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Byron-Bergen school district won't discuss apparent termination of artist who worked as counselor

According to online interviews Rochester resident Sean Madden has conducted over the past two years, he is as accomplished at working with troubled children as he is as an artist.

A surrealist whose work is sure to offend mainstream sensibilities, his pen-and-ink creations have been featured in books, on screen, in galleries and sought after by collectors.

It's also his artwork that may have cost him his job with the Byron-Bergen Central School District where he was employed as a counselor.

Contacted today, Superintendent Casey Kosiorek said he couldn't discuss a "confidential matter."

Madden also said he is not very interested in talking about the situation at this stage. He said it's very early in the process and he hasn't decided yet what, if any, message he wants to share with the media.

He confirmed he has spoken with attorneys from his teacher's union and the ACLU and agreed that the case is an interesting First Amendment matter.

All of the paintings and his promotion of his art were done away from the school and not during work hours, Madden confirmed.

Beyond that, he didn't want to say more until conferring further with lawyers.

In interviews with publications in Rochester and Buffalo, Madden has said he's a husband and father who was born in Buffalo, raised there in the 1970s, attended SUNY Brockport, and eventually obtained a master's degree in counselor education.

"I worked my way up the ladder in society," Madden told Rochester at Home, "from mopping floors, to serving in restaurants, to becoming a respected counselor. I’ve spent years working with the most violent, disturbed families and kids in the system.

"I’ve been in high demand throughout my career, as I’ve worked with the toughest cases. For many years, my specialty was working with emotionally disturbed kids in institutions. I’ve worked in classrooms that many people were too afraid to work in — the kids were too aggressive."

Without cooperation of the school district, it's unclear how long Madden was employed by Byron-Bergen, but according to See Through New York, his tenure goes back to at least 2008 and in 2011 he earned $59,000.

It's unknown to what degree the school district was aware of Madden's work prior to hiring him. The district has been through at least one change in superintendents since he started working there.

Unless the district issues a statement, we also don't know if there other issues, from the district's perspective, involved in the apparent dismissal of Madden.

Madden's personal Web site contains samples of his artwork, which features iconic subjects in surreal circumstances and in themes some may find distasteful.

The fact that not everybody will find his art appealing seems to be fine by Madden. He told Buffalo Rising that he isn't after the same kind of success as a guy who paints puppies.

"For a guy like me -- who does blasphemous, sexually explicit, psycho-representational work -- it's a much bigger deal," Madden said. "I'm not worried about the general public liking my work.

"After all, they haven't voted for a female president yet, so who cares what they think? The general public is stupid. However, the folks who understand my work -- weirdo intelligentsia -- them I care about."

Lincoln DeCoursey
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I think Byron Bergen probably did this man a favor - with that kind of ego, a little country school district like B-B probably is, well, beneath him (sorry B-B!). I think we should ship this guy to Chicago where he can work with Rahm and Brizard. I'm sure there'd be more sicko, er, I mean weirdo intelligentsia who this man's genius won't be completely lost with.

Brian Schollard
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Sure the guy has an ego, he has to self promote. Im not a weirdo intelligentsia but I got a chuckle out of Beepys Bad Day. Isn't that what clowns are supposed to do?

Dave Olsen
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LOL, if anyone wants to get me a Christmas present. The Beepy's Bad Day T-shirt would be killer. Loved the suicide note.

Dave Olsen
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Uncle Dave's vocabulary builder word of the day is:
Iconoclastic

Dot Carrigan
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Dave I would like to respond, but being a member of the general public, I don't get it! Yuk Yuk!!!!!

Dave Olsen
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I don't get a lot of his art either, Dot. That's OK. But the beepy's bad day is funny. I enjoy it when convention gets poked fun of.

Jeffrey Houseknecht
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This guy calls this art then calls us stupid?I would say he has it backward.

