A mural located at the former location of John Muir Elementary School for more than 30 years will remain in place until the community and the artwork’s artist decide if the mural will be replaced.
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Board of Education came to the decision unanimously during Thursday night’s board meeting after hours of discussion and input from residents, board members and district staff.
The fate of the Muir Woods mural has been a point of contention for some time now as the “major action item” was tabled for further discussion during the board’s previous meeting in Malibu earlier this month.
Citing concerns of erosion, lead paint and environmental hazards, district staff previously recommended that the board order the mural, which is located on the southeast walls of the newly-named Michelle and Barack Obama Center for Inquiry and Exploration, be painted the same color as the exterior of the building where it’s located.
“The Muir Woods mural has eroded over time,” staff said, describing how the mural painted in the 1970s possesses lead paint that’s peeled, contaminated the planter and risks going into the stormwater system out to the ocean. “Painting the walls will enable the complete removal of lead paint, and allow for the building to look suitable for a school environment as the district engages with the community in a collaborative and inclusive process that will lead to a new mural.”
Board Vice President Jon Keane said during the meeting Thursday that he spoke directly to the mural’s artist Jane Golden, who expressed interest in leading a selection process in partnership with community stakeholders.
Local residents were open to the idea, but some who spoke during the meeting said they feel a decision will be made with or without their support.
“You must remember this — unless that unique mural covers this unique wall space from top to bottom and sweeping around the corner, you’ve destroyed it,” said Charles Andrews, stating there wasn’t enough time to share all the reasons why it should remain in place.
Marissa Rubin said she recently received a call from a former John Muir Elementary School student who said she loved the mural and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to tear it down. “She said she moved to Northern California because she was so inspired by the mural,” Rubin said.
Emotions were high as one community member after another went to the podium to share their reasons for saving the mural, which included, among others, Barrack Obama’s environmental record and the need to educate children about climate change and John Muir.
Sarah Braff, who has resided in the city for more than 30 years, said during the meeting she drives by the mural every single day, “and it has not brought me joy. And it has not brought me excitement.”
“And moving forward does not mean we are relinquishing our past, but enhancing our future,” Braff added, mentioning the need to include all of the community and not just those who support the mural remaining in place.
“I just don’t think there’s a right answer or a wrong answer to this,” board member Laurie Lieberman said, adding she supports conducting a process that involves all of the district’s stakeholders.
“From everything that we have heard from staff, the mural as it stands now cannot (remain) — because of the remediation that had to be done, it has left the existing mural in a state of disrepair,” which is a disservice to everyone, Kean said after he motioned to make an amendment to the original staff recommendation.
Kean admitted he doesn’t know what will go on the wall in place of the mural.
“I do know that the next step has to be a remediation of the existing wall. And no matter what we do — if we recreate the (Muir) Woods mural identically to what it is now — we still have to remediate that wall,” Kean added. “So I don’t know what comes next but I promise you that I am dedicated to a process that hears the community. I just think we do not have the option of building on that existing wall right now as it stands.”
Nearly two full hours after the item was first brought forth for discussion, board members unanimously agreed that no painting would take place until the public has been able to engage in a selection process led by the artist.