clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Why San Francisco plans to paint over a George Washington mural

Victor Arnautoff, a muralist in San Francisco from the Great Depression era, painted the mural, called 'Life of Washington.'

In this photo taken Thursday, April 18, 2019, is the proposed site of a waterfront homeless shelter that is currently a parking lot in San Francisco. The city of San Francisco, which has too little housing and too many homeless people sleeping in the stre
In this photo taken Thursday, April 18, 2019, is the proposed site of a waterfront homeless shelter that is currently a parking lot in San Francisco. The city of San Francisco, which has too little housing and too many homeless people sleeping in the streets, is teeming with anxiety and vitriol these days. A large new homeless shelter is on track to go up along a scenic waterfront area dotted with high-rise luxury condos, prompting outrage from some residents.
Eric Risberg, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — San Francisco will reportedly paint over a historical piece of art that shows the life of George Washington, according to The Associated Press.

The city will spend $600,000 to paint over the mural, which exists at a public school. The mural has recently been criticized and called “racist and degrading for its depiction of black and Native American people,” according to The Associated Press.

Victor Arnautoff, a muralist in San Francisco from the Great Depression era, painted the mural, called “Life of Washington.”

But San Francisco’s school board decided to paint over it. And, as you might expect, this prompted worries that more artwork from those in the New Deal era may see their artwork painted over, too.

How it happened: The school board approved the decision in a unanimous vote last Tuesday, according to CBS San Francisco.

  • “I understand the importance of art, and it should be the last thing we do, to attempt to cover any kind of art up,” Mark Sanchez, vice president of the school board and a third-grade teacher, told The Associated Press. “The starting point has to be from those who feel they are harmed and how that is unacceptable, especially given the history of this country. When we don’t listen, we don’t learn.”

The other side: Richard Walker, a professor emeritus of geography at the University of California, Berkeley, said the mural is meant to show the troubling facts of Washington’s life. He suggested covering it and requiring new students to take a course about slavery and California’s dark history of subjugating Native Americans, according to The Associated Press.

Brian Katcher, of San Francisco, wrote in a letter to The New York Times that the mural inspired him while being a student at the school.

  • “As a student at George Washington High School in San Francisco more than half a century ago, when the student body was almost entirely white (and looked and thought like me), I was inspired by the honesty of those murals,” he wrote. “I was also inspired by the honesty of the public institutions that were bold enough to put them on the front stairway of the school. This is a sad time for my city.”