Join our Campaign to Save the George Washington High School Murals from Destruction

Washington High – Life of Washington

Join our campaign to save the historic WPA murals at the George Washington High School in San Francisco. The members of the SF School Board have voted on June 27 to destroy the murals. The Guardian, the New York Times, and The San Francisco Chronicle have reported that the destruction of the 1,600-sq-ft New Deal-era murals would cost at least $600,000. Hiding the artwork would cost up to $825,000. Please consider joining our letter-writing campaign and writing to the members SF School Board to express your concern about this loss of public art and erasure of the past—albeit a painful depiction of our nation’s history.

What you can do:

Help preserve New Deal art history by donating to the SAVE THE MURALS FUND, the George Washington High School Alumni Association’s campaign to save the murals from destruction.

SAVE THE MURALS FUND: https://mkt.com/sfgwhsalumni

Write to the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission. You can find the Commissioners’ contact information here: https://sfplanning.org/historic-preservation-commission.

Write to the SF School Board. You can find the Board members’ names and email addresses here: http://www.sfusd.edu/en/about-sfusd/board-of-education/overview-and-members.html

Some parents and students at the school believe that two of Arnautoff’s 13 murals “glorify” racism. One controversial panel depicts slaves and the other shows Washington pointing westward over a murdered Indian. Art historians and the school’s alumni association interpret these as the artist’s condemnation of both slavery and the myth of so-called Manifest Destiny.

The destruction of these murals would be a significant loss for the public. Commissioned by the Federal Art Project, the George Washington High School murals belong to all Americans. Art historians have argued that the artist’s intent was, in fact, critical of national mythology, rather than condoning racism. Thus, the murals illuminate America’s history and hold valuable lessons. We believe that informative signage installed on site would offer an opportunity to make visible, rather than accept the historical injustices of Colonial America. History  should not be erased.  The National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington DC has displays devoted to a discussion of slavery. The Holocaust Museum is dedicated to educating about genocide so that people will “never forget,” what happened.  The Choctaw Cultural Center educates visitors about the “Trail of Tears.” The George Washington High School can deliver the same message.

We will continue to post updates on this issue on this dedicated page.

16 comments on “Join our Campaign to Save the George Washington High School Murals from Destruction

  1. Avatar Ted Bouras

    It’s time to boycott San Francisco.

  2. Avatar Susan Cohn

    Would injunctive relief be appropriate here? To stop the destruction pending a good faith hearing and community comment. I would be delighted to assist in preventing this perversion of art, history and political perspective. This should be a teaching moment, not a violation of the free speech protections afforded by the First Amendment. This destruction could also be characterized as having a chilling effect on free speech going forward. Please advise how best I could assist in this important cause.

  3. I’m interested in sending a letter to the school board. Would LND be willing to create a professional letter with the specific details surrounding this issue that people could copy and paste to send out?

    • Copying and pasting is never effective an means of communicating with officials. LND could post a list of talking points that people could choose from and then put into their own words. Or grab intelligent phrases from people’s comments and incorporate them (again in your own words) in a personalized letter.

      The New York Times carried an op-ed on the topic this weekend and received 2,200+ comments, most of which are intelligent and the vast majority of which oppose the decision. There’s a lot to pick from there. It’s at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/28/opinion/sunday/san-francisco-life-of-washington-murals.html

  4. Avatar Clara Bargellini

    I can hardly believe that this is happening and that the murals might actually be destroyed. If people decide to destroy art works, because they do not agree with what is represented, we would be left with empty museums and without many, many works of past times. The world would be a drab place, indeed. Please, urge the school board to stop and think.
    It seems to me that the murals are probably a splendid way of provoking good discussions at the school, not only about the specific topics depicted, but about art production and its place.

  5. Avatar Anthony W. DuComb

    Throughout history, the destruction of art by a political institution is a shameful act that is a handmaiden to the burning of books and the censorship of speech. The City of San Francisco and its people must not stand by and permit the Board of Education to proceed with its plan to paint over the Washington Murals. Should this occur, we will join the ranks of ISIS when it destroyed the Buddhist sculptures and Nazis when they burned books. Save the Murals.

  6. Avatar sheila goldmacher

    appalling that the board of education is more ignorant than many of the students who have attended the school and continue to attend it. This is nothing but blatant censorship. Hitler would have loved it. When do the books get burned?
    I am emailing each of them today. thanx for the information. I also left a comment at the NYTimes.
    feels like Trump has left his mark on this board. ugh

  7. Avatar Evan Kalish

    I’ve donated! The amount kept rising thanks to someone on Twitter who feels the need to lecture me that the only reason I’m supporting the preservation of the artwork is “white fragility.”

  8. Avatar Jan Robitscher

    “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” Please create a letter that you can sign and send to the school board. How could they destroy art that would teach a true—and unfortunate—part of our history? We need these murals!

  9. I am saddened to read about this. The thousands of WPA works created under the New Deal efforts of my grandfather, FDR are true treasures of art in America. I hope all the Roosevelt family members respond to this with positive support to preserve this and the many WPA murals around the country.

