College Art Project That Shut Down City May Land Art Student in Jail

An Atlanta bomb squad officer walks on street where suspicious package was duct taped.
Photo: Ben Gray of Atlanta Journal Constitution.

When a college art project managed to bring a city to its knees last week, the Atlanta Police Department and Georgia State University faced the uncomfortable reality that 17 other objects, littered around town, posed a similar threat. Last Monday, for those of you who missed it, Atlanta’s major highways were completely shut down as a police force and bomb squad investigated a suspicious object that turned out to be a student art project (see College Studio Art Project Gone Wrong Shuts Down City).

Since the traffic jam debacle, the Welch School of Art and Design at Georgia State University has apologized for the irresponsible behavior of its students and cooperated with police. Led by Professor Constance Thalken, a distinguished artist whose work has appeared in over 80 exhibitions, the studio art class was assigned a “take-home” solargraphy project to monitor sunlight. Instead, the students took to the streets and decided to duct tape their camera assemblages around the city. This innovative strategy managed to clear out 12 major traffic lanes and caused widespread city panic.

Because students were not explicitly directed to erect their cameras in public spaces, Mrs. Thalken faces no internal repercussions within the University. Director of Georgia State’s Welch School, Michael White, has since said that the school had no intention of creating any chaos. He believes the confusion may have been caused by heightened sensitivity in our current “culture of fear.”

By mid last week, all of the other cameras had been identified and removed from public areas. The Atlanta Police Department confirmed to artnet News that the investigation is still ongoing and no charges have been filed at this time. Whether the student responsible will eventually be charged with reckless conduct or endangerment remains to be seen.

Andrea Jones, a Georgia State spokesperson, told artnet News that the student in question has been identified and will not face internal repercussions: “the professor, student and her classmates fully cooperated with the Atlanta Police Department and face no disciplinary action by the school.”

However, Georgia State will ensure that history does not repeat itself: “We have used this experience as a learning opportunity. The Welch School of Art and Design is reviewing and modifying language in course syllabi to specifically address student work in public spaces to avoid future issues,” comments Jones.

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