UI Theatre Department to reimagine wall of fame

Photos in the department’s “Commemorative Hallway” have been taken down after some students reported that the hall’s photos, which displayed primarily white professionals and notable alumni, made them feel like they didn’t belong.


Braden Ernst

Commemorative Hall in the Theatre Building is empty on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. The Theatre Department took down the pictures that previously decorated the walls of the hallway after discrimination issues.

Anaka Sanders, Arts Reporter

Over 100 portraits of notable alumni and professionals have been taken down in the University of Iowa Theatre Department’s “Commemorative Hallway.” In their place, the department is searching for ways to reimagine the hall to help the student population feel more welcome in the space.

Of the photos hung, the majority feature white men. Only a handful of women and people of color had portraits hung alongside the likes of the department’s most famed alumni, including actor Gene Wilder and playwright Tennessee Williams.

The UI’s Theatre Department plans to reimagine their “Commemorative Hallway” in a way that recognizes the diversity of the program, and ultimately allows everyone to be able to feel seen.

Assistant Professor of Acting Caroline Clay, who joined the Theatre Department’s faculty this school year, said she noticed the lack of diversity on the wall when she first came to the department, but it wasn’t until one of her MFA students mentioned it to her in passing that she really started to think about the consequences. Now, she is part of the team looking to reimagine the wall’s purpose.

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Clay, along with other faculty and students who have spoken up, have not felt themselves reflected on the wall. She said it brought her a sense of heaviness when she walked down it.

“When you have that kind of monument to a past that the majority of us have a certain feeling around, it seems to be enough of a reason to be rigorous in examining the value of what’s continuing,” Clay said.

Since the program’s centennial anniversary coincided with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Theatre Department decided to release a book on the history of the program, said Mary Mayo, an associate professor and the department’s designated Linklater teacher. This allowed them to discover more people who weren’t recognized on the wall, she added.

The book and the reimagined wall will soon exist in digital form as well, letting current students and alumni dig a little deeper into each notable person.

Mayo said this was because she wanted to make sure that they weren’t denouncing the people who were previously on the wall.

“We are very proud of the people that were up on the wall and the contributions that they made to the theatre,” Mayo said. “We didn’t want to exercise more erasure, we wanted to just add to the story.”

On Friday, the department will host a ceremony to acknowledge the hallway’s shift. At the event, there will be papers where students can write their ideas on how they would reimagine the space. Clay and Mayo both said student involvement in reimagining what the wall should be used for is important to them.

Though there is not a date set yet for when the new “Commemorative Hallway” will be complete, Clay and Mayo said they hope it will be finished by the end of the school year.

Theatre Department Chair Mary Beth Easley said she wants the new hallway to communicate how the department moves into the future through change.

“Change is always complex for everybody involved, but we can’t progress unless we make changes as a group, as individuals, and within ourselves as a community,” Easley said. “I think it’s important for us to recognize where we came from, honor our history, but always try to move forward.”

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