Preserve, Augment and Interpret the Life of Washington Murals

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A brief summary of the recent Life of Washington murals controversy

In June San Francisco’s Board of Education voted unanimously to whitewash
83 year-old murals depicting the, “Life of George Washington” located at George Washington High School in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond neighborhood.  Thirteen separate murals make up this significant historical artwork painted by reknowned muralist, Victor Arnatauff in 1936 as part of the Works Progress Administration Art program. A response mural was painted in the 1970s by Dewey Crumpler after an earlier controversy.  In July after public outcry and a public debate aired across national media, the Board of Education subsequently backtracked and voted instead to cover the murals over.  

As of this vote all 13 murals are slated to be covered.   However as a historic resource they are subject to review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  Through the CEQA comment process, citizens can help projects avoid and minimize impacts by developing project alternatives and mitigation measures.

The following concepts are my effort to open the conversation towards empowered ways to interpret the murals that will keep them in public view while addressing this troubling past by using media art in an affirmative way without adversely affecting the historical murals. 

The following are interpretive media approaches could be utilized together or separately and are by no means the only solution to interpreting while the keeping the murals in view. 

Interpretive Analog and Digital Media

1) Sliding Interpretive Screen Doors

Semi transparent or darkened dual purpose screen doors could be placed in front of specific murals to cover them over during school hours, and opened for classes and educational tours. 

The panels could be specifically designed and imprinted with graphic interpretive visuals images and narratives that foreground native and enslaved heritage in juxtaposition with the Washington Murals.  

The Presidio Officers Club Mesa Room permanently foregrounds Ohlone heritage presented as a visual scrim in front of historic adobe walls.  Also dual purpose sliding screen doors layer the era’s of colonial Spanish, Mexican and American history.  

2) Touch Screen Interpretive Kiosks

Touch Screen interpretive displays could be situated in front of each mural. Users  can interact with specific panels of the murals that would show visual media content foregrounding native and enslaved figures, histories and heritage in relation to the Life of Washington murals.   

SFMOMA currently has on public view a projected and interactive augmented video artwork by JR, that allows views to interact via mobile devices with an animated murals giving deeper textual, video and graphic context to the animated murals. 

3) Video Reflection Space Foregrounding Native and Enslaved Histories

In addition to screening a new ongoing site specific video work with a rear projected or mounted display, the screen could be programmed as a reflection space situated within lobby between the murals. For example, SFO International Terminal offers a video reflection space curated by SFMOMA and reflecting the diversity of work created by Bay Area artists.  A space of reflection for the Washington High School murals would offer dynamic and ongoing media exhibits to reflect the complex cultural fabric of the area’s Native and African American communities.  

4) Video Projection directly onto Washington Murals 
Portions of the mural would be brought to life through projected video which would be illuminated within the mural itself. 

There could be a  number of looped video vignettes corresponding with the major scenes of the murals.   Viewers would be oriented around the physical space, via visual and spoken cues in order to have a deeper and more meaningful conversation between historic and contemporary issues. 

Much like Lisa Reihana’s epic work In Pursuit of Venus currently on display at the De Young Museum, such an artwork, through video and sound could reverse the colonial narrative juxtaposing historic or contemporary native figures in conversation with the Life of Washington Murals.    

5) Rotating Augmented Interactive Digital Lens

Digital Augmented Lenses could be situated within the lobby allowing viewers to interact with the murals by directing the digital viewfinder at specific areas of the mural to learn more about the murals.   Within the viewfinder screen users could view an augmented version of the murals that update the murals. For example the mural could be animated with contemporary and historic role models and figures that are represented in place of the depicted figures.  When the viewer points their viewfinder at the mural, it could reveal both visuals and words and audio that are uplifting and affirming.

View my conceptual renderings in the presentation with multiple options to repurpose the murals with media art that can interpret without obscuring or adversely affecting their historic fabric.

Sign this petition in order to open the conversation towards interpretation rather than covering over of the Life of Washington Murals!

Preserve, Animate and Augment the Life of Washington Murals