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"Muir Woods" Mural Gets Reprieve from School Board


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By Jorge Casuso

October 18, 2019 -- The mural of a redwood forest that has graced the walls of a public school in Santa Monica for 40 years will stay in place, at least for now, the School Board decided Thursday.

The decision comes after activists launched a campaign to save the "Muir Woods" mural at the former site of Olympic High School at a prominent intersection in Ocean Park ("Santa Monica Activists Relaunch Campaign to Save 'Muir Woods' Mural," October 2, 2019).

"Muir Woods" mural
"Muir Woods" mural by Jane Golden (Courtesy City of Santa Monica)

Staff had initially recommended painting over the dilapidated mural by renown public artist Jane Golden, noting that the led paint has peeled, leaving "an unsightly set of walls."

The Board instead voted to establish a community process to either restore the mural or create a new work altogether, and to seek Golden's participation.

"We're inclined to do what the community wants," School Board member Oscar de la Torre said after the meeting. "They're not going to whitewash the mural, so that gives some hope."

But de la Torre noted that Schools Superintendent Ben Drati cautioned at the meeting that the cash-strapped District wasn't prepared to spend the estimated $100,000 to restore the mural.

"We don't know what the price tag is right now," de la Torre said. "If it's reasonable, that's one thing. If its expensive that's another."

Activist Jerry Rubin, who has led the effort to restore or faithfully recreate the mural, said he thinks there is enough community support to accomplish the task.

"It's not news to us that it will have to be completely repainted," said Rubin, who led the successful effort to save the "Chain Reaction" sculpture at the Civic Center.

"We're going to be willing to chip in, and many people have said they would donate time and services," Rubin said.

For Thursday's meeting, District staff revised its initial recommendation to remove the mural and added an option to cover it with a solid color while "a collaborative and inclusive community process" is launched.

"Regardless of what replaces the current Muir Woods mural, the walls must be painted first," staff wrote in its report to the Board.

"The mural cannot simply be refurbished; it must be painted anew even if it were to be replaced with a replica of the Muir Woods mural painted in the 1970s."

Staff reiterated its concern that the identity of the school, which was originally John Muir Elementary, had changed again this year when The Board renamed it the Michelle and Barack Obama Center for Inquiry and Exploration.

The community process, staff said, would "enable collaboration on a new mural that pays homage to the Muir Woods mural while providing continuity with the future use of the school site."

At Thursday's meeting, School Board member Jon Kean said he had talked to Golden and that the artist was not interested in replicating her mural, Rubin said.

But Rubin believes Golden might agree to participate in some way and that the new mural should be an exact replica of the original.

"We have always felt that (the mural) is not just historic but, with the issues today, contemporary," Rubin said.

Rubin believes the mural could be recreated for less than $100,000 and hopes the district will pitch in.

Several parents on Thursday argued that the Board's funding priority should be the students who attend the school, which has the lowest achievement levels in the district.

De la Torre said he agrees the mural cannot take precedence.

"It would be a tragedy if we restore the mural but we don't restore the promise of a great education," de la Torre said.

"We need to ensure that the school has everything it needs for the students to succeed."

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