University of Oregon Moves to Cover Controversial Murals in Knight Library
From the U. of Oregon:
In a move to acknowledge conversations about anti-racism taking place around the world amid the Black Lives Matter movement, the University of Oregon has ordered four murals in the Knight Library that contain racist, exclusionary language and imagery to be be covered.
The murals, which date to the library’s construction in 1937, are affixed to the walls and cannot be removed without risking significant damage to the artwork and the building. Secure covers will be installed by a Portland conservator sometime before Oct. 1.
“This is something that is long overdue,” said Provost and Senior Vice President Patrick Phillips. “This is an historic time on our country, and we need to listen to members of our community who have felt the hurt and sting of racism on our campus.
“I am firmly against the destruction or censoring of art in any form, but it would be disingenuous for anyone to say that these pieces, especially in a library whose central mission is to welcome and support the entire campus, are ‘just art,’ he said. “They represent much more and it is incumbent upon us to address that fact. This action allows the pieces themselves to be preserved, and help us to look toward a new future of representation within these specific spaces.”
The idea of covering the murals is not new. They face the main east and west stairwells in the Knight Library and have been the subject of student, staff and faculty complaints of racial bias for several years, and some of them have previously been vandalized.
Mark Watson, interim dean of UO Libraries, said it was time for the university to act.
“These murals have been controversial as long as I’ve worked in the library, and that’s over 30 years,” Watson said.
In 2017, the Knight Library Public Art Task Force was convened to study the murals and make recommendations. Made up of students, librarians and faculty, the task force installed interpretive signs near the murals, created an online resource guide, curated a student art exhibition and held several public forums in the library.
Despite mixed feelings in the community and among library staff, the murals remained. The university at the time reasoned that although the murals were part of the physical building, it was the library staff’s duty to conserve both archives and artifacts of the historic library building.
In 2018, the words “racial heritage” were crossed out in red paint on one of the pieces, and a sign was put up that said: “Which art do you choose to conserve now?” The paint was cleaned off.
This summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s slaying at the hands of Minneapolis police and the re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, conversations about racist symbols in public spaces reached a new prominence.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.