Arizona artists told to repaint mural to be less ethnic
Update II: School backtracks on request to lighten faces in mural
The principal of an Arizona elementary school has reversed himself on his request to the painters of a mural that they “lighten” the faces of the children depicted on it.
After a public outcry over the school’s insistence that children be depicted as being lighter-skinned, which resulted in the firing of a city councilman from his radio show over his complaints about the mural’s dark skin tones, the Prescott Unified School District has indicated it won’t insist on the changes.
“Shame on us if we can’t say, ‘We made a mistake and we’re sorry,'” school district superintendent Kevin Kapp said, as quoted at the Tucson Sentinel.
“Miller Valley [Elementary School] made a mistake. When we asked them to lighten the mural, we made a mistake,” said principal Jeff Lane.
Update: City councilman who led campaign against mural loses his radio show as a result of the controversy
The leader of a group of artists says he was ordered to lighten the skin tones of children depicted in an outdoor mural covering two walls of a Prescott, Arizona elementary school because of complaints that the faces appeared too ethnic.
“We consistently, for two months, had people shouting racial slander from their cars,” R.E. Wall told AZCentral. “We had children painting with us, and here come these yells of (epithet for Blacks) and (epithet for Hispanics).” Wall explained that “because of the controversy,” he was told to make the children’s faces lighter and happier.
Principal Jeff Lane, however, insisted that he had only received three complaints about the mural and that all he wanted was for the artists to “fix the shading on the children’s faces.”
“We were looking at it from an artistic view,” Lane claimed “Nothing at all to do with race.” Lane’s order, however, came only after City Councilman Steve Blair had used his radio talk show to start a campaign for the mural to be removed.
On May 21, Blair stated, “I am not a racist individual, 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?'”
According to Wall, the mural — which was created to promote environmentally friendly transportation and was funded by a state grant — included the faces of four children enrolled at the school, one of whom was Hispanic. Wall emphasized that the projectt was supported by thousands of town residents, and Principal Lane also acknowledged that “the parents and children love it.”
Blair, however, appeared to see the mural as a deliberate attempt to stir up ethnic controversy. “Personally, I think it’s pathetic,” he claimed. “You have changed the ambience of that building to excite some kind of diversity power struggle that doesn’t exist in Prescott, Arizona. And I’m ashamed of that.”
In an editorial comment on the issue, the Prescott Daily Courier noted that their first article on the subject had “resulted in dozens upon dozens of online comments expressing dismay and anxiety.”
“”When I drive past the Miller Valley mural, I see a happy child,” one letter writer observed. “The people who are upset that the mural depicts a ‘person of color’ are making too much out of this. … Unfortunately, racism is alive and well in ‘Everybody’s Hometown’ and we are sadder for it.”
The Courier also expressed skepticism about Blair’s statement that “I’m not a racist by any stretch of the imagination, but whenever people start talking about diversity, it’s a word I can’t stand.”
In March, Blair and another councilman were responsible for the removal of a Spanish-language banner promoting the US census, claiming they had been receiving calls from constituents who were angry over illegal immigration. Blair is now making similar claims about the mural, saying, “What these people don’t like is somebody forcing diversity down their throats.”
“Remembering Blair’s past incidents involving race – the ‘taco flipper’ comment and the Census banner in Spanish – frankly we are seeing a pattern and are regretting endorsing him for City Council,” the Courier editorial concludes. “This is 2010 and it’s a mural.”
A Daily Courier photo gallery of images from the mural can be found here.
Prescott eNews is reporting that Steve Blair has been fired from his talk show with radio station KYCA because the mural issue has become “a full blown controversy, with statewide and even national media paying attention.”
The website added that “when asked if he would resign as a member of the Prescott City Council, Blair replied, ‘When my constituents in the city tell me it’s time for me to go, and that I’m affecting how the city does its business, I will go. I ran because I wanted to help. If I can no longer do that, I’ll step down.'”