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The story regarding Uzikee Nelson’s efforts to donate his sculpture, Saint Dennard: The Edifying Spirit, to the University of the District of Columbia (Artifacts, “Respect Your Elders,” 4/2) was presented in a way that distorted the realities of the situation. As chair of the Department of Mass Media, Visual and Performing Arts, I am familiar with the issues. The university has policies and procedures in place that control under what terms the institution may accept gifts. Mr. Nelson was clear that he did not wish to negotiate such issues as location of his 17-foot sculpture, requiring that it be at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness Street NW. The university, however, insists on its right to terms of acceptance. An earlier situation involving Judy Chicago’s effort to donate the well-known and respected work The Dinner Party involved similar negotiations over terms of ownership and manner of display. In that case, Chicago withdrew her offer due to extraordinary political controversy regarding the piece, so those issues became moot. Another inaccurate aspect of the story that is more troubling is the unattributed comment saying that “one white art teacher at UDC confided” that the sculpture was “too African” for the school. Casting a misleading racial aspect to the story indicates a position that no one has taken and causes unwarranted and damaging speculation. The University of the District of Columbia is proud of its commitment to diversity and has welcomed gifts of art, such as paintings by Sam Gilliam donated by Donald Brown, and music, such as the jazz archives of Felix E. Grant. They are gifts not just to the university, but to the community as a whole. We look forward to the gracious benefaction of others.
I am pleased for Mr. Nelson that his sculpture has found a venue for display.
College of Arts and Sciences
University of the District of Columbia