San Francisco School Board reverses decision to paint over controversial mural

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Facing international outcry about destroying art, the San Francisco Board of Education voted Tuesday night to cover a controversial mural at Washington High School.

The amendment, which passed four to three, reverses a decision by the Board in June to paint over the mural.

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The new amendment means the mural will be covered with panels or some other reasonable material, obscuring it from view, rather than destroying the paintings.

The mural has ignited an emotional debate about racism versus censorship among community members, educators, students, and parents.

"I can't imagine him walking into that school, being told meet me at the dead Indian. It's not right," cried one Washington High mother during public comment at the school board meeting.

The 13 frescoes, painted by artist Victor Arnautoff in the 1930s, were meant to show George Washington in a critical light-- as a slave owner and leader of a nation that killed Native Americans.

But, the images have offended many students, past and present.

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"I remember feeling really hurt that the one person that looked like me was portrayed as dead, as a decoration in a school lobby," said Arianna Antone-Ramirez, who is a member of the Tohono O'odham tribe and board member of the American Indian Cultural Center of San Francisco.

Antone-Ramirez graduated from Galileo High School, but would often visit Washington High for sports.

"Art has to make us feel uncomfortable. The responsibility of art is to make us feel uncomfortable," said Actor Danny Glover, who graduated from Washington High and compared covering up the murals to book burning. "I think it's absurd."

The compromise to cover, rather than paint the mural, left both sides disappointed.

"It's being covered, but when is the next time they're going to uncover it? And then we're going to have to keep on fighting, which we're going to do," said Mary Travis Allen, a member of Mayagna/Seneca Tribe.

Rev. Amos Brown of San Francisco's Third Baptist Church and NAACP does not want to see the mural covered, as he feels it depicts historical truth. "If they're that upset about images about names and sounds, why don't they consider changing the name of the school," asked Brown after the vote.

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Estimates to cover the mural have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's unclear when it will be done, as it must go through a CEQA review process.

The mural will be digitized so that the images can be accessed, but it will no longer be on public view at Washington High School.

There's also a discussion about moving the painting somewhere else in the city.
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