As Tensions Around Censorship Sweep Classrooms Nationwide, MICA Hosts Artist Talk That Examines Free Speech in America and the Arts

On Oct. 12, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Signe Wilkinson and historian Jonathan Zimmerman take part in “Free Speech & The Arts” at MICA

Nationally recognized cartoonist and Pulitzer Prize winner Signe Wilkinson and historian and author Jonathan Zimmerman will headline “Free Speech & The Arts” at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). The duo, who collaborated on the 2021 book Free Speech: And Why You Should Give a Damn, will examine the history of free speech in America and its age-old connection to censorship, recent attempts to suppress ideas and images, and why artists are at the forefront of these issues.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place on Thursday, Oct. 12, from 7 - 8:30 p.m. in Falvey Hall, located within the Brown Center at 1301 W Mount Royal Ave.

"Disputes over freedom of expression have long vexed cultural institutions, schools, and universities, but in recent years such disputes have grown conspicuously acute. At a time when activists and politicians around the country are insisting that books be pulled from libraries and curricula, we are fortunate to have Signe Wilkinson and Jonathan Zimmerman to help us think more deeply about free speech in the arts,” said Paul Jaskunas, professor of Creative Writing and Literature at MICA.

Wilkinson has drawn political cartoon commentary for over 40 years. Winner of numerous cartooning awards, she became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1992. She has worked for the San Jose Mercury News, the Philadelphia Daily News, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Though she is no longer cartooning daily, Wilkinson continues to draw the Sunday editorial cartoon for the Inquirer Opinion section. In addition to publishing two small collections, Abortion Cartoons on Demand and One Nation, Under Surveillance, Wilkinson has had work has appear in anthologies that include Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists by Martha H. Kennedy.

Zimmerman, who is Judy and Howard Berkowitz Professor in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, is one of the foremost education historians working today. His work examines how education practices and policies have developed over time, and the myths that often cloud our understanding of teaching and learning. He has a particular interest in how political and social movements come to shape education. A former Peace Corps volunteer and high school teacher, Zimmerman has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Review of Books, and The Atlantic.

“Censors have always attacked artists because the best art challenges our received wisdom about the world. And that's why artists should be the first sentinels in the defense of free speech. When freedom goes away, so does art,” Zimmerman said.

Wilkinson added, "Unlike artists and cartoonists in many other countries who can be jailed or worse for their views, we Americans enjoy broad protection for artistic free speech. Let's use it!"