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One of thirteen The Life of Washington murals by Victor Arnautoff, George Washington High School, San Francisco. Image courtesy George Washington High School Alumni Association.

On June 25th, the San Francisco Unified School District’s Board of Education voted to destroy an important series of murals by artist Victor Arnautoff, which he painted as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) program inside George Washington High School in 1936. The series of 13 murals, entitled The Life of Washington, includes imagery of dead Native Americans and imagery of slaves working at Washington’s Mount Vernon estate in Virginia, which the school board determined was offensive.

CAA opposes the recent ruling by the San Francisco Unified School District and its Board of Education. By voting to destroy the murals, the Board is advancing an agenda of erasing history in order to appease contemporary critics. CAA firmly believes in the preservation of art historical records and works that serve to educate and inform the public. The murals should be viewed as an opportunity to examine history, to ask questions, and to create discussion around ideas, events, and facts that are woven indisputably into American history.

David Raizman
Interim Executive Director

Editor’s note (8/21/19): The views expressed above do not necessarily represent the views of CAA’s membership.

Further reading: San Francisco School Will Cover Controversial George Washington Murals (New York Times)

A Controversial WPA Mural Is a Litmus Test for the Longevity of Public Art (Hyperallergic)

Art Professor Dewey Crumpler Defends Victor Arnautoff’s WPA Murals (National Coalition Against Censorship)

Filed under: Advocacy, Art History, Education