Prescott school mural's racial themes spark debate
CINDY BARKS, The Daily Courier, PAULA RHODEN, The Daily Courier
Since the late-May unveiling of the "Go on Green" mural, dozens of local residents have expressed their views — both pro and con — about the painting that covers two exterior walls at the school at Prescott's Four-Points intersection.
An article about the unveiling on The Daily Courier's website generated about 60 online reader comments, while Prescott Unified School District and Prescott City Hall reported getting calls.
Although many of the comments on the Courier's website offer unqualified admiration for the mural, others are harshly critical, using words such as "tacky," ''ugly" and "ghetto."
The subtext in some of the comments: race.
R.E. Wall, director of the Prescott Downtown Mural Project, described weeks of tense working conditions for the "Mural Mice," the group of artists responsible for the Miller Valley mural and several others around town.
As the Miller Valley mural took shape, Wall said, he and the other artists working at the site heard regular racial slurs from the passengers of cars driving by.
"The pressure stayed up consistently," Wall said. "We had two months of cars shouting at us."
He attributes the start of the racial controversy to recent comments that Prescott City Councilman Steve Blair made on his KYCA radio talk show about the mural.
On his May 21 show, for instance, Blair said, "I am not a racist individual, but I will tell you depicting a black guy in the middle of that mural, based upon who's president of the United States today and based upon the history of this community when I grew up, we had four black families — who I have been very good friends with for years — to depict the biggest picture on that building as a black person, I would have to ask the question, 'Why?'"
On Wednesday, Blair again emphasized that "I'm not a racist by any stretch of the imagination, but whenever people start talking about diversity, it's a word I can't stand."
Blair questions whether the mural is representative of Prescott, noting, "The focus doesn't need to be on what's different; the focus doesn't need to be on the minority all the time."
Blair said he has received a number of calls from long-time Prescott residents who ask, "Who authorized that graffiti on the wall?" He added: "What these people don't like is somebody forcing diversity down their throats."
Wall said that the "pressure" reached such a level this past week that his group has been asked to lighten the faces of the mural's main subject, as well as the other children in the mural.
"They want us to lighten up the forehead and the cheeks (of the boy in the center), and make him look like he is coming into the light," Wall said, adding that school officials asked to have all of the children's faces appear more "radiant and happy."
That work began this past Sunday, when Wall and co-artist Pamela Smith began lightening up a portion of the boy's forehead. The work will continue during the next several days.
Blair said that even though he believes the Mural Mice are "truly artists," and that their other murals have been successful, "Art is in the eye of the beholder, but I say (the Miller Valley mural) looks like graffiti in L.A."
He also questions the choice of location for the mural. "From my standpoint, it's the most visible intersection in the City of Prescott, and one of the most historic buildings, and they're painting a mural on it?"
In addition, Blair suggested that the mural creators might not have made a good enough case in their storytelling for the mural. "I don't see anything that ties the community into that mural," he said.
Wall and representatives of the Prescott Alternative Transportation organization, which paid for the mural with money it receives through the Arizona Department of Transportation's Safe Routes to School program, emphasize the mural design was the result of extensive participation by Miller Valley Elementary School faculty and students.
And Paul Katan, the Safe Routes to School program coordinator, pointed out that the artists based the mural's subjects on several Miller Valley School students, who posed for a photo. The boy in the center is of Mexican descent, Katan added.
"I was very surprised to hear Councilman Blair on his radio show target the ethnic differences of the students who modeled for this mural as a problem," Katan said. "I see the students in the murals as a cross-section of the school's population."
Katan added, "The theme of the mural comes down to keeping kids healthy and safe in what can sometimes be a dangerous world."
Miller Valley Principal Jeff Lane explained that the mural artists showed six designs to the school's students. The students voted on their favorite and sent the top three designs to the teachers. The teachers selected the final design for the new mural.
"The teachers selected this design because it focused on children and their role in the environment," Lane said.
The Miller Valley Mural Committee met with the mural officials May 28 to talk about some changes before the mural was completed. Lane said the school committee, which included him and two teachers, asked the artists to work on the children's faces.
According to Lane, the committee wanted the artists to "make them look happier and more excited, fix the scale of the faces and remove some shadowing that made the faces darker than they are. We also wanted some changes to the banner."
The goal, the principal said, is to have the changes completed in two weeks.
Lane and Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Kevin Kapp confirmed that they have received calls about the new mural. While some of the calls were negative, the school officials said most of the comments were positive.
Kapp said some people were bothered that the artists painted the mural over "old red brick."
Other people, he said, did not understand the mural.