Dave Meyer
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You know what's scary? What's scary is that because one tight assed Byron Bergen parent organized a campaign against this guy he lost his job.
You don't have to like what he calls art...hell, I don't like it either, but the fact that he does this in his spare time should have no bearing on his employment.
The board of education at Byron Bergen should be ashamed of themselves and I hope this guy sues their asses off. I think they forgot about that little thing called The First Amendment

Lincoln DeCoursey
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Obviously public employees should not be let go due to their free-time proclivities. I think we're just having a bit of fun due to the condescending way Mr. Madden happens to come off based on the selection of quotes here in the article (which do appear to be taken from varying contexts).

Madden is an artist with some talent and most of his work is probably best taken in jest. In today's age though, there's such an extreme sensitivity to any suggestion of, e.g. suicide that in my opinion a school counselor might reasonably prefer to (for example) publish this type of content under a pseudonym. Not that any person should necessarily be compelled to do it that way, but to me it would seem a reasonable approach.

Even if nobody takes this stuff too seriously, I suspect that 1) it must amount to an actual distraction in a school environment, and 2) if some violent incident were to happen, the district could probably be exposed to a lawsuit. Anybody can sue for about any reason, regardless of merits, and the popular approach these days seems to be to sue anybody and everybody anywhere on the periphery of any incident. So while I don't think it's clear at this point why Mr. Madden was apparently let go, and I really doubt that any school district would take action without consulting with its attorney to confirm due cause, it's perhaps a case of darned if you do and darned if you don't.

Seriously, I was only partly joking when I suggested that Mr. Madden consider a larger, more sophisticated district. If he does want to be known publicly as the person who is putting this stuff out there, which is certainly his right as an artist, and if he also wants to work in a primary education environment, I really think there are probably better geographies, from a pragmatic standpoint, where that combination could be pulled off more readily.

C. M. Barons
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In the shadow of the city synonymous with art in image (Kodak, Eastman House (International Museum of Photography), RIT, Memorial Art Gallery, Visual Studies Workshop, Visual Resources Collection U of R, Rochester Contemporary Art Center... This is (at least) the second instance of cultural cannibalism courtesy of the morality police. http://www.13wham.com/news/local/story/county-legsilator-stephen-eckel-n...

Jeff Allen
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You have a First Amendment right to express yourself, not to remain employed if your expression offends your employer. Freedom runs two ways, the freedom of the teller AND the freedom of the hearer, especially when you are a contractual representative of the hearer.

Kyle Couchman
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Really Jeff so if my employer is an Obama supporter and I am not, he has the right to fire me for speaking in favor of any of Obama's opponents? I dont think so.

kevin kretschmer
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Jeff's point is valid. My employees are welcome to hold any political or religious beliefs they wish. However, I have terminated individuals for crude / vulgar / offensive language and/or behavior.

Billie Owens
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What people do on their own time, so long as it's not illegal, is nobody's business.

Too often freedom lovers limit their love to the things THEY find righteous and patriotic. But America's fierce protection of those outside the majority, the ones that annoy and displease, is what keeps Bill of Rights relevant and important.

Jeff Allen
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We live in a vastly different world with the onset of the internet. A web presence has become a virtual sidewalk to the streets of the world. A public employee is a contractual representative of the institution they work for. Many public and private entities have "conduct unbecoming" clauses in their employee manuals/contracts and it covers behaviors on and off the job. If in fact Byron-Bergen has such a clause then they are well within their rights to dismiss someone that they feel no longer represents the standard they have set for their employees. Your freedom to do or say anything you want can and is tempered by contracts that you enter into with employers. It is vital to know and understand ALL your work rules and not just rely on the First Amendment for protections against behaviors that potentially offend. Mr. Madden openly admits that his work offends and that he doesn't care. He also calls the general public stupid and the general public of tax paying Byron-Bergen residents who are in essence his employer, saw fit to dismiss him. Free speech is free to the point that it also includes sometimes unintended consequences. Any time you exercise a freedom, you also have to be willing to accept that others are free to react to it.

Jeffrey Houseknecht
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What you do in your own time away from work says something about your character.People do judge on how people act.If someone was looking for a job I doubt they would show this kind of work on their resume.Now that this is out in the open I wonder how many school districts would want him on staff.

