Temporary Halt to Destruction June 8 – Legal Challenge by Muralist’s Heir

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06/22/2012 by Library Users Association

Bernal Hts. Branch Library’s Victor Jara Multicultural Mural

San Francisco Public Library’s plans to start painting out the historic, multi-cultural, community-created mural on the Bernal Heights Branch Library beginning June 11 were ordered stopped because it failed to provide the artist or heirs the opportunity to remove it, as required by law. The California Art Preservation Act requires 90 days notice be given prior to any destruction – and the notice was not provided to the sister of muralist Arch Williams. 

The mural was painted and designed by gay muralist Arch Williams and Carlos Alcala in 1980-1982, along with many neighborhood adults and kids.

The Library Commission approved saving the Victor Jara front as a “compromise” in August 2009, but approved total destruction, with replacement murals in July 2011.  The Commission in 2011 did not discuss the mural’s history, content, or words – or its previous compromise.  Instead, it approved the results of a closed-to-the-public “community process” set up by Sup. David Campos — lacking meeting notices, agendas, minutes, and recorded votes. The Commission did not discuss costs – yet the replacement is to cost TEN TIMES more than the 2009 refreshment plan ($185k vs. $18k) and includes a fiscal fee of $16,800 for the Friends of SFPL.

Supervisor Campos responded to information requests about the mural with massive redactions that the City’s official open government watchdog group said violated open government law.  The Sunshine Ordinance Task Force (SOTF) determined by unanimous vote that the redactions were unlawful.  In five other hearings, the SOTF also found additional violations of law by the Arts Commission during the process of destruction approval.

The Art Commission approved the general plan September 12, 2011, and gave final approval for removal the entire existing mural April 2, 2012 also without discussing the mural’s content or words or local history.  Final design approval came June 4, 2012. The library has not properly informed the public about the existing mural’s history or meanings.  For example, the library’s website includes a page describing the Bernal Heights Branch library’s history — without once mentioning the mural — and showing a picture of the branch more than 30 years ago — without any mural.

The existing mural covers three sides of the building.  The front-facing side includes the historically 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 where it happened, in the capital, is now named after Jara.   A documentary about Jara has recently been completed and a trailer is available online at ResurrectionOfVictorJara.com.)

The front left panel (north) also includes singer Holly Near’s name and words, the image of an African American singer modeled on Roberta Flack; the right front includes the UN symbol and children.  The east side honors four working women; on the south is Bernal Heights history, including Native Americans and the BHNC.

The library plans to remove all three existing sides, replacing them with a nondescript two-sided mural.  The result is to be what someone close to the original called a sanitizing gentrification, with no words or names, no Victor Jara, no Holly Near, no working women, no children, no UN.  The building front is to have only what another critic called “whirls and swirls.”  The side is to show a tree, plus images reminiscent of existing symbols.

WHAT YOU CAN DO – to help save this mural

1- Write to the Mayor, copy to Bd. of Supervisors, Sup. Campos, the Arts Commission, and us – asking to preserve and refresh the mural – not destroy it.  One or more sincere sentences are fine:

mayoredwinlee@sfgov.org; joaquin.torres@sfgov.org; tom.decaigny@sfgov.org (Director of Cultural Affairs) Board.of.Supervisors@sfgov.org; David.Campos@sfgov.org; libraryusers2004@yahoo.com

2-Get more information by going to this bloglibraryusers.wordpress.com

3- Write to your favorite newspapers and TV stations urging them to provide fair coverage.

4 – Contact Library Users Association for more information, or to volunteer & inform others:

Library Users Association, libraryusers2004@yahoo.com, (415) 753-2180            


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