What some people consider a no-brainer, others consider a no-way.
I’m a lover not a fighter, but when I see the deal go down, the good being lost, something that I love and others do too, and it doesn’t have to be that way – I have to speak up.
I figured preserving the Muir Woods mural at the corner of Lincoln and Ocean Park would be a no-brainer. Not necessarily that proverbial piece of cake, but definitely doable, with everyone pulling together.
Who could be against it?
It’s definitely a fine piece of work, from an artist recognized worldwide for her murals. There are paintings on walls, and then there is Jane Golden’s Muir Woods.
It’s historic, anchoring that busy intersection corner of Santa Monica for 35 years now. Literally tens of millions of people have passed by there in that time. We at least subconsciously expect that redwood forest to be there, blessing us with its tranquil, timeless splash of nature, taking us momentarily away from the sunny beach and into the dark primeval woods. It’s part of us now. How jarring, and sad, if it disappeared one day.
It’s beloved by many in Santa Monica, I’m willing to bet, though the word has not yet gone out enough to confirm that. But many community leaders are already speaking up.
Ben Allen, who may well be our new nominee for state Senator by the time you read this, promised he would back an effort to save the mural, and would speak to that effect at the school board meeting tomorrow night (Thursday, 5:30, district offices).
Recreation and Parks Commission chair and announced city council candidate Phil Brock messaged me: “The Muir Woods mural should and can be restored. It’s simple. It’s refreshing to have at that corner. You can use my name. It’s the closest thing we’ll get to a park at Lincoln at Ocean Park Blvd.”
Artist and schools and community activist Russell Fear, who lives three blocks from the mural, wrote this: “Appreciation in advance for speaking out to save Golden’s Muir mural. When I moved here from Venice 30+ years ago I didn’t know who John Muir was, but I thought if this neighborhood cares enough about him to paint that mural, I had better find out, and I did.”
Ocean Park’s Marissa Rubin, artist and art therapist who worked for more than 25 years with emotionally challenged adolescents at UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, wrote: “The Muir Woods mural provides emotional sustenance that visually nurtures, soothes and inspires students and the community. It should be fully restored.”
Support also includes Paul Leaf, founder of the Santa Monica Arts Commission, and Sierra Club activist Kathy Knight, both of whom live very close to the mural.
And we’re just getting started. But this isn’t a numbers game. Or is it?
There are some sympathetic reasons to support Olympic High School principal Janie Gates’ campaign to replace the mural with a new one.
She says the kids deserve a mural that reflects their school, their lives. Yet she recently scrapped completely the initial artwork of the pier, beach and palm trees (with Olympic tigers lounging near the water) that she was so staunchly defending. (How much did that cost, to start over?) And they have other walls that can, and should, be mural-ized.
When the mural was installed, it was on the walls of what was then John Muir Elementary School, she continued, which moved three blocks up Ocean Park Boulevard, quite a while ago. “This hasn’t been John Muir for 20 years,” she said.
That seems to be a sticking point for her, but hardly for the rest of us. Most people who don’t have kids there have no idea where John Muir Elementary is, nor that it used to be on the corner 20 years ago. I dare say no one else would find that a good reason to paint over the Muir Woods mural.
“It hardly represents our environment here in Southern California,” she said about the redwood forest scene. True, but – is that important?
The building belongs to the school district, not the city, she accurately pointed out, but “you’re trying to tell me what we can put on our walls,” she accused.
Well, yes. More accurately, we’re saying you happen to have something already on your walls that’s very visible, cherished by many, and it was there decades before you got there. That merits consideration, of the entire community.
It’s not unusual for public art to be involved in such controversies over ownership, and one hopes the desires and collective rights of the many will outweigh the personal desires of the controlling interests. The Hines Corporation had a legal right to do what they wanted with their property, but the citizens rose up and said, we live here, and we have rights too. The National Parks Service controls the Statue of Liberty, but you better believe they know who it really belongs to. It’s called being a good caretaker.
Initially, last summer, Golden gave her blessing to Gates to proceed with whatever was practical, because Gates told her their budget wouldn’t fit her costs. But when I spoke with Golden recently she expressed deep regret over the pending loss of that mural (her last one surviving in Santa Monica), and said she would make herself available and reduce costs to the bone if she could be given the chance.
Can’t we find a solution that preserves the mural and also does something good for a deserving Olympic High and its hard-working principal, staff and students?