Yesterday a judge ruled that the San Francisco school district may not cover up a controversial mural at George Washington high school. The ruling came after an alumni association sued the district in 2019.
The George Washington High School Alumni Association sued the board over its failure to conduct an environmental review for removing the mural, despite it being required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The school board even voted on the mural removal twice: first to remove it in June of 2019; then in August, the board voted not to remove it, but to cover the decades-old mural with panels.
Judge Massullo agreed with the alumni association’s argument.
“The Board and SFUSD failed in their primary duty to follow the requirements of the law,” Massullo wrote in her decision. “California, as a matter of long-standing public policy, places enormous value on its environmental and historical resources and the People are entitled to expect public officials to give more than lip-service to the laws designed to protect those resources.”
The attempt to remove or cover the mural was initially prompted by black and Native American students who argued the depictions in some of the panels were too unpleasant for minority students to look at. When the board voted to cover the mural with panels, commissioner Mark Sanchez dismissed concerns about the cost of doing so saying, “This is reparations.”
What’s interesting about this story is that the desire to whitewash the mural was not because the mural itself white-washed Washington’s history. On the contrary, it includes a scene showing him as a slave-owner. Another panel in the mural depicts a dead Native American man and implies Washington is responsible. The painter behind the mural, Victor Arnautoff, was a Communist.
Painted in the 1930s by Victor Arnautoff, a onetime assistant to Diego Rivera, the “Life of Washington” murals dominate the entryway to the school and have been the subject of debate for years…
Arnautoff, who was a Communist, was born in Russia and taught at Stanford University. His murals depicted the first president as a slave owner and the young country as responsible for the killing of Native Americans. But the American Indian Parent Advisory Council and other organizations at the school said that students should not be forced to see that history.
This is essentially 85-year-old woke art:
According to Arnautoff’s biographer Robert Cherny, the artist intended the mural as a “counter narrative,” or a corrective rebuke to the nation’s founding mythology. Supporters of the Works Progress Administration-funded frescoes cite the communist artist’s progressive motivations, decrying efforts to remove the artworks as censorship and a betrayal of history stemming from a lack of understanding and interpretative context.
So you have an attempt to cancel artwork for being too woke, which is a somewhat surprising outcome in San Francisco. This CNN report from 2019 shows some of the woke critics who were freaking out about they mural which they claimed, contrary to all sense, was glorifying slavery and genocide. It’s pretty clear they didn’t understand the artist’s intentions or the mural itself. Former SF Mayor Willie Brown points out that just because you’re on the left doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about.