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City Hall Mural Findings Subject of Open House

By Jorge Casuso

November 8, 2023 -- Nine months after the public began weighing in on the fate of two controversial murals in the City Hall lobby, the City will host an open house on Thursday to discuss the findings.

The free event -- which takes place November 9 at 6 p.m. -- focuses on a summary report of the process that sought input on the towering murals that have greeted visitors to City Hall since 1939.

City Hall Mural "Naming of Santa Monica"City Hall Mural "Recreation"
City Hall murals depicting the naming of Santa Monica and recreational activities (Courtesy City of Santa Monica)

Painted by renown Santa Monica artist Stanton Macdonald-Wright, the murals depict Native Americans kneeling before Spanish conquistadors and privileged Anglos enjoying polo, tennis, sailing and auto racing.

The murals have divided the community. Councilmember Oscar de la Torre, who has led a movement to remove the artwork, has called them "Santa Monica's Confederate flag."

Historic preservationists argue that the murals have historic and artistic merit and are being misrepresented by critics who interpret them as expressions of white supremacy ("Santa Monica Kicks Off Process to Determine Fate of City Hall Murals," January 20, 2023).

The report from the City's consultant Meztli Projects "contains details about the process, panel discussions and community meetings that occurred, and resulting recommendations for the City," officials said.

Meztli had people "engage directly with the mural images to understand not just how they interpreted the images, but also their emotional responses and attachments to the mural," according to the report.

Based on a total of 337 responses collected from February 6 to May 10, a majority "found one or both of the mural panels to be offensive, disturbing, or exclusionary," according to the report.

"Overall, these respondents felt that the mural represented the hierarchies inherent in settler colonialism and white supremacy."

A smaller group of respondents found the mural images beautiful or valuable, but said they "have significant flaws that require a response."

Meanwhile, two other similarly sized groups felt that either "the mural is perfect, and nothing needs to be done to address it" or "were not particularly concerned about the images."

The consultant's main recommendation is for the City to commission new artwork for the lobby that presents history from different perspectives and creates "a welcoming environment for Indigenous people, working-class people, and people of color."

The second recommendation calls for creating "interpretive panels that condemn colonization, forced religious conversion, white supremacy generally, and the mural’s portrayal of First Peoples in particular."

The City "should also commission new artwork on the theme of inclusion and representing other views of Santa Monica’s history in a location that is much more publicly visible and meaningful," the report recommended.

The City Hall Mural project "involved a thorough, deep dive into the history of, context around and possible future options" for the artworks, City officials said.

This included "a robust community process that centered around community voices, including local First Peoples, Marquez family descendants, students, young adults, local educators (and) conservationists."

It also included input from the Santa Monica Arts and Landmarks Commissions, city employees and "others who work and live in Santa Monica."

"Public events such as walking tours, listening sessions and film screenings with discussions provided opportunities for the public to engage and share feedback addressing the murals and civic representation in public art," officials said.

The recommendations, along with a a comprehensive report, will be presented to the City Council for further discussion and direction early next year.

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