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Cranbrook Art students protest against Israel

(First published Friday, November 10. Updated 9:30 a.m. Monday, November 13.)

By Lisa Brody

What first began as a protest by a Cranbrook Art Academy student or students on Saturday, November 4, involving hanging numerous Palestinian flags in the second floor windows of studios and other non-residential space facing out on a main entrance to the Cranbrook community has morphed into a movement of support by the student body “against the settler colonial ideology of Zionism and the occupation of their land by the Israeli apartheid ethnostate.”

Members of the Cranbrook community, students, parents of students, alumni and those viewing social media were confronted on Saturday, November 4, by images of studio windows at the Cranbrook Academy of Art filled with Palestinian flags. The windows faced out onto Academy Way, which is a public entranceway to Cranbrook off of Lone Pine Road.

According to a message sent by Aimeclaire Roche, president, Cranbrook Educational Community, “We discovered in several commonly shared educational spaces at the Cranbrook Academy of Art displays of flags representing Palestine. Given the collective size, scope, and positioning of the flags along a main thoroughfare on campus, these displays had a threatening and unwelcoming impact on members of our community.”

A subsequent communication stated the flags were placed in “several commonly shared non-residential educational spaces of the Cranbrook Academy of Art.”

“On Saturday, the Director of the Academy and I communicated with our Academy graduate students about messaging in our common spaces and the impact of these outwardly facing displays on our community, and they were removed from these common spaces,” Roche stated. “The decision to remove the displays is one that is aligned with our past practices and our respect for the many constituents of our community.  Institutionally, we do not take a public position on political causes or conflicts. Our long-standing practice has been to keep the common, shared areas of our campus free of political messaging or activities. Moreover, political messages could be interpreted as political statements made on behalf of Cranbrook.”

However, by Saturday evening, the flags were once again on public display.

Rather than complying with a non-political stance urged by the Cranbrook Educational Community, an open letter in solidarity with Palestine was sent out and signed “representing a majority of the 2024-2025 student body at Cranbrook Academy of Art, with support from alumni, to establish our unwavering solidarity with the Palestinian people in their eight decades of impassioned and fervent resistance for liberation against the settler colonial ideology of Zionism and the occupation of their land by the Israeli apartheid ethnostate.

“We are unsettled by the administration’s decision to deploy security to abruptly remove Palestinian flags from the windows of our personal studios on the evening of Saturday, November 4, led personally by Academy Director Paul Sacaridiz…. Sending Academy personnel to walk through our hallways, our spaces, our homes for the duration of our degree, is an infringement on the very safety the Academy is ostensibly trying to ensure through this act of censorship…. Supporting marginalized communities and standing in solidarity with liberation movements are fundamental to our rights to speech, expression, and creativity. The current stance taken by the Academy infringes on these rights, which are pivotal to academic freedom and resonate deeply with the broader global community. This campus is home to Black, Indigenous, and Brown students, people from the global South, diasporic students, and queer students whose liberation and freedom is contingent on decolonial struggle. Censoring our dissent against colonialism and genocide as artists, makers, and people, is a heinous act that disparages the relationships we’ve built here within our community. We have a vested interest in supporting Palestinian liberation because it liberates us too.”

According to sources, at least one, and possibly more, galleries immediately cut ties with the students and alumni of the Academy who signed the letter, informing them they would no longer sell or represent their work.

Roche communicated that an ad hoc crisis task force has been created and Crabrook has retained external crisis communications counsel at The Castle Group, a firm which has assisted Cranbrook in the past.

On Friday evening, November 10, Roche followed up her communications to the Cranbrook community noting that, “As a private institution, it is our responsibility – rather, our obligation – to ensure that our campus is welcoming to all of our many diverse audiences. We will not tolerate activities nor language that disrupts our campus, threatens the safety of our community, or that violates policies or the code of conduct that governs student and community behavior. The petition that has recently been circulated within the Cranbrook Academy of Art community by certain students and alumni in no way reflects the views and values of Cranbrook nor does it speak for the institution.”

She further emphasized that Cranbrook denounces in emphatic terms “all forms of antisemitic, Islamophobic, racist, and hate-based discrimination and they have no place on our campus,” while also providing students the opportunity to express themselves creatively and openly, as long as it is respectful to themselves and others.

In a pivot for the institution, Roche made it clear that those who are not respectful or engage in racist or intolerant language or behavior risk expulsion – including those students at the Art Academy who have signed the petition.

“We will take prompt and decisive action if this type of behavior or speech finds its way into our community, including removing the offender(s) and alerting the appropriate authorities, to protect our campus and to ensure accountability for such conduct,” Roche wrote.

In response, unconfirmed reports say that it appears many graduate art students have dug their heels in. During Open Studio hour on Saturday, November 11, which is an opportunity for the public, dealers, gallerists and others to visit art students' studios to view their art and purchase it, some students chose not to open their studios, posting signs on their doors stating that Cranbrook does not respect free speech.

Word is Director of the Academy Paul Sacaradiz, who began his tenure in May of 2022, resigned his position on Wednesday, November 8, in the wake of the controversy, reportedly for “personal reasons."

Against the background of the controversy at the Academy of Art, a petition was created by Cranbrook Schools 2006 alum Adam Bleznak, in pursuit of peace and mutual prosperity. “The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is fraught with pain, loss, and misunderstanding on both sides. As advocates for Zionism, we too yearn for peace and condemn any actions that hinder its achievement. We recognize the suffering and the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. We believe in their right to self-determination and a dignified life, just as we hold these rights dear for our own people…. There are extremists on both sides who have caused deep wounds. At this time, it is essential to engage with the full complexity of this issue, recognizing that there are diverse perspectives within both the Zionist and Palestinian narratives. We must strive to amplify voices that seek reconciliation and unity, rather than division. Public-facing displays at Cranbrook might signify to the greater public that our institution sides with one side or another in conversations such as this. No demonstrations of any kind should be allowed at Cranbrook that invoke fear, anxiety, isolationist or any other feelings of exclusion amongst its members. This community is dedicated to fostering opportunities for dialogue between groups with differing opinions.”

The petition this weekend had at least 209 signatures out of a goal of 200.


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