Santa Monicans hoping to see a simple resolution to the controversy surrounding the Stanton Macdonald-Wright mural in the City Hall lobby may be disappointed by the recommendations made for the lobby at Tuesday’s meeting (Agenda, Item 11A). Instead of a recommendation to just remove or keep the mural, the one hundred page report presented by “Reframe: City Hall Mural” presented recommendations to have the city commission new artwork, materials and programs to “contextualize” the mural and use it as an educational tool and to start discussions about the city’s past, present and future.

A motion to approve and implement the recommendations passed unanimously.

“In the future we will all be able to look at the public art inside our City Hall and feel welcomed and proud by the images we see,” wrote Councilmember Oscar de la Torre, who has been a vocal critic of the mural and has spoke movingly about the impact its presence has had on him and his children over the years.

“There’s a psychological impact on children,” de la Torre said on Tuesday, “especially when there’s nothing to contextualize it. It’s important to focus on the healing too.”

For those unfamiliar with the mural, it depicts Native Americans kneeling at the feet of a caucasian priest and a soldier on a horse, and another group of Native Americans drinking out of the same water that a horse is placing its hoof. The mural has been a part of the physical fabric of City Hall that the committee didn’t feel that just covering or removing the mural wouldn’t undue the years of harm that it has done, it would just, literally, cover-up the building’s history.

The existing mural.

If anything, the Council seemed worried that the city would “drop the ball” implementing the proposals because of the history with Tongva Park.  Tongva Park has little, if any, markings or signage that explain the historical significance of the park, its name, and that the Tongva people were the original holders of the land on which the park and city now rest.

During questioning and debate, it was clear that Councilmembers didn’t have issues with the recommendations, listed below and passed unanimously. The Council seemed to understand the need to not just deal with the legacy of racist public art, but also on how to include Native American artists in creating new public art and take part in the city’s paid public art proposals.

Meztil Projects made nine recommendations, four of which are short-term and five which are longer term. The City Council added a tenth item that was proposed by de la Torre. In total Council passed the following action items:

  1. Commission additional artwork(s) for the City Hall lobby to address the harms of the past and create a welcoming environment.
  2. Commission new interpretive signage to accompany both mural panels in the City Hall lobby that incorporates diverse perspectives.
  3. Ensure Santa Monica’s public art and commemorative landscape center and incorporate equity and belonging, starting with assessing existing artworks and monuments.
  4. Create educational materials about the murals to share with the community in collaboration with schools and other community partners.
  5. Expand training around diversity, equity and inclusion for city staff.
  6. Adopt a citywide land and territory acknowledgement initiative.
  7. Improve representation on Santa Monica committees.
  8. Explore and facilitate land back in Santa Monica.
  9. Facilitate additional relationships and support for ongoing work at Kuruvungna Springs.
  10. Consider a restorative justice approach to repair harm of past actions of the city of Santa Monica impacting diverse groups from various heritages and cultures.

According to a release from the city, the Recreation and Arts Department’s Cultural Affairs Division is ready to start implementing the first four recommendations this year, “beginning with crafting an inclusive request for proposal process for new City Hall artwork(s). 

The equity focused recommendations in 5-10 are already in progress, and all will be incorporated into the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Team’s Citywide Equity Plan. The plan is set to be finalized and presented to the City Council later this year.

The Reframe: City Hall Mural project was created as part of the larger Acknowledge + Reframe Together, an initiative to produce public art and civic memory projects that center community voices to create a more just and equitable Santa Monica. The initiative seeks to bring forward and listen to the voices and experiences of communities of color that have been historically excluded from representation in civic spaces.

To read the report and learn more about the initiative, click here.

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