5 Reasons Why We decided to Change Our Logo?

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On December 22, 2016,  we chose to honor the birthday Jean-Michel Basquiat with the debut of our new logo. Our original logo marked the beginning of our social placemaking campaign. The signature logo launched simultaneously with a crowdsourced navy blue sweatshirt, featuring a band of black sometimes blue silhouetted figures, one of which wearing a tilted Columbia University Crown, with the words #wearewelcomehere stretched across the chest. Both the sweatshirt and accompanying logo symbolically represented a visual assertion of belonging, solidarity and a claim to space, as students strategically positioned themselves in locations where they felt or experienced a sense of campus dis-belonging, from Butler to Burke libraries and beyond. After a strong start, we were confronted with challenges as we lacked significant  social capital reserved for official student groups alone. We then decided to form a flagship student chapter of the organization. 

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Teachers College, Columbia University Student Development Activities (SDA) reviewed our logo and expressed concern over our usage of the crown. We were asked to request permission from Columbia University to use their crown. And though the request was not unreasonable, it prompted a discussion as to who has the right to wear the crown and whether we might integrate subaltern experiences into the symbol of the crown for our campaign.

Here's 5 reasons why we decided to trade the Columbia Crown for Basquiat's crown. 

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#1.  Monarchs Crown Themselves:  "Respectability is out, rebellion is in and monarchs crown themselves." CROWNS, WHETHER IT BE A HAIRSTYLE, IN A PAINTING OR ON A SHIRT, ARE A VERY SERIOUS BUSINESS IN THE FACILITATION OF THAT PRIDE AND LEGITIMACY.

#2. Subverted Symbolism: Crowns historically have been used to symbolize divine right, imperialism, & monarchy, especially in art history. Basquiat subverts the traditional meaning of royalty by crowning or "dignifying" the plebs. Like Basquiat, we are engaged in symbol making through counter narratives that challenges traditional meanings of people, place & things. We are dystopian in our utopianism.

#3. Origins of Columbia's Imperial Crown: Columbia University was founded in 1754 as King's College by royal charter of King George II of England. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York and the fifth oldest in the United States. Shortly after the American Revolutionary War, King’s College reopened in 1784 with a new name—Columbia—that embodied the patriotic fervor that had inspired the nation's quest for independence. We wanted a symbol that critiqued imperialism and colonialism.

#4. Place Specific | New York’s graffiti Movement: Jordana Moore Saggese’s (2014) links Basquiat's crown to “kingship” in jazz culture and talks about existing hierarchies within New York’s graffiti movement during the 1980s in Reading Basquiat: Exploring Ambivalence in American Art (University of California Press, 2014): 

Graffiti artists of the late 1970s and early 1980s also used the crown motif to establish a system of power and ranking among their peers. Graffiti writers who admired the work of others would express their respect for a piece by painting a simple, often three-pointed crown next to the work. Accordingly, certain artists were made “kings” (as in king of the whole subway car or king of the wall (p.55).

#5. Freedom: We simply wanted the freedom to operate within the college without inherent conflicts of interest. We thought it would be a good idea to create an independent fund outside of the university to our projects fueled and funded by students.  We didn't want to restrict our campaign to Columbia University.

 It is in this spirit, we decided to change the crown on our logo from the Columbia University crown to one of the crowns that frequently appeared in his early work. We ultimately decided that real Monarchs crown themselves; a phrase taken from Jean Michel Basquiat to challenge the imposed hierarchies, colonialism and imperialism. Our new logo replaces the Columbia Imperial Crown with the simple lines of the people's crown as imagined by artists. We've requested permission from Basquiat's estate and pay homage and continue the artistic legacy of artists like Basquiat.   

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