Fading mural safe for time being

A negelected but symbolic mural will remain — at least for now — at the Bernal Heights Library while the building is renovated.

Two sides of the painting on the 70-year-old library were recommended to be painted over, but community members stepped in to convince officials to leave the entire mural.

The mural has become a lightning rod issue in a neighborhood that some say is becoming less and less diverse. It depicts black and Latino children and important historical figures of several
races.

The mural was commissioned by The City in 1980 and painted by the late muralist Arch Williams with help from children and the community. But the painting has deteriorated over the years, and two of the three sides were recommended to be painted over while the library was undergoing a major renovation paid for with voter-approved bond money.

In August, the Library Commission said the Cortland Avenue side of the mural was in the best shape and should be preserved. The eastern and southern sides, however, were more faded and planned to be removed. Those recommendations were later endorsed by the Visual Arts Committee.

The idea of removing any of the mural set off a fierce debate in the community. Some neighbors wanted the mural fully removed and the library restored to its original historical state, while others feel it is an important piece of artwork to preserve in the neighborhood.

The last decision about removal or preservation rested with the Arts Commission. In the week before that meeting, proponents of the mural — led by community organizer Mauricio Vela — launched a last-ditch effort to save the mural, and neighborhood residents made dozens of calls to the mayor, city officials and supervisors.

Those efforts appear to have paid off. At the request of Supervisor David Campos, the Arts Commission has postponed any decision on the 29-year-old mural.

At the last moment, Campos stepped in and asked the commission to postpone its vote.

“There have been a number of concerns about the process not being as inclusive or transparent as possible,” he said. “The main thing for me is whatever the result, that it’s a process that’s inclusive and transparent.”

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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