Art by Majority, II

Bathroom 1

Bathroom 1 (Photo credit: A30_Tsitika)

Hey world,

I wanted to follow-up on the last Art by Majority post and expand on the high oratory that’s been surrounding the nexus between introspection and action.

In the last two council, art has come up in three issues.

The first was the end of my endeavor to change our By-Laws to permit anybody to draw whatever they wanted on our bathroom walls. My hope was to open up a canvas for, as Gabe so aptly put, the expression of a community’s “inner culture.” For context, I had brought forward a motion to open up the bathrooms three weeks before. It had passed by a smaller-than-average margin, 12-6-7. I was told two days later that the motion hadn’t actually passed, since the motion overrode an existing By-Law requiring all murals to go to council. I was a little bummed, but brought it up again as a By-Law change.

Changing a By-Law is a two-week process, where the first week you announce the issue, and then the second week you discuss and vote. During the discussion the following week, we debated the pros and cons of such a decision. To summarize, the opposition felt that we would see a high level of vulgar drawings, which would start to create an unpleasant and uncomfortable atmosphere in the bathrooms. They also were concerned about the ability to paint over the drawings once they became excessive. I really felt empathy with what they were saying. Going into a heavily decorated bathroom can be an overwhelming experience, and having bathrooms with light pastel walls is more cozy.

My argument was that by opening up the bathroom walls, we would be able to see a side of people that we wouldn’t normally get to: by creating a space where people’s split-second thoughts could be captured in a private/public venue, we would get to know our housemates (and by extension, the identities they contain) in a much more open way. I had a pretty optimistic expectation for what would happen, with lots of drawings musing about politics, art, love, dreams. My bathroom-wall experience has been a very positive one: my first-ever latrinalia was drawn on the second bathroom stall in CZ’s 10’s floor, a simple scrawl reading “Who is John Galt?” I had come off of a summer in Paris reading Atlas Shrugged on trains and was still rolling from my romance with Objectivism. Over the course of the past two and a half years, it has spurred quite a conversation. It sits proudly right above a quote celebrating the revolutionary as a true patriot, below one extolling my dear friend Emory, summarizing his remarkable co-op experience in four words: “Fuck you for caring.” In Castro, my stall-of-choice had a quote instructing that “Life is wonderful when you’re in love. Consequentially, it is important to be in love some of the time, but not all of the time.”

I longed for such experiences at Kingman. The people there strike me as a group of deep thinkers, but much harder to access than other groups I’ve known. I wanted to poke them a little and see what inner thoughts would start to peek out. I also didn’t really think we would see that much vulgar work. Someone brought up the example that at Evans, with arguably the smartest students in Berkeley, has bathrooms covered with obscenities. The argument I didn’t make but should have would have been that in Evans, people are drawing for an audience that is, for all intents and purposes, anonymous. At Kingman, we would be drawing for a known audience–each other. I see that as acting as a check on really vulgar drawings.

But alas, it was not meant to be. People were generally supportive of the larger concept (creating an open space for drawing), but hesitant about opening up the bathrooms. I countered asking to keep the location as the bathrooms, because I felt people wouldn’t be quite as vulnerable if they weren’t in the privacy of their bathroom. Someone suggested starting in only one stall, and I found that acceptable. Someone suggested keeping off of the plastic dividers, but I asked to keep that in. In the end, we voted on opening up the large stall in the second-floor bathroom up, and did not pass, with a vote of 9-6-7, with nine for, six against, and seven abstentions. It requires a supermajority (2/3) to approve a By-Law change. Or it potentially might require an absolute supermajority (with abstentions counted as no’s). It was never made completely clear, or I simply misunderstood the procedure. In any case, it didn’t pass.

As an aside, people expressed gratitude that I had raised the issue, which made me feel good. Also, someone posted on Guru, expressing a certain amount of support for me, which made me happy.

So that was the first art discussion. The second  had taken place right before mine (I was slightly curious as to how my item had been the last on the agenda, considering it was a By-Law change that had been raised a week in advance. But it doesn’t really matter). One of the Toads, Jeff,who had been very active re-painting the dining room (and is a brilliant artist, and has phenomenal taste, and a certain subtle roguish streak), brought a proposal to make him the “House Muralist,” a workshift position being compensated at 2 hours per week. This, plus his 3-hour cooking shift, would have covered his 5 hours a week. The discussion went as follows:

The opposition argued that this was an inappropriate use of workshift, which is meant to be used to carry about necessary tasks in running the house, or cooking food for people to eat. They saw (at least some of them did) as painting being a sort of indulgence. Further, they expressed concern that Jeff had just proposed to get workshift for something they felt was meant to be done for fun, for free.

Proponents argued that painting was a major contribution to the house, on the same level as cooking or cleaning. Jeff said that he was putting far more than 2 hours per week into painting, so that this was only a small token, and permission to continue painting.

A small tangent issue was the selection of the designs. Jeff proposed to bring every mural he wanted to paint to council in advance, bringing simultaneously a proposal for a mural of the council hand gestures (they have something like this at Lothlorien, it’s very charming to have).

Another tangent issue was whether or not there was extra workshift available. Lindsay (our workshift manager) said that there was some extra, but not a whole lot.

In the end, the proposal passed.

The next week, however, another housemate brought up a discussion to reverse that decision, and begin a new, more general discussion around how to allocate extra workshift. The given rationale was that by awarding Jeff the 2 hours for painting, we inadvertently bypassed the necessary previous discussion around how to allocate extra workshift. Other people might have had ideas for a special workshift job, for example, that we might want to consider alongside the painting. The member who brought this up said that she had heard concerns about the previous decision, and so she was bringing it up out of mindfulness.

I had a few questions about procedure. I know in the past year Kingman had a difficult issue with a large grey-water conservation project, with the issue being voted and approved, and then being unapproved, and then being approved again. Their By-Laws at the time allowed any motion to overrule a previous motion. Standard By-Laws require a supermajority to overturn a previous decision, making it harder to undo decisions, making it less likely that members will bring up motions in an attempt to play policy wars with each other.

I wanted to know if the procedure had been changed (I had suggested they change it, I think they really wanted to change it, it was changed). Apparently it had been. So we were going to vote on whether or not to first undo the decision to make Jeff a muralist (requiring a supermajority), and then being a brand-new discussion about what to do with the extra workshift (simply majority).

For some reason we never actually voted… it seems as if we tabled (although technically “postponed to a later date.” We have so many bizarre misuses of Robert’s Rules in the co-ops I can’t help but smile to myself. If you’re curious, you don’t actually “second” a “call.”) the issue till the next week. So we’ll see.

That’s the status of the art discussions so far. As I said in my first “Art by Majority” post, I think that discussions about art in a cooperative house is one of the most compelling discussions that occur. I’ll keep you posted on what happens.

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