San Francisco School Board Reverses Vote on Mural Removal

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The 2019 Board of Education’s decision to remove George Washington’s murals, including depictions of enslaved blacks and Native Americans, is about how American historical figures should be represented in the classroom. We have started a national discussion.

The murals in San Francisco’s high school will remain on display in favor of their previous removal from sight, even after the city’s school board voted 4 to 3 on Wednesday. This decision was made months after the February recall vote changed the composition of the school board. The school board was accused of prioritizing cultural discussions over the task of educating students during a pandemic.

The school board’s original goal of removing the 1,600-square-foot painting entitled “Life of Washington” also faced a difficult battle in court. Last year, state judges ruled in a lawsuit alleging that authorities violated California law for failing to carry out an environmental review of their plans.

In the 1930s, a Russian immigrant named Victor Arnoutov painted frescoes at George Washington High School, Public Enterprise Promotion Agency, which was part of New Deal, a relief program for President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. I started drawing. The artist painted the entrance to a high school with a mural depicting the first president, along with indigenous and enslaved African-Americans. By completion in 1934, Arnautoff became one of the most famous figures in the San Francisco cultural scene, based on his experience as an assistant to the legendary Mexican mural painter Diego Rivera.

Almost a century later, some parents wanted to protect their students from the image of death and slavery on their way to class. When the school board voted for their removal in 2019, critics said that erasing the colonial Arnautoff’s portrayal was equivalent to a book burning, initially to cover and later hide the painting. Insisted.

The George Washington High School Alumni Association filed a proceeding that year to prevent the destruction of the murals. This is an effort to convince California judge Anne Christine Massullo that the city authorities acted too quickly on the plan. Civil servants must conduct an environmental review “before a decision is made,” the judge wrote in her 2021 decision.

Wednesday’s vote by the San Francisco Board of Education did not prohibit the panel from overturning that decision in the future, and authorities did not comment on their vote. However, this decision seemed to offset the protracted battle and massive hostility for school decoration in cities where dogs are more than children.

Art historian Michel H. Bogart, who wrote in support of the preservation of Arnoutov’s murals, described the new vote as “welcome news.”

“These New Deal murals are aesthetically and historically important in their own right,” she said in an interview. “George Washington students can only benefit from the ongoing educational opportunities offered by seeing these fascinating paintings in person. Therefore, they can see and think for themselves. I can do it.”

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