Lincoln DeCoursey
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I'm not fully aware of these certain clauses being built into contracts but I suppose I have heard of them being invoked from time to time, e.g. in professional sports. What I am familiar with is my own personal employment arrangement, which I suspect is probably more of the norm for any modern professional than anything being talked about here. It specifies employment "at will", meaning that I can be terminated by my employer for any reason whatsoever or for literally no reason at all.

I'll stand by my observation that it's off-base for a school counselor to mass-publish images which largely depict suicide. Despite the whole "personal time" argument, I know that it's just not possible to sufficiently divorce this type of stuff from the school day. It's like a 7th grade social studies teacher moonlighting as a DVD-release porno actress: it's going to present way too big a distraction in a school environment.

That being said, I honestly do worry because, yeah, it's a hugely tricky topic with no clear answers. And it doesn't just affect total weirdos. If you project this trend out a few years, it probably morphs into the use of hate speech type constructs for dismissal of lay pastors and similar folk from their day jobs.

My instinct is that it's not a reversible trend, but rather it's something that we're just going to have to adapt to. Successful navigation may require more pragmatism and less of a sense of entitlement, as I suggested in my earlier comment.

If certain of Mr. Madden's statements are correct, he's some rockstar counselor capable of impacting an otherwise unrecoverable population. Last I knew, Byron-Bergen wasn't well-known for this type of desperation case. With bigger opportunities on the horizon, Mr. Madden should meet his departure with welcome. My guess is that when Mr. Madden does find the right community - somewhere which actually presents with the magnitude of casework that he is uniquely capable to address - he will encounter much less concern about his off-hours.

Kelly Hansen
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I agree that what you do on your own time is no one's business but your own. I also add a disclaimer - BUT if you are working with minor children, you should be held to a more rigid standard. If this was a college professor, mayor, newspaper reporter, city councilman, etc. it would be very different. I don't think it is his artwork as much as the fact that his explicit website and the Facebook page are both accessible by students. Google the man's name and there it all is. At the very least, I can see how it would be very distracting (or upsetting) for students to know that side of a teacher, counselor, caregiver, etc. If you are going to work with kids, you need to keep a public image that is suitable for kids.

Tom Frew
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Go look at this guy's website. Then ask yourself if this is representative of the art you'd want teachers dealing with your kids advertising openly. I just cannot believe people find this acceptable. I am so glad my kids are grown but have concern when my grandkids are now entering school age........ in the Byron Bergen District no less.

Jeff Waterman
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Hmmm. And his work is different from Pablo Picasso how? And more graphic than the full 3-D David? Yeah Uncle Dave, he looks like a real iconoclast. I've often thought that the "artsy" people were wired a little differently from the rest of us. But perhaps that's what it takes to work with the problem kids he's dealt with. From what I've heard so far, he was an effective counselor. I can't wait to hear the rest of this story. Oh, and FYI, his work looks just like what I was looking at as a teenager in "Heavy Metal Magazine" in the '70's. Both are still tame to what kids can find elsewhere on the net or even on cable TV today, or compared to the violent video games available.

Kyle Couchman
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Has anyone given thought to what this man does? He is a human being and something we all know and acknowledge is that when you involve yourself in things you end up picking up some of that which you are involved in. Can you imagine what he has been exposed to, in helping to councel some of these children. Even the process of learning to help these types of children and such can be traumatc. Not everyone can do it, just like not everyone can be a firefighter, or mortician or emergency room doctor.

This man uses his own time and skills to vent the feelings and sometimes horrors that this work exposes him to. That shouldnt cost him his job. Instead of judging the surface you should take a moment to consider the entire picture with the depth of its own reality.

Don Bortle Jr.
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10 thumbs up Dave for pointing out the irony of selective free speech. Anyone who touches the trilogy of sex, politics, or religion with a perspective that strays from the "norm" can be so gallantly "Salem-ized" for the protection of the children.

"Salem-ized" - (Made up word refering to the Salem witch trials)

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