but not college president
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Panel discussion

What: A panel discussion on the removal of Stanley Bermudez’s painting entitled “Heritage?”
When: Noon today
Where: Continuing Education Auditorium at Gainesville State College, 3820 Mundy Mill Road, Oakwood
Cost: Free and open to the public. Free pizza will be served.

Its removal sparked outrage and intrigue since last month at Gainesville State College. Now, some on campus are hoping a piece of controversial artwork will spur a collegewide dialogue on censorship.

A panel discussion will take place today in response to the removal of a painting by professor Stanley Bermudez from a faculty show in late January. The artwork "Heritage?" depicts a Confederate flag with hooded Klansmen, a lynching and an angry woman in the backdrop.

Tonna Harris-Bosselmann, adviser for the campus' Students for a Progressive Society, said panelists both in favor of and opposed to the college's decision will participate.

Speakers will include the artist, two students, an assistant professor of political science, an associate professor of journalism and media studies and a member of the Heritage Preservation Society.

Each of the speakers will make a four-minute statement before a question-and-answer session.

Audience members will be asked to submit their questions on a note card. At the event's conclusion, each speaker will be given one minute to make final comments.

But Harris-Bosselmann said there's one voice missing from the discussion: the administration's.

"I almost begged. I sent numerous e-mails and calls," she said. "I tried to get one representative from the administration and nobody is coming. We feel like their perspective is essential because it was their decision (to remove the artwork.)"

A college spokeswoman said Tuesday the event organizers did not consult college president Martha Nesbitt's schedule when the event was set, and she had a conflicting appointment. The spokeswoman said Nesbitt felt she was the only person qualified to speak for the college, as it was her decision to remove the artwork.

Organizers said the controversial artwork has been the most talked about topic on campus for the last few weeks, so they expect a full audience.

"What we're hoping to bring about is greater understanding of the event as a whole for one thing," said student Gordon Purcell, a member of Students for a Progressive Society.

"I've been in (literature) classes and I've heard people talking about this. I think it will be a nice way to disseminate some information and also jump start the dialogue a little bit."

The artist said he's disappointed a member of the college's administration won't be participating, but he's still hopeful the event will encourage balanced and purposeful debate.

"I just hope that we can have a discussion and not necessarily about what I painted but on censorship," Bermudez said. "But I think it's going to be hard to separate the censorship issue with the image that I painted."

After the artwork was removed, Nesbitt said in a statement the decision was "not based on any one group's agenda, complaint, or the overall content of the painting" but on the depiction of lynching "that has been perceived as aggressively hostile in other areas of the country and other academic institutions."

On Feb. 4, about 20 students and faculty members stretched black tape over their mouths outside the Roy C. Moore Art Gallery in silent protest of the removal.

The panel discussion will take place today at noon in the campus' Continuing Education Auditorium.

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