Activists Liken City Hall Mural to a Confederate Flag or Statue in Santa Monica
Wellbeing: What's Art Got To Do With It?
September 22, 2017
"What's love got to do, got to do with it
What's love but a second hand emotion
What's love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken." ~TinaTurner
Update from the Office of Civic Wellbeing was presented to Santa Monica City Council under the Special Agenda Items at the September 12 meeting.
On the heels of the renewed call for removal of the historic Stanton Macdonald-Wright City Hall mural, one of its most relevant highlights involve intensive staff training on racial equity led by the Center for Social Inclusion and Government Alliance on Race and Equity. Activists have viewed the mural an expression of racism that parallels the Confederate Flag.
Julie Rusk, Chief of Civic Wellbeing watched protesters cries of the blatant symbol of colonialism from the balcony of City Hall a day before her presentation. On Thursday she accompanied Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades to the Pico Neighborhood Association Meeting for his presentation of a policy proposal affecting immigrants. Coincidentally like the Wellbeing Index, the law is about data. The City is considering law that would limit the gathering and use of information about a person's immigration or religious status. It seems they can't escape the historical legacy of local disenfranchised populations. The law is designed to empower the City Attorney's Office to file lawsuits on behalf of marginalized immigrants. Oscar de la Torre, Chair of PNA stated: "the policy offers a false sense of security, this is another instance of a white organization teaching colored people about social justice" Mr. Rhoades said: "We use discretion and don't want to file false claims" Oh, the irony of ironies... a story for another day.
Back to the mural. The Santa Monica Landmarks Properties website offers a brief history of the mural--President Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped cure the country of "The Great Depression" by allocating several billion dollars to Public Works Administration projects, as a means of providing employment, stabilizing purchasing power, improving public welfare and contributing to a revival of the American industry. The City Hall walls feature murals documenting the city's and the state's history. Stanton Macdonald-Wright (1890-1973) created one of the most extensive mural cycles in Southern California at the Santa Monica Public Library in the mid-1930's, unveiled on August 25, 1935. He was from Santa Monica.
The Mural's history is narrated at the library's website. Macdonald-Wright, had plywood panels specially prepared. This technique, termed "portable murals," was also utilized by famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Such a procedure enable easy removal from the wall if necessary. This is exactly what happened in 1965 when the library moved to a newly-constructed building located at 1343 Sixth Street.
Deemed too old-fashioned, the Depression-era mural cycle was not transferred to the new facility, and the federal government took possession of all the mural panels. Alas, removal has precedent.
According Dr. Noah Bardach, an art-historian and co-founder of Universal Human Rights
Initiative (UHRI), a non-profit focused on human rights education, "The WPA murals at the entrance to City Hall, depicting two American Indian men at the feet of a conquistador and a Franciscan friar, communicate prominent themes of white supremacy over Native Americans and other people of color." Local activists demand the murals to be moved to a local museum.
Dr. Bardach further explained: "These images glorify two historical tragedies for indigenous peoples, the Conquest and forced conversion by the Catholic Church, both of which resulted in the decimation of local populations from violence and sickness. The loss of life suffered during this period can rightly be thought of as a Native American Holocaust. Paired with this message of Native American subjugation and suffering is a mural of Caucasians at leisure.
Together, these two murals convey a vision of Santa Monica as an enclave for the pleasures of the White leisure class, one where people of color are kept in an inferior status and hidden out of sight.
The City of Santa Monica must recognize the central message of these works for what it is: white supremacy. This is not representative of the diverse, inclusive Santa Monica of today and it must not be the sentiment that greets visitors to our City Hall.
To live up to our highest ideals as a City, and in recognition of the wrongs that have been visited on minorities in our City's past, the City of Santa Monica must take immediate steps to relocate the mural to a museum, or other suitable location, where it can be appreciated as a historical document."
Carol Lemlein, President of Santa Monica Conservancy filmed the demonstration on Monday. "I personally think there is little equivalency with the use of the Confederate flag and erecting statues of Confederate icons, most of which took place long after the Civil War and which were for the most part erected in defiance during the Jim Crow era." said in a statement.
She offered some food for thought courtesy of African American historian, Alison Rose Jefferson. "The Association for the Study of African American Life and History has issued a statement which in my mind offers a much more constructive and unifying approach than what I heard in City Hall on Monday."
Since it is the intention of the city to hone in on partnerships as an effective path to address concerning aspects of community wellbeing, this is an ideal opportunity to address those intentions in tangible way. Equity issues debated through education, affordable housing, street food vendors and authentic sentiments of inclusion ar on the line.
The Wellbeing Index was deemed a "game changer" when it won the first-ever Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors Challenge. Will they speak a good game or play a good game? We can only guess what Mike Bloomberg would say about sportsmanship. The ball is in their court.
By: Zoë Muntaner, Chief Compassion Officer - Compassionate Santa Monica. For more on this story go to diversitymatters.co