A decades-old mural in a San Francisco school will be removed from public view because of its depiction of Native Americans, the city’s Board of Education has decided.
The unanimous vote directs staff at George Washington High School to develop a project that would remove the 1936 mural by Victor Arnautoff from public view by either painting over it or using solid panels to cover it.
Because the mural is painted directly onto the building’s walls, the mural must be covered and cannot be removed.
To paint over the mural, an environmental impact report would be required, and that process could take a year and cost more than $600,000. If solid panels are chosen to cover the mural, that could cost anywhere between $645,000 and $825,000, depending on the panels’ materials.
A recent school board meeting was crowded, with a large number in attendance demanding the removal of the mural from public view. Many people were Native American.
“Native Americans have been depicted as a dying race that has been a stereotype assigned to Native communities,” said board Commissioner Alison Collins.
“It might be art but yes, it can also be racist,” she said. “I want to ensure that children don’t have to view this harmful imagery and I want to make sure that we do it in a way that is healing and supportive of the communities that have been most harmed.
“We’re miseducating children right now currently in SFUSD about Native American history, so it’s not just about removing them from public view, it’s also about kind of righting a wrong,” she said.
Superintendent Vincent Matthews, a San Francisco native, said he only saw the murals earlier this school year.
“When I walked in and saw those murals… it was like a chunk of my soul was pulled out,” he said. “I don’t want another student who doesn’t have to see those murals to have to see them.”