Sunday, September 24, 2023

In wake of Nashville school shooting, one student’s artistic outburst raises safety questions for Todd Hall


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Featured Photo courtesy of Megan Baker

Story by Addison Conley and Noah McLane

MTSU Police were called to Todd Hall on March 28 in response to a report that a student had smeared tubes of blue paint and had written “emergency” in red on the walls of a hallway in the building.

The student, Luke Quarto, 34, who was cited for vandalism by campus police, told Sidelines reporters that his actions were a response to the shooting in Nashville that killed three second-graders and three adults the prior day.

Frightened students, who witnessed Quarto’s actions, questioned the security of Todd Hall in response.

The Facts

Quarto’s impromptu and unauthorized painting was in an area the art students refer to as the “niche gallery,” a somewhat secluded area on the second floor of Todd where students display their art on occasion, with permission. 

Quarto smeared blue, yellow, red and black paint on the walls and floor of the niche gallery, then moved to the hallway in front of the main entrance on the second floor. He slammed paint tubes into the wall just beside a memorial where students had taped hand-written messages about the shooting as part of a class project.

Hand-written notes students taped on a wall of the Todd Hall as a memorial to the victims of the Covenant School shooting in Nashville. (Photo by Noah McLane)
Master Police Officer Wayne Crowell responding to the vandalism of the niche gallery. (Photo courtesy of Megan Baker)
Blue paint splattered on the wall of the Covenant School shooting memorial in the Todd Hall. (Photo courtesy of Megan Baker)

The outburst frightened students and faculty who witnessed Quarto at work, especially considering it took place less than 24 hours after the shooting at Covenant Christian School. 

“Like, it was really loud. We have no idea what’s happening, but we can just see an aggressive man just slamming (tubes of paint) against the wall,” said an art student who requested that she be identified as Lauryn.

After students and a professor began watching Quarto, he fled the scene, according to a report from campus police.

Quarto returned to Todd around 9 a.m. to “try to repaint this Picasso painting called ‘Guernica’ from memory on that wall in Sharpie.” But, according to witnesses, he was interrupted when a professor confronted him.

According to Britannica, “Guernica” was painted by Picasso in 1937 and is regarded as one of his most famous pieces. It is “a large black-and-white oil painting,” depicting the bombing of Guernica, a city in Spain.

Campus police, who were already on the scene interviewing witnesses of Quarto’s earlier actions, were notified of Quarto’s return and began to question him. 

Quarto told campus police that he was expressing himself through art and was ultimately issued a citation for vandalism and told to clean up the mess in lieu of more serious charges being pressed. 

Quarto said he is no longer enrolled at MTSU.

The dean of the college for liberal arts declined our request for comment.

Student Reactions and Faculty Response

“The actions of Luke Quarto understandably caused concern and anxiety among students and faculty, with some students even skipping classes out of fear,” said MTSU Department of Art and Design Chairman Jimmy Mumford. “With the recent tragedy in Nashville fresh on our minds, the situation was especially alarming.”

“It has emotion, but it doesn’t have taste,” said an art student who requested to be identified as Forest, referring to Quarto’s work.

Megann Baker, another art student, is part of the class that set up the memorial for the Covenant shooting. Baker explained that the memorial was “a space for people to reflect on their thoughts and feelings about what happened yesterday.” She said that while her classmates were reading what their peers had hung up, the man later identified as Quarto came and “slammed paint into the wall.”

The memorial of hand-written messages had been on the wall for less than an hour before Quarto painted the wall.

Lauryn expressed her concerns about Quarto being allowed back inside the building, unsupervised, to clean up. She said that “no classwork has gotten done.”

Baker said she spoke to Mumford about concerns for her safety. She felt unsafe with Quarto being unsupervised and did not trust that he would not cause further damage to the building.

When asked to elaborate on his conversation with student Baker, Mumford told Sidelines reporters via email that “upon assessment by University Master Police Officer Wayne Crowell, Mr. Quarto was deemed not to be a threat.”

“During further discussions with Officer Crowell, Mr. Quarto took responsibility for his actions and offered to clean up the damage he had caused,” said Mumford. “He was supervised by me, Rick Rishaw, and Houston Fryer during this process.” Rishaw is employed by the art department and Fryer is a lecturer.

Baker said that her class was released an hour early because they were not able to focus on their work. She had an exam in her next class, but she and her classmates were so rattled by the events prior that they asked to take the exam another day.

“We were trying to study. We had studied last night, we had memorized so much information, and then this happened, and we tried to study again and we weren’t retaining anything,” said Baker. The exam was rescheduled for later in the week.

Security of Todd Hall

Another student, Olivia Hollandsworth, said she had taken several of her paintings off the wall minutes before the blue paint was splattered across it. She said the incident caused concern for her safety in Todd. 

“This is a shared space. It’s a really safe space for a lot of us,” said Hollandsworth. “I stay and work on projects until one in the morning, sometimes later. If I’m going to be here that late working on things, I don’t want to feel unsafe, especially if I’m alone.”

Mo Overholt, a technology assistant for Todd Hall, said “It just freaked me out that someone could have such a hostile outburst with no warning.”

Overholt said that what happened at Covenant and Quarto’s actions in Todd made “all of us extremely aware of how vulnerable we are.”

“The gallery downstairs is open to the public. The doors remain unlocked until night,” said Overholt. “Anybody can just come in here, and no one would think twice. Because if you don’t recognize somebody, either they’re a new student, or they’re somebody going to see the gallery.”

“In light of this incident, I have been working closely with the Dean to explore ways to improve security measures in Todd Hall,” said Mumford in an email exchange with Sidelines reporters. “I am fully committed to creating  a safe and engaging learning environment for everyone in Todd Hall.”

MTSU Police told MTSU Sidelines the event was still under investigation when asked for information on the case.

Quarto repainted the walls of the niche gallery, but the wall of the memorial was repainted by an employee of Todd Art Gallery. Quarto did not clean the floors, ceiling or lighting fixtures.

Luke Quarto, 34, cleans up the paint he placed on the Todd Hall “niche gallery” walls without permission in the wake of the Covenant School shooting in Nashville. (Photo by Bill Lickman)
The wall of the Todd Hall memorial of the Covenant School shooting victims after being repainted. (Photo by Addison Conley)
The Todd Hall “niche gallery” after being repainted by Luke Quarto in the wake of the Covenant School shooting in Nashville. (Photo by Addison Conley)

Addison Conley is an academic research reporter for MTSU Sidelines.

Noah McLane is the environmental reporter for MTSU Sidelines.

To contact News Editor Kailee Shores and Assistant News Editor Alyssa Williams, email

For more news, visit, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter and Instagram at @mtsusidelines.

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