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Conservancy Mounts Last-Ditch Effort to Oppose Veiling Historic Murals

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By Jorge Casuso

February 3, 2022 -- The Santa Monica Conservancy is mounting a last ditch campaign to stop the veiling of two historic murals at City Hall that critics contend are "vestiges of white supremacy."

The City is poised to erect "a temporary artistic scrim" at a cost of $50,000 as it weighs the ultimate fate of the murals that have decorated the City Hall foyer since the historic structure’s completion in 1938-39.

Last May, the City Council voted 6 to 1 to cover the panels depicting Native Americans kneeling before Spanish conquistadors and Anglos participating in sports enjoyed by the white privileged class ("Council Votes to Cover Historic Mural in City Hall Lobby," May 14, 2021).

City Hall mural depicting naming of Santa Monica City Hall mural depicting upscale lifestyle
Murals in City Hall lobby Stanton Macdonald-Wright (Courtesy of the City)

In an email blast to supporters this week, the Conservancy contends that covering the murals for 18 to 24 months is "intrusive, unnecessary, and its censorship is contrary to the values of a city espousing a progressive agenda."

"Is it not more practical to use scarce City funds for a collaborative long-term solution to interpret the murals?" the email asks. "Does it make sense to cover the murals while at the same time inviting public engagement to discuss them?"

Calling the move "imminent," the email urges supporters to join in what is "our last chance to convince decision-makers to take the constructive path."

The Conservancy, which has been a vocal opponent of covering the murals, says it "fully" supports the "recontextualization project," which would add interpretive information and commission new art works "from Indigenous artists and other marginalized communities."

Councilmember Oscar de la Torre -- who pushed for covering the panels he has fought to remove from City Hall since 2016 -- said the Conservancy's move was too little to late.

"I'm all for more education, more awareness, but none of this would have happened if we stayed silent and said nothing," de la Torre said.

“We should all be working together to create public art that will celebrate all cultures that contributed to the development of Santa Monica,” he said.

According to the motion approved by the Council last May, "the City will "initiate a community engagement and education process around the representations depicted in the mural.

"This process will include engaging an artist to recontextualize the mural with artwork that does not whitewash our past."

Instead, the new artwork would celebrate "the diverse history of Santa Monica’s people, culture and its renewed commitment to acknowledging the movement for equity, justice and respect for all."

Historic preservationists have long argued that opponents are misrepresenting the image of the Native Americans depicted in the mural ("Historian Says Activist Misinterpreting Santa Monica City Hall Mural as Racist," June 30, 2015).

Instead of subserviently kneeling before their conquerors, the preservationists say, the natives are revealing a natural spring to the Spaniards in a depiction of the legend of the naming of Santa Monica.

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