At 7:30 Saturday morning, a Phoenix reporter and photographer walked through the back door of the locked USM student center and into the gallery, where we found paper effigies of Thomas Manning and exhibit organizer Ray Luc Levasseur, which had been part of the show, splayed out on a wooden bench, looking like tiny dead bodies. The paintings were gone from the walls and locked away in a closet.
Michael Shaughnessy, the head of the art department, and two students whose work had been in the show were at a nearby bakery, crestfallen.
“I regret having to do what I did. It’s just one of those things,” said Shaughnessy, who supervised the removal of the artwork. “It’s not really anything to do with the paintings. We need to find out how this can become less of a polarized situation and naturally become a real dialogue.”
Levasseur, interviewed separately, said he had suggested some alternatives. “If they want an art exhibit, they can go create their own exhibit, or the university can have a cop-show art exhibit, or a cop-show poetry jam, or whatever.”
But Levasseur said the police unions who objected always intended to close the show down, not participate in a discussion about it.
That assertion is echoed by Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, who said he answered in the affirmative when people asked if he supported closing the exhibit. He says law-enforcement officers “don’t protest. We attend protests as part of our work,” and added that he would be personally reluctant to participate in a discussion with Levasseur, because it would give credence to Levasseur’s actions.
Shaughnessy was particularly disappointed that his students’ work was taken down, too. “We don’t want this to be the end of anything — more of a beginning. There’s got to be more of a dialogue that occurs on this,” he said.
But how can that happen, after the paintings have been taken down?
“That’s a real good point,” Shaughnessy said.