In light of recent public outcry over art at local polling places, the Sag Harbor School district has announced an alteration in plans to separate the voting area at the high school and the student art exhibition. Residents voting in the Pierson gym on May 19 for board candidates and the school budget will notice the voting area is smaller, giving the exhibition more display space. Previously, the board was planning to completely separate the two areas using connected room dividers. School superintendent Dr. John Gratto said the room dividers will now be staggered, making the art clearly visible from the voting space.
“Our reasoning was to answer some complaints and initially keep all parties happy,” said school board president Walter Wilcoxen at the board of education meeting on Monday, May 11. “It was brought to our attention that [the exhibition] was the culmination of the students art program for the year. It is part of their educational requirement, but there wasn’t enough space for the art.”
Pierson senior and art student Emma DeVito presented the board with a petition signed by 285 local residents asking for the art exhibition and the voting area to remain the same as last year.
“This isn’t propaganda. There is no secret evil agenda,” said DeVito. “This is real work by real students. It’s a reflection of students’ accomplishments.”
Gratto responded to DeVito’s claims by saying the board believed putting art on one side of the room would calm people’s criticism that the exhibition was a form of electioneering and favorably influenced voters to pass the budget.
“Sometimes decisions have unintended consequences. Every board member supports the art students,” said Gratto. “And I doubt people’s opinions will be changed or influenced by the art.”
He added that in reviewing the configuration of the voting and art areas, the board also sought to remedy the positioning of the poll watchers. Previously, poll watchers were stationed in the hallway leading to the voting booths. This year, the school will set-up tables on the side of the voting area to accommodate poll watchers.
Before the school announced their intentions to tweak the separation of the art and voting area, the four school board candidates were asked to weigh in on the issue during Friday’s debate.
Elena Loreto stated she was neutral on the subject, but favored placing the voting area in the front of the gym to accommodate handicapped residents.
Ed Drohan mentioned the possibility that the art was electioneering on behalf of his constituents at a previous school board meeting, but maintained that it wasn’t his personal opinion.
“Should we put curtains up over the sports trophy case or the banners hanging over the gym? Where does it stop?” asked Gregg Schiavoni, reiterating his belief that the art isn’t influential to the vote.
At the debate, candidate Walter Wilcoxen (currently the school board president) wanted to clarify that the art exhibition wasn’t banned, but merely separated from the voting area to satisfy all concerned parties.
By staggering the room dividers, the board believes the new voting area and art show configuration will accommodate both the students and the voters.
On Wednesday afternoon, Pierson students milled around the school’s art studio in preparation for the exhibition. Art instructor Peter Solow estimated that each student produced 20 to 25 solid pieces this year. He added that 10 to 15 percent of the graduating class will go on to study art in college. The show in the gym, said Solow, would give the public only a taste of the students’ body of work.