PARK SLOPE, BROOKLYN – Families at a school in Park Slope where a mural celebrating diversity was removed earlier this year will not rest until the student artwork is returned – and the directors behind its removal are held accountable.
The growing group, which launched a Mural justice project In defense of his demands, this week called for a public apology from the two directors and District 15 superintendent Anita Skop, who removed the mural from the PS 295 cafeteria over the summer.
The pullout – prompted by concerns about the artwork’s “inclusiveness”, which included messages such as “Black Trans Lives Matter” and images of multiracial hands clasped together – was the last straw in what the staff and parents say it is a problematic culture in school leadership.
“This secret removal from the mural is representative of the lack of respect and endemic mistreatment in our schools, in particular [for] those who are people of color or members of LGBTQ + communities, “said Elton Dodson, one of the parents leading the project, on Wednesday.
“We are prepared to take all reasonable steps to hold top-to-bottom accountability for the removal of the murals, to get the reforms we desperately need, and to create the fairness necessary for all students to excel.” “
Wednesday’s town hall comes weeks after the Mural Justice Project first launched a Fundraising aimed to sell t-shirts and masks featuring the destroyed artwork, which were created by six fifth-graders as part of a program with local arts organization Groundswell last year.
The students, many of whom spoke at town hall, spent 14 weeks exploring the question “What future do we want to create?” while discovering the power of murals, mutual aid and social justice, according to lead artist Lexy Ho-Tai.
The mural was finally installed in July, but removed within days due to concerns from PS 295 principal Lisa Pagano and principal Frank Giordano of New Voices Middle School, which shares a building with PS 295, according to staff. The withdrawal was supported by Skop, the staff said.
Among the concerns were the replacement of the “Black Trans Lives Matter” message with a more generalized sentiment like “Hate has no home here” and the fact that the mural was generally “not inclusive enough,” said Joan Radigan, a staff member who was on a texting channel with administrators the day the mural was erected.
“It wasn’t a matter of protocol, it was a matter of content,” Radigan said.
The controversy surrounding the removal of the mural has been going on for months, including a battle chalked protest messages on the sidewalk outside the school that were recently greeted with “All Lives Matter” and other graffiti.
Families and staff said on Wednesday that the culture – which had led some teachers to join the meeting for fear of reprisal – proved the need for more drastic measures than simply replacing the mural.
Among their demands are an investigation into what happened, a change of leadership in schools and professional development surrounding anti-racist and anti-prejudice education.
The demands were supported by council member Carlos Menchaca, who said on Wednesday that he and other elected officials in the appeal would write a “letter of solidarity” to send to school and city leaders.
“I believe in the power of art and especially when you give young people the opportunity to express themselves – that’s what we’re talking about – and that art has been destroyed,” Menchaca said. “… The demands have been clearly expressed.”