The fate of the John Muir Woods mural has yet to be officially decided by leaders of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, but artist Jane Golden said during a series of recent community meetings that the piece is irreparable and must be replaced.
Concerns of erosion, lead paint and environmental hazards first sparked a conversation about the future of the mural a few months ago, but multiple residents appeared at an SMMUSD board meeting to share why they feel the mural should be saved. As a result, the school district invited the artist of the decades-old mural to host a series of meetings last week, which sought to allow anybody with an opinion the opportunity to share it.
After the completion of the three meetings, Golden said in an interview Sunday her team heard a variety of opinions and the school district has a grand opportunity on its hands.
“Overwhelmingly, we heard that people really love the (Muir Woods) mural, which is very nice to hear because I think it’s always great when people have an attachment to public art… But we also heard from students that they would like something different and would like their voices to be heard since it’s very hard for them to attach to what is now a deteriorating mural,” Golden said.
She said members of the community felt it was very important to hear from student voices and take into account that the school is now named after Michelle and Barack Obama and not John Muir.
During Friday’s small-group session Golden said she met with nearly 20 students and a number of adults who all had a range of opinions, which will be included in a report that Golden and the Mural Arts team will turn over to the district in a month or so.
Projects with themes related to social and environmental justice as well as issues of equity and representation were but a few of the ideas that seemed to bubble up to the top, Golden said. “But what was nice was I thought a lot of the students seemed really interested in art and would absolutely be interested in working on a project themselves,” she said.
In a presentation on Thursday night, Golden kickstarted the discussion process by sharing how her Mural Arts team has assisted in similar school projects in Philadelphia and said the district has an opportunity to make the entire school — not simply a single wall — a work of art.
“There are a lot of areas of opportunity that have not been explored. There’s the bottom part of the planters that could be incorporated into a mural and there are some small murals in the playground area near the back area of the school that are quite deteriorated,” Golden said. “We walked around and took some photos, and I think that there are opportunities for student voices there as well.”
Ultimately it’s the school district’s decision though, Golden said as she described how a team of artists could make the entire school a work of art. “But I know no matter what is decided — and I want to be really clear on this — the wall needs to be completely scraped and the surface needs to be made really strong because painting over what’s currently there would shortchange the entire process.”