The mural celebrates the environment and Miller Valley as a green school. "It celebrates the diversity at Miller Valley," Kapp said.
Lane has also received "a few negative comments, but quite a few were positive. But the comments have slowed down. I think I only received one this past week."
Wall allows that some of the suggestions have been "constructive criticism," which he said the artists would use to make the mural more accurately depict the photos of the Miller Valley School models.
That is the mentality of what passes for conservatism in this country. Doth sound unfair? Well, this is how they treat one of their own ideologues who runs for office while being non-white.
S.C. GOP state senator calls gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley 'a raghead'
The drag-down brawl for South Carolina's Republican gubernatorial nomination just got nastier.
"We already got one raghead in the White House," John M. "Jake" Knotts Jr. said on the Internet talk show "Pub Politics," according to The State newspaper. "We don't need another in the governor's mansion."
Knotts, a supporter of one of Haley's opponents, later apologized and said his comment was made in jest.
After former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) swept into the Palmetto State to endorse Haley a few weeks ago, the state lawmaker has rocketed in the polls to a sizable lead in the four-candidate race. Since then, her opponents and their allies have attacked her personal character relentlessly in the closing days of the campaign. Voters will go the polls Tuesday.
Two Republican operatives have claimed they had sexual encounters with Haley. She has denied both accusations and said she has been faithful to her husband through their 13 years of marriage.
On the talk show Thursday, Knotts discussed Haley's religious upbringing. She was raised as a Sikh, but married a Methodist man and is raising her children as Christians. She has said she attends services of both faiths.
Haley, responding to Knotts's comments after a Thursday campaign stop, told The State: "What the race in 2010 will prove is the goodness of the people of South Carolina, that there [are] fewer people of the Jake Knotts [ilk] and that there are a lot more good, educated people [who] want their voice heard in government."
Knotts is a longtime ally of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, one of Haley's opponents, and has been an antagonist of Gov. Mark Sanford (R) in the legislature. Haley has been one of Sanford's closest allies in Columbia.
South Carolina Republican Party Chairwoman Karen Floyd called on Knotts to apologize Thursday night. "The South Carolina Republican Party strongly condemns any use of racial or religious slurs," Floyd said. "Senator Knotts should apologize for his inappropriate comments, so that we can put this unfortunate incident behind us and focus on issues important to moving our state forward."
In a statement to local reporters, Knotts said: "Bear in mind that this is a freewheeling, anything-goes Internet radio show that is broadcast from a pub. It's like a local political version of 'Saturday Night Live.' Since my intended humorous context was lost in translation, I apologize. I still believe Ms. Haley is pretending to be someone she is not, much as Obama did, but I apologize to both for an unintended slur."
Attorney General Henry McMaster (R), another gubernatorial candidate, issued a statement Friday calling on the other Republicans to "cut this nonsense out right now."
"The behavior of my opponents, their campaigns and their supporters over the last few weeks has not served our state well," McMaster said. "In fact, it's been embarrassing."
Earlier this week, Bauer fired one of his campaign consultants, Larry Marchant, after Marchant told Bauer he had a one-time sexual encounter with Haley in 2008. On Thursday, Bauer challenged Haley to a "lie-detector test" to determine whether she had cheated on her husband. Haley denied Marchant's claim and accused Bauer of "fishing" the story to the media to gin up attention.
Last week, a blogger and former Republican operative, Will Folks, claimed he had a sexual relationship with Haley, which Haley also denied.
The GOP campaign has become the nastiest South Carolina political race in years -- at least since the 2000 presidential primary between George W. Bush and John McCain, who fell victim to a whisper campaign alleging falsely that he had fathered an illegitimate multiracial child.
All of this has Democrats watching from the sidelines, almost giddy.
"If these guys keep behaving like juvenile delinquents, then we'll elect a Democrat in November here," said Dick Harpootlian, a former chairman of the state's Democratic Party. "It's a no-holds-barred, eye-gouging free-for-all. We've never seen it like this before. This is the worse it's ever been. Ain't it grand?"
As ugly as those comments are, they are no worse than the sentiments of those right-wingers who accentuate President Obama's middle name, while accusing him of being a Kenyan-born Islamist. And if that is acceptable, what legitimacy does redstate.com have in defending Nikki Haley from her verbal abuser? I am sure it has nothing to do with politics [removing sarcasm hat]. This is your animal that you released, dear conservatives, to go after Mexicans and blacks. When your apologists begin pointing the guns back at one of your own who so happens to hold your views (but does so without your group's predominant hue), you have no moral authority to complain. If anything Sen. Knotts is just being more consistent in his racism than you are, dear Freepers and RedState.comers.