The San Francisco Unified School District will spend $600,000 to paint over a historic, 13-panel mural depicting the life of George Washington after a select working group deemed it racist.
The 83-year-old mural at George Washington High School “traumatizes students and community members,” concluded the Reflection and Action Working Group.
The group was comprised of members of the local Native American community, students, school representatives, district representatives, local artists and historians.
One panel of the mural, titled “Mount Vernon,” depicts slavery in the United States and George Washington as a slave owner. A second, “Westward Vision,” signifies the genocide of Native American life and culture.
The Wall Street Journal reported the irony that the murals were painted in 1936 by a Russian-American artist, Victor Arnautoff, who “included those images not to glorify Washington, but rather to provoke a nuanced evaluation of his legacy.”
The mural is a fresco, which means it’s painted on the wall and can’t be easily removed, the Associated Press reported.
But most of the $600,000 earmarked for the project will go toward a required environmental review and the expected legal challenges
The district’s working group said the artwork “glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, manifest destiny, white supremacy, oppression” and “doesn’t represent SFUSD values of social justice, diversity, united, student-centered.”
Commenting on the district’s decision, historian Fergus M. Bordewich told The College Fix in May that it is “a deeply wrongheaded habit to project today’s norms, values, ideals backwards in time to find our ancestors inevitably falling short.”
“It betrays a very troubling intolerance of art and the ambiguity of art and the aspirations of art,” he said. “It’s incredibly stupid if we try to erase history. It still happened, and you should argue about its meanings.”