Since the early 1990's, the University of Oregon has sponsored a free figure drawing session, open to the public. The three-hour class, at Lawrence Hall, included nude models. Recently, participants were informed the college was cancelling the session.
After the U of O discontinued the Saturday Figure Drawing Group, there were campus protests and national headlines. Even Late Night talk show host Jimmy Fallon jumped in:
Fallon: "Tonight we'll be taking a look at the pros and cons of being a nude art model. The University of Oregon recently made news after cancelling one of their nude modeling classes after receiving lewd phone calls from local perverts."
Karen Johnson is Assistant Dean of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts at U of O. She is also an artist.
Johnson: "We began to be quite concerned about the drawing session after it started to be promoted quite broadly across the community and there was a large volume of phone calls we received and inquiries about the nude models. And it peaked to over 20 a day for a three week period."
Johnson says it was multiple callers. She says the university's concern for the personal safety of the models and constrained funding topped the list of concerns she and her colleagues cited as they made the decision to cancel.
Those reasons don't sit well with Will Mitchell. He's the volunteer coordinator of the Figure Drawing Group. Mitchell says although the class has been free for decades, the artists were willing to pay for the models themselves. As to the issue of security, Mitchell says there's never been an indication of a problem.
Mitchell: "In fact, on the very last session we had, a police officer turned up as we're all setting up lights and preparing the space. He came in and said, 'I was told to come over because there might be a problem. I was told in an email there might be nudity and something going on.'"
Like universities across the nation, the U of O is confronting the issue of sexual assault and misconduct on campus. Mitchell says some of the artists think the drawing class was a scapegoat for safety policies.
Mitchell: "If there are problems then direct that problem there at that place. We know there have been issues with the basketball team. They're not shutting down the basketball team because of those problems."
Karen Johnson, who has been at the U of O for 31 years, says she knows there was nothing unseemly going on in the figure drawing class. The decision to cancel the session was about external threats and shrinking budgets. As for the publicity:
Johnson: "It shows how important the arts are to people and we are grateful for that."
After hearing about the cancelation, Lane Community College's Art Department shifted its Sunday drawing session to Saturdays. They will be held from 10 am to 1pm in Building 10, Room 220. As always, public safety officers will be on campus. There will be a $3 fee to pay models.