  10. This is the letter that I sent to the SFUSD:

    Dear Board of Education:

    Please do not allow the murals at Washington HS to be destroyed.

    They were painted with great skill and great empathy for oppressed peoples; those who want them destroyed are completely missing this point.

    They were also prescient for clearly pointing out the genocide of native Americans in this country, and its (and its leaders’) use of slave labor.

    These murals are progressive and instructive. To destroy them is the opposite.

    Sincerely,

    PS — please be kind enough to forward this email to involved parties.

  11. There is no reason to destroy this mural, if you don’t want to look at it, it can be relocated. We have several here in our area that have been moved to other locations The historical aspect in the painting are appropriate to those times. You can not change history but learn from it. The muralists of the WPA did strong inspirational work in their own right. The WPA has also become a piece of history, by employing artists during the great depression it promoted the arts and feed the artists. It would be a tragedy on many counts/

  12. Avatar Ernest Salomon

    I sent this out to my fellow graduates and to the SF School Board. This is madness. The $600,000 cost is secondary, but our failing school system keeps begging for more and more money!

    We will finance and institute a lawsuit against the SF School Board.

    Ms. Casco-

    I am a proud graduate of GWHS, Class of Spring 53. We elected the first black student body president, Larry Wells. Our valedictorian was Chinese, William Wong. We had no racism in our school, murals an all.

    I believe that your painting over American history is re-writing it. I am German Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, arriving in NYC 80 years ago at age 4, on Sept. 2, 1939.

    Re-writing history is a tactic of dictatorial regimes. Hitler convinced most Germans that Germany lost WWI because of Jews and Communists!

    Why not change the names of all schools, streets and structures named after slave holding presidents (there were at least seven), take their picture off of all things that bear them, including our money, blow up the Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument, etc. By the way, Woodrow Wilson was a racist and re-segregated federal offices! His image needs to be removed from our $100,000 bill, etc.

    FYI: Some blacks and American Indian tribes owned slaves! In vaudeville, whites put on blackface and then blacks followed and put on blackface, both to perform Coon Songs! Hello?

    This entire process is a path to insanity; political correctness gone mad!

    You people need a crash course in US history!

  13. This is an out of left field idea, but if anyone could help here, it’s the world-famous street artist JR. I just tried to send him a FB message, but no-go. He completed working with Robert DeNiro on an Ellis Island project. He’s done an installation on the wall between Israel and Palestine that probably got him arrested. If you can reach him, I promise you this French Algerian man will think of something to make peace here. He can create another installation for the students. This is his work in Kibera, outside of Nairobi, as part of his Women Are Heroes series. He got me involved in Kibera and could probably help raise money for something at or near the school featuring the students. JR won the $100,000 TED prize. He has a huge following. Here’s his Kibera video.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utVmzUGbgYI

    Call Laurene Powell Jobs. She has a racial reconciliation project going with Mitch Landrieu. Link is on my website.
    https://www.anneofcarversville.com/new/2018/12/13/69ngm8snodke6pnjgmtqzzbqmeym1c

    There has to be a way to save the mural while creating dialogue — and perferably imagery for the students. I don’t know if you saw the NYTimes comments from students — a large group in Philadelphia. Large numbers of students think this is not a good idea.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/18/learning/what-students-are-saying-about-controversial-murals-senioritis-and-a-17-foot-python.html

    Contact the Parkland students. Ask them for advice on what could be done here. I’ll keep thinking. Anne

  14. Save the GW High School murals. Do not allow us to descend into the atrocities of a totalitarian dictatorship with no regard or respect for art and the meaning of life, liberty and the pursuit of happininess.

  15. Avatar Lou Salas Sian

    As a park ranger for a national park we strive to tell untold histories that are relevant to the current generation of park visitors. We research and work with what we have in the park. Often the signs and exhibits were created by the generation of park staff before us or who are aging out and retiring. Unlike non-governmental museums, it takes quite a long time to launch new exhibits or update old exhibits. Therefore, it is up to the park ranger to work with what we have. If an exhibit reflects the values and decisions of a previous generation, we can use it to reflect the current perspective of history. An African American colleague of mine showed me that whatever the period in history that made racism (slavery, genocide, exclusionary laws, popular culture like movies, songs, art, literature, etc.) seem acceptable because that was
    the social norm back then, it was still wrong. So, we can use these tangible pieces like Arnautoff murals as powerful tools of interpretation because it happened. To white-wash or destroy art, monuments, literature is no less a fabrication of history as a textbook from decades ago. The struggle over the Arnautoff piece is history, too. As an older woman of color who struggles everyday against institutionalized racism, I appreciate the dialogue the world is engaged in at the moment over the George Washington HS mural. I acknowledge the deeply felt hurt on the part of the families who wish it was covered up. Perhaps the loss of the mural to those who are highly invested in the mural and in this forum would be equivalent to the loss the families feel about the depiction of their lived experience no matter how noble was Arnautoff’s intentions? Or, perhaps saving the mural is another form of exploitation of the African American and Native American experience? These are hard questions, but to whom does the murals belong?

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