Looks like Arizona’s campaign to whiten every facet of life has backfired. Initially, Miller Valley Elementary School principal Jeff Lane asked the artists behind its Go on Green mural to lighten the faces of the children featured in the mural. The mural, left, part of a campaign to advertise environmentally friendly transportation, features four children, with a Hispanic boy as the central figure.
R.E. Wall, director of Prescott’s Downtown Mural Project, said he and other artists were subjected to slurs from motorists as they worked on the painting at one of the town’s most prominent intersections.
“We consistently, for two months, had people shouting racial slander from their cars,” Wall said. “We had children painting with us, and here come these yells of (epithet for Blacks) and (epithet for Hispanics).”
Wall said school Principal Jeff Lane pressed him to make the children’s faces appear happier and brighter.
“It is being lightened because of the controversy,” Wall said, adding that “they want it to look like the children are coming into light.”
Lane said that he received only three complaints about the mural and that his request for a touch-up had nothing to do with political pressure. “We asked them to fix the shading on the children’s faces,” he said. “We were looking at it from an artistic view. Nothing at all to do with race.”
City Councilman Steve Blair spearheaded a public campaign on his talk show at Prescott radio station KYCA-AM (1490) to remove the mural.
In a broadcast last month, according to the Daily Courier in Prescott, Blair mistakenly complained that the most prominent child in the painting is African-American, saying: “To depict the biggest picture on the building as a Black person, I would have to ask the question: Why?”
Blair could not be reached for comment Thursday. In audio archives of his radio show, Blair discusses the mural. He insists the controversy isn’t about racism but says the mural is intended to create racial controversy where none existed before.
“Personally, I think it’s pathetic,” he says. “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.”
Faces in the mural were drawn from photographs of children enrolled at Miller Valley, a K-5 school with 380 students and the highest ethnic mix of any school in Prescott. Wall said thousands of town residents volunteered or donated to the project, the fourth in a series of community murals painted by a group of artists known as the “Mural Mice.”
Ultimately, anti-racist and tolerant heads prevailed as the principal and Prescott United School District Superintendent Kevin Kapp admitted they made a “mistake” and the color of the children’s faces on the mural were allowed to remain as the artist intended.
I must say I’m glad the principal and the district’s superintendent realized the mess they created and apologized. But, I can’t shake the comments by this city councilman. How can an elected official, whose task is to serve ALL the people he represents, make such divisive and racist comments on his radio show? How convenient for this bigot to use his radio show to promote his intolerant, anti-black, anti-Hispanic bigoted views toward minorities.
I would have to ask Mr. Blair: what’s wrong with depicting black, Hispanic or other minority children on a mural in Prescott, Arizona? According to demographic statistics on the city’s official website, Prescott in 2008 was roughly 85 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic and half-percent black. Looks like the depiction of a Hispanic boy on the mural was representative of the city’s growing diverse population.
I guess Mr. Blair would rather have the mural depict the “good old days” of the city, where he believes lily white children, families, schools, churches and neighborhoods made Prescott great.
Photo courtesy AZ Central