Say "NO" to Censorship: Save Mural at Los Angeles Public School!

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The superintendent of a Los Angeles school district has unilaterally decided to remove a mural on display on the exterior wall of RFK Community Schools’ gym after some members of the surrounding community complained that visual elements of the mural resembled the Rising Sun flag of Imperialist Japan. The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) strongly disagrees with this decision and urges the school district to reconsider. Removing art should always be a last resort and never a decision made in haste. NCAC urges LAUSD to engage with the artist, the community, its teachers and students, and artistic freedom advocates, before committing to an irreversible removal of this mural.

This mural was created as part of an arts initiative at the school, which involved workshops and seminars with students. Young people have a constitutional right to free expression and access to information, including art. School officials violate this right when they remove or restrict content on the basis of a specific viewpoint.

The Kennedy Foundation grant-funded mural was vetted by the school district and is intended as an homage to actress Ava Gardner. The surrounding rays are a common device found in many of artist Beau Stanton’s murals. In fact, rays emanating from a central figure are a common artistic element. We also understand that some community members — represented by the Wilshire Community Coalition — are offended by the rays, which they associate with the Japanese imperialist flag, and have called for the erasure of the entire mural.

While we appreciate LAUSD’s effort to distance itself from the hateful sentiments the mural’s rays may evoke for members of the WCC, removing the mural in response to their complaints sets a dangerous precedent of submission to public pressure in assessing art and allowing students’ access to diverse viewpoints and ideas. 

We strongly urge LAUSD to affirm its commitment to freedom of expression by reversing the decision to erase the mural. Instead, we encourage LAUSD to create forums for dialogue, to bring the school and the community into conversation. We also urge LAUSD to consult with a diverse body of community representatives, including teachers and students.

By keeping the mural up, LAUSD can allow RFK Community Schools to model its stated vision of “openness to different perspectives (that) fosters empathy, integrity, collaboration and mutual respect” in a vibrant learning community.