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S.F. School Board President Stevon Cook Proposes Solution to Dispute Over Controversial Mural

Press Release

The San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education President Stevon Cook said he will introduce a solution at the school board meeting on August 13 that will preserve the controversial “Life of Washington” mural by covering it without destroying it.

“I am pleased to propose this solution to the controversy over the objectionable content depicted in the mural,” said School Board President Stevon Cook.  “I am introducing a vote at our next regular Board of Education meeting to cover-over the mural with panels or another similar treatment, which will preserve the artwork and not destroy it.  This should satisfy those who were concerned about the possible destruction of art.”

He said it is important to note that there are strong passions on both sides of the debate.

“Where we all agree is that the mural depicts the racist history of America, especially in regards to African Americans and Native Americans.  It is important that we all share the agreement and acknowledgement of racism, discrimination, and the dehumanizing of people of color and women in American history,” Cook said.

“Without harming this artwork we want to see something in its place that shows the heroism of people of color in America, how we have fought against, and continue to battle discrimination, racism, hatred, and poverty,” he said. “I can’t tell you what image ought to be on the walls of Washington High School, but it should be one that inspires young people, not one that dehumanizes them.”

Earlier this year the District convened an 11-member community advisory committee (CAC) to address longstanding public concerns over objectionable content depicted in the 13-panel “Life of Washington” mural, located in the administration building at George Washington High School.

The controversial mural, commissioned by the U. S. Government in 1936 under a New Deal era art program, was painted using the fresco technique by the late Victor Arnautoff. Fresco mural painting is done on wet plaster; once the plaster dries, the mural becomes a permanent, integral part of the wall it was painted on. The CAC supported permanently removing the offensive content of the mural.

In recent months, numerous community members, art historians and local preservationist have voiced their concern over the District's intention to paint over the murals.

Now, the Board will consider a resolution at its next meeting on August 13 at 6:00 p.m. that authorizes staff to develop a project, assessing a range of alternatives, for the purposes of CEQA review that removes from public view the Arnautoff Mural at George Washington High School using solid panels or equivalent material. The mural will be digitized as well, so that art and art historians can access it, but it will no longer be on public view at the school.

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Page updated on 08/09/19