The San Francisco Board of Education voted Tuesday night to cover up a suite of controversial Depression-era murals at George Washington High School, reversing an earlier decision to spend $600,000 painting over them.
The murals, The Life of Washington, were created by the Russian emigré artist Victor Arnautoff as part of a New Deal art initiative and depict episodes from the life of George Washington. Three of the 13 murals in the cycle have been criticized for including depictions of enslaved African-Americans working at Washington’s Mount Vernon property, and racist and violent images of Native Americans.
In Tuesday’s vote, the board members voted 4–3 in favor of covering up the murals, frustrating both those who’d campaigned for outright removal, and those who’d campaigned for their preservation.
“While it is a step in the right direction to take permanent destruction off the table, we will continue to strongly oppose spending $815,000 to permanently wall off the murals so nobody has the choice to see them or learn from them,” said Jon Golinger, the executive director of the Coalition to Protect Public Art, an organization created to advocate for the murals’ preservation, to the New York Times.
“It’s very harmful to the students,” Amy Anderson, a member of the Ahkaamaymowin band of Métis whose son attends Washington High School, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We need to paint it down.” According to the Times report, school board member Faauuga Moliga told those at Tuesday’s meeting: “I don’t get why people are standing up for this. There are black and brown boys who are dying.”
The school district will now look into measures for covering up the murals. In June, the cost of concealing them behind acoustic panels was estimated at $875,000, according to the Chronicle.