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CURIOUS CITY — SO WHAT’S THE RIGHT QUESTION TO POSE TO THOSE PESKY WOODITES? Go long, baby – past, and future. Think quality and quantity, of art, history and message. Above all, think of the kids.
But most importantly, think of my reputation! Here I am, writing about that danged mural again. There are so many pressing issues in Santa Monica, is that all Andrews can think of to write about? Say what you will about me, and I know you do, but please don’t call me boring.
I wasn’t planning on hitting the woods again so soon, but questions have been raised. I urge every like-minded soul out there to also make their thoughts known, on the new Save the Muir Woods Mural Facebook page, to media outlets, and most importantly to our SMMUSD school board, because the decision to clear cut that noteworthy and cherished mural into oblivion, or not, rests in their hands.
We who value that mural have been labeled a very small group of very vocal protesters. Very vocal, yes, because this is an important issue. Very small group? Not so. The numbers show it, in petition signatures, Facebook page “likes” and other expressions of support, but let’s raise our voices now and erase all doubt.
Those calling for the destruction of the iconic Muir Woods mural by Jane Golden, on the walls of Olympic High School at the corner of Lincoln and Ocean Park, want to see something else painted there. Something designed and painted by the students, it is argued. Something that represents them, the students who are there now, in 2014. That, in itself, seems like a reasonable, even honorable goal.
But isn’t that short sighted? The mural existed long before these students got there, before Olympic High was there even, and if restored will be there a couple of generations after they leave. In another 36 years it may not even be Olympic High School any more, in that building. And what if the Class of 2018 doesn’t like what the Class of ’14 decided to paint there? Doesn’t represent them. Will they be upset?
Those wanting to tear down the old for something new lean heavily on the argument that we’re not John Muir school; it moved up the street 20 years ago.
If, say, it had been Samo High before and it was a big mural of a Viking by a good but not internationally recognized artist we were talking about, I’d agree. But John Muir is always a valid context, especially in California. He and his Yosemite are on the back of the California quarter, for condor’s sake.
That mural has been there since 1978. At that time Jane Golden was a talented Santa Monica artist (who had to leave town to treat a life-threatening medical condition), who has now blossomed into a famous award-winning muralist in charge of the entire program for the city of Philadelphia, with 4,000 murals under her aegis. Never heard of her? Neither had I until I looked into it. The art world, which I’m not involved in, has spoken strongly as to her gifts and accomplishments, and that’s good enough for me.
Wow. We lucked out. She painted only three murals in Santa Monica. Are they landmarks? An important and valued part of our artistic history?
Nope. We let them go. Two of them are painted over, and now the last remaining Jane Golden mural in Santa Monica is threatened with the same fate. Seriously, are we crazy?
There has been no insinuation that the school wants to remove all art from that space. That’s not the issue. But if you paint another mural over it, Muir Woods is destroyed.
But what will be painted in its place? Has Picasso been called forth from the grave? Nauman, Baldessari, Hockney, Jasper Johns? Yoko Ono??
THAT is the question. It’s not whether or not art belongs on that wall, or that the administration or even the students want a mural that represents them. The kids at Olympic have for the most part gotten a tough shake in life, and are trying to make something of themselves. Did you even know that school was there? They deserve more support from us all.
But teaching them that recognized, iconic art, valued by the community and the world, is expendable if this year’s crop of students decide they want something else there, is not the lesson we should be teaching them.
Let’s use this issue to get all we can for those students. Jane Golden has expressed enthusiasm for putting together events in conjunction with her coming out to restore the mural that would involve students and the community. It could be so valuable for everyone, beyond just the restoration, and shine a needed spotlight on the school, the students and their dedicated teachers.
These aren’t just pictures of trees we’re talking about. It’s a sylvan symbol in the city representing the importance of conservation. John Muir was a great American and Californian and this is a constant reminder of that legacy.
It’s not about money. The money is already there, in Measure BB funds. More than enough has been allocated for the needed repair of the mural wall.
Yes, this is a golden opportunity to think long-term and invest in the next generation, to provide those students with a sense of pride, ownership and identity. They’ve got a rare gift on their wall and most don’t even know it.
We can make this work for everyone if we try, but we must not lose this mural. It means too much to the community these youngsters will soon be joining. Let’s teach them to understand and appreciate what they’ve got, so they can look back in 20 or 30 years with pride and say, yes, that was my school, and I helped preserve the famous Muir Woods mural.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Always do right; this will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” – Mark Twain
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for almost 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at

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