In the spring of 2010 some local artists and students began a mural project at Miller Valley Elementary School depicting some of the actual students at work and play. This empowering slogan ran across the walls at the major intersection where the school is located: “Learning to Love, Loving to Learn.” It was part of a public mural project that was started around town years before to depict history, enhance beauty, relay affirming messages, and engage the public.
The portrait of a Hispanic boy featured prominently in the artwork. A City Council member objected and became quite vocal via his radio show, inciting racism. The artists and students endured drive-by insults and demonstrations, both pro and con. Giving into pressure, the principal told the artists to lighten the boy’s complexion, then retracted that direction. The town known as “Everybody’s Hometown” ended up on national news and talk shows showing that it was anything but that.
The wife of a Native person we’d sponsored for our Spirit Keepers Series contacted me from Washington saying, “Tell me it’s not so.” I was absolutely incensed and ashamed that such a thing would happen here—or anywhere for that matter.
Here’s what I note about the backlash: When the pendulum is ready to swing dramatically, resistance becomes even stronger to hold things back. This is true whether it happens within the psyche of an individual or globally. The important thing is: to acknowledge the resistance, the clashing factions, indeed document it; and move forward anyway. The intensity wouldn’t have happened unless progress was being made.
But integration and healing must take place. Such things can’t slip by or remain simmering beneath the surface. This certainly goes for us as individuals—and the wider world we inhabit.
Jacob Devaney of Culture Collective intends to produce a film of the mural controversy. Here’s what Jacob said to me: “One aspect that relates to work you’re doing is the idea of ‘listening is healing, or being heard is healing.’ When a community is able to feel heard and able to define itself through its own stories instead of having the outside world define them, it is healing. It is true in many indigenous cultures as well, we need to be able to listen to each other and feel heard. That’s how healing works. It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about having your voice counted. That’s what public art does; and that’s what this film seeks to accomplish.”
This will be a film that helps heal a community—but also the larger world. Culture Collective is now raising the funds needed. I invite you to support inclusiveness. To learn more visit Up Against the Wall Film—Public Art Indicted.