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Students to respond to controversial mural through art exhibit



The Knight Library Public Art Task Force has announced it will not remove a controversial mural. The task force is instead asking for students to submit artwork in response to the mural that will be displayed in Knight Library in a new exhibit starting fall term.

The exhibit will be called “Show up, Stand out, Empower!” and will be on display for five months; however, that will not be the conclusion of the library’s efforts to let people respond to the art, according to task force chairman Ed Teague.

The mural that has garnered the most controversy is called “Mission of a University” and was made in 1937 by Nowland Brittin Zane, a University of Oregon art professor.

One particular part of the mural that some have taken issue with is the part of its plaque that reads: “It means conservation and betterment not merely of our national resources but also of our racial heritage and opportunity to the lowliest.”

The task force was formed in January 2017 with the purpose of contextualizing the art in the library and allowing students a chance to respond to the art. Since the task force formed, it has gone through three forms and has had 16 members.

“The title of the plaques that I had the most problem with is ‘The Mission of a University,’ therefore I think the response to this for the contest should be submitted by those who attend the university,” said freshman Francesca Smith, a member of the task force.

She joined the task force after she created a change.org petition in November 2017 to get the mural torn down. Now the petition has over 1,800 online signatures.

According to Smith, when she first saw the mural, she was “dumbfounded that that kind of language is still acceptable on this campus in the 21st century.”

Since she joined the task force, her views on what should be done with the mural have changed. She said she talked to others with different viewpoints and learned that there would be legal issues with trying to remove the mural.

She said that she had multiple ideas on how the task force could respond to the mural and that the exhibit that the task force is going through with was her idea.

The mural is not being removed for multiple reasons, one of which is legal complications. It was made during the great depression, and the people who made it were hired through the Works Project Administration. The WPA was a part of the New Deal in the 1930s that hired millions of Americans to work for the government on construction and art projects.

This means that it is not clear if the university actually owns the mural, according to Teague.

“The simplest answer is that the library can’t just take them down,” said Teague.

Despite the efforts of the task force, some still want the University to do more in response to the mural.

“I understand that it is a historical landmark that has historically been used to protect racist imagery and justify it, and yes we should recognize that history, but that also goes against the idea of restorative justice,” said Kyra Solis, a member of a group of students who protested the mural on Feb. 15.

On that day, Solis and about 20 other students sat silently on the stairwell near where the mural hangs. Some of the students held signs which read “Shame on UO 4 glorifying White Supremacy” and “Hate is not heritage.”

Solis and two other students met with library leadership about her and other protesters’ concerns about the mural. Since the protest, Solis has not been able to be involved in further dialogue with library leadership because she has been busy with classes.

“That mural is inherently harmful and espouses the idea that I, as a mixed woman, as a person of color, [am] inherently lesser,” said Solis.

This story was updated to correct a quote. The word “dispouses” was changed to “espouses” in the last line of the story. 

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Erin Carey

Erin Carey

Erin Carey is an Associate News Editor, majoring in Journalism and minoring in Comparative Literature. She loves coffee, hockey and telling visitors at the Oregon Zoo random facts about the animals.