Though I’ve dabbled in painting and although many years ago I put together what was (in my dreams) to be a video installation (I never submitted anyplace), I am by no means an artist. Still, I appreciate the artistic creations of others and I love art’s place in the world. It provokes. It asks questions; it sometimes provides answers; it stirs emotions; it interprets the past; it predicts the future. Plus, I believe artists are undervalued in society. And so, I empathize with artists whose work is vilified and targeted for censorship. Which brings us to the wonderful, liberal, hip state of Arizona circa 2010. Below the fold I present to you, dear kossacks, the story of a mural in Prescott Arizona and the reaction to it from—among other area residents—Steve Blair (he’s not racist).
First, a couple of facts about Prescott, Arizona, located in Yavapai County. This from wikipedia (the material in boldface is my emphasis and the material in brackets are my additions):
As of the census of 2000, there were 33,938 people, 15,098 households, and 8,968 families residing in the city.... The racial makeup of the city was 92.93% White, 0.50% Black or African American [which is over 6.5 times fewer blacks than are found in the entire state], 1.27% Native American [in a state where Native Americans constitue 4.5% of the population], 0.83% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 2.77% from other races, and 1.63% from two or more races. 8.17% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race [in a state whose total population in 2000 was 25.25% Hispanic or Latino].
Now about that mural. On June 4, 2010, the Associated Press reported a story of what sounds to me like a really cool mural with an awesome message. In the City of Prescott artists Pamela J. Smith and R.E. Wall designed a mural called "Go On Green". One thing that is cool about the mural is that the artists got a lot of input from the kids and teachers at the Miller Valley Elementary School where the mural greets passsersby (exposing kids to art=good; empowering students and teachers to make a contribution to their world=good). Another cool thing about Go On Green is that it depicts people engaged in a variety of "green" activities. This would be a nice, public image even if the United States was running more on renewable energy than on fossil fuels, even if an undersea oil geyser weren't destroying a magnificent habitat called the Gulf of Mexico.
One of the things that must frustrate any artist whose work is commissioned is the pressure (real or perceived) to please the funding source. Go On Green is a commissioned work paid for by the Prescott Alternative Transportation organization. According to the AP article this group got its money from the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program. And make no mistake the Go On Green artists have been getting pressure, but it did not originate with the Safe Routes to School program. Instead, it appears that some really vocal citizens of Prescott (really, really) don't like the mural.
A noisy bunch in Prescott, Arizona—a town that historically did not allow anyone to live there unless they were white (in other words, a Sundown Town)—apparently does not like a mural showing people of color engaged in pro-social behavior displayed in their city. The (white) artists have been harassed on a daily basis so much for so long by passing motorists who have hurled racial slurs and other insults at those working on the student- and teacher-selected mural that, according to the AP article, the artists basically caved to pressure to "whiten" the faces of the non-white people in the mural. The artists scheduled to change the races of the people of color in their mural to make the mural what the town of Prescott Arizona used to be: purposefully all-white. Yes, a literal whitewashing of a piece of art. (One news source reported that the artists had resisted changing their mural before caving in and this youtube video indicates that the face whitening was slated for June 5). One guy, Prescott city councilman and radio host Steve Blair (he is NOT racist), is particularly upset by the people-of-color-doing-good-things mural, and he used his radio program to blast the mural. He said (emphasis mine):
"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?'"
Of course one might reasonably ask Blair, a Republican, why a mural could upset him so, especially a mural depicting people doing eco-friendly things. And especially since he's—you know—not racist. Is it just me, or would anyone else like to talk to those four black families Steve Blair claims he grew up with to find out their experiences living in a place like Prescott?
More recently, on June 2, Blair said this about the mural on his radio show, a FOX affiliate (emphasis mine):
"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."
I can't stand the word fuckwad, but sometimes that word just pops into my head. Ooops, sorry, back to the diary.
Geez, OK Steve, we get it: you're not racist!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Steve Blair's repeated and strenuous opposition to the racial composition of the mural has not gone so well for him: the Prescott News reported that he was fired on June 8 from his own radio show on KYCA radio because of his campaign to have the black and brown kids removed (whitened up) from Go On Green. Fired from his OWN radio show! On a FOX affiliate! Ouch. That's gotta hurt. In addition, there is also a Facebook page demanding Steve Blair resign from the Prescott's city council. Now I know what some of you are thinking, but don't, because Steve Blair is not racist. He said so himself. He should know. After all there were four black families in the town where he was raised.
Finally, as a delicious latest development to this story, the school's principal and the Superintendent of Prescott Unified School District admitted recently "We made a mistake" for their role in pressuring the artists to censor their work. The people of color in the mural will not be "lightened."