Mural Imperative

"What really happened was that this was on the burner for a while," she notes. "We were going to do it after we talked to the kids and explained." Weisman goes on to point out that the school district's zone mechanic -- who oversees the school's custodians -- heard about the outside complaints and took matters into his own hands. "I was in a meeting, and by the time I came back it was done," Weisman recalls. "The zone mechanic thought he was doing us a favor."

Back in the classrooms, the children are still waiting for their explanation. "How would you feel if you spent a month doing a mural and somebody came and took it down?" asks Rozalie Petit-Frere, age thirteen.

"When they painted the murals over it was like getting slapped in the face," says John L. Sullivan, a talented twelve-year-old who plans on becoming a professional artist. "The school was a lot prettier with the murals. And it feels good when you're painting and somebody comes over and says, 'Good job.'"

The young artists find the idea that their paintings were somehow inappropriate for their age group ridiculous. "In today's society nothing is kept a secret," asserts thirteen-year-old Jonathan Goldman. "There are kindergartners who know about this stuff. In the streets you see [guns and drugs] in a bad way. In the murals you saw it in a good way. Now we're just left with the bad way."

The students claim that the murals actually reduced violence at the school. "When I see a mural like that it calms me down," says Eric Otera, who was beaten up on the grounds of Horace Mann last year by a group of boys who broke his ankle with a baseball bat. "There have been less fights here than last year. I see no bad messages. What? That guns are no good? The Constitution says that you have the right to freedom of speech, but I don't see that happening here."

Unaware of the situation at the school until informed by New Times, magnet program director Lilia Garcia says, "People criticized Michelangelo's work too, but that's no reason to destroy it. We have murals all over the [Dade County] schools. This doesn't sound right to me. I don't understand what happened."

Principal Weisman says that, in the future, student murals will be painted on canvas and then hung on the walls so that they never have to be destroyed. As for the lost paintings, she expresses the hope that the students will learn something from the experience. "I find that kids are really resilient and school mirrors life," she notes. "You can take this as a wonderful consensus-building lesson. Next time they can get parents to be the judges and have more community input into the murals.

"We live in a political world," she continues. "I think art is extremely important, and artists throughout centuries have dealt with criticism of their projects. You want them to know that sometimes this is the reality.

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