It’s been awhile since Spitball has been chalked. That changed last week, when someone, or multiple people, drew a squirrel on Spitball and wrote “This is OUR campus.” and “Hey, whatcha doin’ under here? Wanna cuddle?” on it.
It is precisely the noticeable lack of chalking recently that makes this incident feel extremely intentional, along with the statement that this is “OUR” campus. It seems like this student is trying to say that we should be chalking Spitball, simply because it sits on our campus. Unfortunately, whatever the intent was, these messages inspired another message later in the week: a drawing of a nose and the words “smells like potato to me.”
Let’s ignore university policy for a moment and pretend that chalking on art is allowed.
Why would anyone want to? There are walkways everywhere, many of which students are allowed to chalk. That being said, chalking doesn’t seem to be an efficient form of PR, so why do it at all? What is there to be gained from defacing art?
Our Spitball sculpture is one of three original sculptures by artist Tony Smith. The other two sit in the Menil Gallery in Houston and the Baltimore Museum of Art, meaning that they do not endure the same disrespect.
And our disrespect is not unnoticed by the art world. The Sculpture Center, a non-profit arts organization here in Cleveland, laments that “Spitball is an incredibly disrespected and underappreciated piece of sculpture where it is located, suffering almost constant vandalism. Students and student groups like to use Spitball as a billboard to advertise their events in chalk, which I consider a complete shame” on their website.
Is that really how we, as a university, want to be seen by the art world? As people who disrespect art?
Technically, the chalk itself is not damaging to the sculpture. What’s damaging—to both the structure and paint—is when unqualified students or groundskeepers wash off the chalk. Since it’s an outdoor sculpture, it is meant to withstand the weather and occasionally be cleaned by professionals but professionals only.
We’ve been ignoring university policy until now, so let’s review it. According to university posting policy, “Chalking on vertical surfaces, buildings, artwork, covered walkways or non-university pedestrian walkways. Use of acrylics, ink, spray-chalk and paint is strictly prohibited.”
In Steve Kerby’s opinion piece last week, he wrote that “a whisper ran through the student body” and that one day, the chalking just stopped. I’d like to point out that the no-chalking policy has existed at least since the fall 2017 semester. It wasn’t just some shift in university policy or the official word by the administration that helped stop students chalking Spitball.
It was students who championed for Spitball.
One of those students is fourth-year art history and theater major JP Peralta. After spending the summer of 2017 researching the sculptures on campus, he wrote a post on the Case Western Reserve Class of 2021—Official Facebook page detailing the reasons why we, as students, should refrain from chalking Spitball.
Here’s the summary of reasons in his post: it’s an incredibly important piece by a prominent American sculptor, the inside of the sculpture is rusting away from chalk being constantly washed off, Spitball is valued at somewhere around two million dollars and chalking on the sculpture is against university policy. Peralta compares chalking on Spitball to taping over the Mona Lisa because to the art world they’re the exact same thing and ends with a plea to the community to show the world that we deserve this sculpture.
Another one of those students is me, a third-year mathematics major. Last semester when a fraternity on campus was planning to chalk Spitball as part of an event, I emailed their president and pleaded for them to choose not to chalk Spitball. It worked. They listened. Spitball remained chalk-free.
Students in the arts and humanities have also shown their support, especially this past week after the new chalk on Spitball and Kerby’s opinion piece.
So I’d say I disagree with Kerby’s idea that the chalking stopped because of the administration or whispers or changed policies. The chalking stopped because we, as a student body, chose to start paying more respect towards Spitball. I say that we should choose to do so once again, but this time with the university’s help.
Rather than putting up a fence or a guard as Kerby suggested, why not just put up a sign? Even something as simple as that would help. Beyond that, the university could make a stronger effort to educate students about this and other sculptures on campus. I would love to see the university hire a conservator to come examine our campus artwork and make sure we are properly caring for them.
If the university doesn’t want to do any of these things, the student body can show it cares by never chalking Spitball again.