Shiftspace Gallery criticized a Student Government senator, now it could lose its funding


Lena Alhallaq/ The Sunflower

Wichita State’s ShiftSpace Gallery hosts an opening reception for “From Lima to Wichita” on July 2nd.

Shiftspace Gallery, a student-run art gallery located in downtown Wichita, could lose all of its funding from student fees allocations over a Facebook post criticizing an SGA fine arts senator.

This comes after a month-long battle to restore the gallery’s funding after it was initially cut 65.8% in student fees deliberations. When discussing it in senate meetings, Senator John Kirk did not support the gallery. The group went to Facebook on April 1, three days before SGA elections voting, to share their frustration. 

The Shiftspace Facebook post read: 

“This is the support we are getting from our fine arts senator, John Kirk. He’s up for re-election. Let’s show him how ignoring and neglecting a significant portion of his constituency affects his poll numbers.”

The SGA election commission found the Shiftspace post in violation of election policy. SGA Advisor Gabriel Fonseca told the Sunflower via email that the following was the specific policy violated:

“No faculty or staff member can utilize University resources to support specific candidates. This shall include but is not limited to email list servers, resource rooms, room reservations, and finances. This shall not be interpreted to restrict the ability of any faculty or staff member to publicize the dates and times of the General Election or to encourage voter participation in the General Election, provided that no suggestion is made to encourage voting for any specific candidate.”

Shiftspace President Lydia Humphreys, a graduate student, said that the allegations against Shiftspace don’t make sense to her.

“It just feels like there was some grudge or something that we’ve done something wrong and we’re not really sure,” Humphreys said. 

Humphreys said that all Shiftspace was trying to do was hold leaders accountable.

“We were voicing our concern for not having been represented by our fine arts representatives,” Humphreys said. “For him to be the main one advocating against us was very confusing.”

Humphreys said Zachary James, the SGA treasurer, reached out and called the post rude, which led to the gallery editing the post. But a day after they edited the post, Kirk submitted a complaint to the elections commission alleging that the group broke SGA election code. 

Kirk said that because Shiftspace is a department, he saw it as problematic.

“Departments cannot say how people should vote, by saying … ‘This is going to reflect in his polls, let this show him,’ that is telling people how to vote,” Kirk said. “Departments can’t do that.”

“There’s freedom of speech, people can do what they please, yes. That doesn’t mean there’s no freedom of consequences.”

Kirk said when he submitted the complaint, he did not know that could lead to Shiftspace losing funding.

“I want it to be very clear that nothing that I did was out of malicious intent,” Kirk said.

Jeff Pulaski, director of the school of art, design and creative industries, serves as the budget officer for Shiftspace. He said that he was notified via email from the SGA advisor that Shiftspace had done something wrong.

“I was told that somebody complained to the election commission, and that the election commission found that we had violated the SGA policy, and the treasurer James implemented the only caption that was available to him,” Pulaski said.

Shiftspace Gallery will submit an appeal to the student supreme court. 

“We’re going to work through the process with them and hope that there’s a change in what they’re doing,” Pulaski said. 

Humphreys said that if they did break a rule, SGA needed to make it clear to them.

“They could communicate better in order for us to understand,” Humphreys said. “There’s no reason for us to do something against their rules and regulations, and so being punished for them when we didn’t even know about them is bizarre and unfair.”

Humphreys said this brings up free speech questions.

“And we are in the arts, part of the arts is communicating about our lived experiences, making art into that so for them to critique us on critiquing our fine arts representative seems kind of against free speech,” Humphreys said. 

Max Kautsch, a media attorney in Lawrence, said that unless SGA can explain how cutting the organization’s funding outweighs students’ First Amendment rights, it breaks the constitution.

“It is presumably being punished merely for expressing a political opinion, which is the most fundamental protected activity under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” he said in an email to The Sunflower. “Only if the SGA were able to identify the specific provision(s) of its bylaws the organization is alleged to have violated, and explain how cutting the organization’s budget advances an interest that outweighs students’ First Amendment right to express themselves politically, would the denial of funding here pass constitutional muster.”

Pulaski said that arts is already dramatically under-funded, which would make it harder for the gallery to find funding outside of SGA. 

“They’re not well funded by the university and they’re certainly, you know, if they cut this they’re gonna be even less funded by SGA,” Pulaski said. “I think [art] is important and I think it’s important for students to see that [when] they’re in college, I think it’s important for people to see that in our community.”