Library Users Association Efforts Stop Destruction of Victor Jara Mural Temporarily

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06/14/2012 by Library Users Association

Library Failed to Notify Heir, as Law Requires

            San Francisco, June 14, 2012 – Library Users Association’s efforts to stop the paintout of the Arch Williams mural on Bernal Heights Branch Library have succeeded in temporarily halting the destruction that the library had scheduled to begin on Monday, June 11.  Scaffolding was erected June 8 and remains standing.

Peter Warfield, Executive Director of Library Users Association, said “It is stunning that the Library is in such a rush to destroy and replace this community asset that they didn’t follow basic legal requirements to allow the artist or his successor to remove the mural.”

He added that there had been numerous violations of law during the process of approving mural removal, including six unanimous votes to issue Orders of Determination by the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force against the Arts Commission and Supervisor David Campos.

Library Users Association research found that the California Art Preservation Act requires the owner of fine art to give the artist, or his heirs and personal representatives, 90 days notice prior to any destruction.  San Francisco Public Library had no records showing that such notice was ever given.

In addition, the Library had no documents showing that any attempts had ever been made to locate the necessary person, as required by the law.

Library Users Association notified the heir and personal representative of the artist, who had died in 1996.  Under the law, such heirs and personal representatives retain rights for 50 years after the death of the artist.  The notification provision is intended to provide an opportunity to remove the artwork prior to its destruction.

Nancy York, sister of muralist Arch Williams, then sent a letter to City Librarian Luis Herrera and other City officials on Friday, June 8, asserting her rights to receive 90 days notice prior to any removal of the mural.  Mr. Herrera responded with an internal memo that he was “in touch with the city attorney’s office and they will be preparing a formal response.  We are confident that all the necessary noticing has been done but in the interest of doing it right, we are holding off on the paint work on the Cortland and Moultrie sides [where two of the three sides of the mural are located] until the letter is sent out.”

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               The existing mural was painted by muralists Arch Williams and Carlos Alcala in 1980-1982, with participation by many adults and children.  Approved by the Arts Commission and Library Commission at the time, it covers three sides of the building.  The front includes the important Chilean musician Victor Jara playing his guitar, with his name, and words in Spanish and English from one of his songs.  Jara was tortured and killed by the Chilean military when they seized power in 1973; the stadium in Chile’s capital where arrestees were brought after the coup is now named after Jara. The front panel also includes singer Holly Near’s name and words, and the image of an African American singer.  The mural also honors working women and Native Americans.  The proposed mural omits Jara, Near, working women, a local history, and more.

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