Alum entangled in mural controversy

February 27, 2009 6:57:12 PM PST
Times are tough, budgets are tight. But when a Los Altos man told us he hadn't been paid for work done at De Anza College in Cupertino, 7 On Your Side decided to look into it.

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This is a lesson on putting things in writing. This is also a story of life imitating art.

It is as colorful as it's become controversial. What else would you expect from a work inspired by the artist Diego Rivera?

Students at De Anza College created a popular mural in 2000, and it continues to be a source of pride for the school.

"I like all the colors and stuff and it like brightens my day," said first year De Anza student Antoine Baker.

"It's priceless. It cannot be replaced," said De Anza English Professor John Milton.

"It's talking about what's missing in our world. It's talking about the process of decay," said former De Anza student Erik White.

But if the world around us is decaying, so is the mural. Years of being out in the sun, wind and rain have taken its toll.

The paint was fading and in some spots, even starting to chip.

The Art On Campus Committee asked former student and artist Erik White to look into restoring it. White researched it and presented a proposal in writing to the committee in October.

Milton, a longtime De Anza professor, also attended the meeting and so did De Anza President Brian Murphy.

"Erik was told by Brian Murphy that he did not know where he would get the money, but he would get the money, $10,000," said Professor Milton.

Milton says White received permission to begin the work -- a story backed up by another professor who says he was also at the meeting.

White used a preservative gel to restore the mural's luster and to protect it from further damage. He also approached the student council for funding, but was denied.

"We felt it would be a gross misuse of funding here for De Anza Students to bear another debt for something that could have been prevented," said De Anza College Student Body President Terell Sterling.

But undeterred, White continued his rescue project. He says the coating now on the mural should protect it at least another decade.

Brian Murphy denies green lighting the project in the first place or promising to come up with the money. An intervew 7 On Your Side scheduled with President Brian Murphy was cancelled by his spokeswoman.

"Not only have I not received any funds, I would like the community to know about this piece of artwork. And it seems to me the only way to get that done was to come to you, 7 On Your Side," said White.

All of this could have been avoided if White had gotten his agreement in writing. The Art on Campus Committee could have avoided this, if it had taken minutes of the meeting. It says it did not.

In a written statement, the college said it had: "identified private funds" in "defraying some of the cost associated with preserving the mural."

It has collected $2,500 in private donations, including a donations.

The mural is preserved, but much work needs to be done to restore it. White hopes more money can be donated, so the work can be completed.

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