Altered Mural Fuels Racial Debate in Arizona
PHOENIX - A group of artists in an Arizona city has been asked to lighten the faces of children depicted in a giant public mural at an elementary school.
The project's leader says he was ordered to lighten the skin tone after complaints about the children's ethnicity. But the school's principal says the request was only to fix shading and had nothing to do with political pressure.
The "Go on Green" mural, which covers two walls outside Miller Valley Elementary School in Prescott, Ariz., was designed to advertise a campaign for environmentally friendly transportation. It features portraits of four children, with a Hispanic boy as the dominant 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 headed a public campaign on his talk show at Prescott radio station KYCA-AM 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."