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BART director wants to use funds from anti-immigrant ads to restore immigrant mural

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BART Director Bevan Dufty wants to put funds from a controversial anti-immigrant ad that ran through BART earlier this year toward the restoration of a mural celebrating immigrants at the 24th Street BART station. (Courtesy Calle 24 Latino Cultural District)

Controversial advertisements posted in BART stations earlier this year called immigrant tech workers “expensive, undeserving” and “expendable.”

Now a BART official wants to redirect the funds garnered from those ads to restore a mural celebrating immigrants that overlooks the 24th Street Mission BART station.

BART Board of Directors member Bevan Dufty told the San Francisco Examiner he plans to pitch his fellow directors on the proposal at this Thursday’s regular BART board meeting.

“It was a very anti-immigrant ad campaign,” Dufty said, but “the mural is exciting … it really tries to communicate that working class people built the BART system.”

When the anti-immigrant ads from the Washington D.C.-based group Progressives for Immigration Reform ran in March this year, the agency came under scrutiny on social media for airing anti-immigrant hate speech. However, BART could not decline to run the anti-immigrant ads based on its content due to free speech protections, the agency has previously said.

As a compromise Dufty initially proposed redirecting the $80,000 to BART’s Office of Civil Rights, a proposal that is now on the board’s public agenda. But he told the Examiner he will withdraw that request Thursday and “continue” the item to the next meeting, so he can instead redirect the funding towards the immigrant-supportive mural.

That mural was painted three years after the 24th street station opened, in 1975, by artists Michael Rios, Anthony Machado and Richard Montez, according to a funding proposal for the mural written by historians from the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District. The BART station sits at the edge of that district, which aims to preserve Latino culture in the neighborhood.

Rios also said it was among the first murals ever painted in The Mission, which is now famous for its plethora of murals.

Sitting along Taqueria El Farolito overlooking the 24th Street station, the mural depicts “working class people” holding up BART rails with their bare hands as a train runs above them. Rios, the muralist, told the historians “I wanted to show how the people of the neighborhood would shoulder the tax burden for the transit system.” Rios worked with San Francisco underground comics illustrator Robert Crumb, and with celebrated activist and artist Rene Yanez, who died at the end of May.

More than forty years after the mural was first painted, it is in disrepair and trees and other overgrowth block it from view, according to the muralists and the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District. Restoration of the mural is estimated at roughly $75,000 and would take just over a month, according to the cultural district, which is working in conjunction with muralists from Precita Eyes Muralists.

In February this year, Rios was named an artist emeritus of San Francisco by the Board of Supervisors, which called his art “iconic,” including his album cover work for Carlos Santana, and praised him for being a “fixture” of The City’s arts community and for his “soft-spoken gentle demeanor.”

Dufty was optimistic his fellow directors would approve his proposal to direct the funding to the mural.

“It’s a really powerful message I think.”

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