Friday, June 04, 2010

Racial tensions take center stage in Arizona community's fight over school mural

Residents of Arizona town are at odds about a new mural painted on a school wall that attempts to depict children of several races using "green" transportation. "Since the late-May unveiling of the 'Go on Green' mural, dozens of local residents have expressed their views, both pro and con," report Cindy Barks and Paula Rhoden of The Daily Courier in Prescott. Many of those comments have taken a racial tone.

R.E. Wall, director of the Prescott Downtown Mural Project, told the Courier that the artists were subject to many racial slurs and taunts from passers-by while they were painting the mural. One city councilman lashed out against the mural on his local KYCA radio talk show. "I am not a racist individual," Prescott City Councilman Steve Blair said, "but I will tell you depicting a black guy in the middle of that mural, based upon who's president of the United States today and based upon the history of this community when I grew up, we had four black families, who I have been very good friends with for years, to depict the biggest picture on that building as a black person, I would have to ask the question, 'Why?'"

The next day Blair followed up his initial comments by adding, "The focus doesn't need to be on what's different; the focus doesn't need to be on the minority all the time." Now Wall says the pressure has mounted enough for calls to lighten the faces of the children in the mural. "They want us to lighten up the forehead and the cheeks (of the boy in the center), and make him look like he is coming into the light," Wall said, adding that school officials asked to have all of the children's faces appear more "radiant and happy." Wall and co-artist Pamela Smith, above, agreed to the request and began lightening the faces Sunday. (Daily Courier photo by Matt Hinshaw)

Miller said he also has objections to the location of the mural but acknowledged that many of the group's other projects have been successful. "Art is in the eye of the beholder," he said, "but I say (the Miller Valley mural) looks like graffiti in L.A." Miller Valley Principal Jeff Lane told the paper a committee of himself and two teachers asked the artists to "make [the children] look happier and more excited, fix the scale of the faces and remove some shadowing that made the faces darker than they are. We also wanted some changes to the banner." Wall acknowledges some of the suggestions have been "constructive criticism, which he said the artists would use to make the mural more accurately depict the photos of the Miller Valley School models," the Courier reports. (Read more)

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