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Cost to Cover Up George Washington at School Could Approach $1M

1936 mural at Calif. high school is causing 'a lot of emotional stress' for some
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 21, 2019 10:41 AM CDT
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/GeorgiosArt)

(Newser) – It doesn't seem unreasonable at first glance that a school named after George Washington would have a depiction of him somewhere on its premises. But a mural featuring the country's first president that appears in the lobby of San Francisco's George Washington High School has kick-started what NBC Bay Area calls "an emotional debate"—and a remedy could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. SF Weekly describes the 1936 mural by Russian emigre Victor Arnautoff as a 13-panel fresco that shows, among other things, black slaves and an apparently dead Native American at George Washington's feet (the College Fix has a photo of that latter scene). "Rude and disrespectful," is how one student describes the mural to the San Francisco Chronicle; another tells NBC it causes "a lot of emotional stress."

The school board, which is set to decide what to do by the end of June, is mulling options on covering the "huge and complicated" mural, per a school district rep, though none will be cheap: Curtains will run about $375,000, while acoustic panels would cost $875,000 or so. Painting over the mural is also possible, but that would cost an estimated $600,000 and take about three years to complete. Not everyone is in favor of the potential cover-up. "Destroying or covering it would be an act of censorship and a blow to freedom of expression," one critic said at a Tuesday board meeting, while a woman who says she's part Native American noted "everything was whitewashed when I was going through school" and that she had "no problem" with the mural remaining. No school board members spoke out in support of keeping it. (Read more George Washington stories.)

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