Mural proposed for library wall sparks debate at City Hall

Community members are divided on whether an exterior wall of the Lawrence Public Library should be the site of a new mural.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously to receive a proposal for the mural, which depicts stories of local women of color. The team leading the project, Womxn of Color, initially proposed that the mural be painted on the parking garage next to the library, but said that there are technical issues with that surface and that they would like to see the mural on the library itself.

However, fundraising groups associated with the library have stated they support the project’s concept, but do not want to alter the library.

Connie Fiorella-Fitzpatrick, one of the project’s lead artists, told the Journal-World that the group wants the mural to be a part of a building that is a civic space. She said she thinks those opposed to the idea don’t understand the historical significance of adding a mural depicting stories of women of color to the library.

“We were extremely excited to be painting on the Lawrence Public Library because we wanted our mural to be a monumental mural to the City of Lawrence, and to be part of a building that is a civic space,” Fiorella-Fitzpatrick said. “(A space) that keeps histories, literature and that people of all walks of life are welcomed in.”

The team collected stories of historical and present-day women of color in Lawrence to create the mural design. The proposal is now for the mural to be painted on the lower concrete portion of the southwest corner of the library. Because the city owns the library, the commission had to provide permission for the review process to proceed. The project will now go to the Cultural Arts Commission and the Historic Resources Commission for consideration. The recommendations from those boards will then return to the City Commission, which will make the ultimate decision.

Organizations related to the library had mixed opinions about where the mural should go. The library’s board released a letter stating that it supports the concept of the project and that it is open to the proposed location on the library itself, but independent fundraising groups associated with the library indicated that their preference was for the mural to be painted on the library garage, as originally proposed by the artists.

The Friends of the Lawrence Public Library and the Lawrence Public Library Foundation, which are independent nonprofit fundraising organizations for the library, jointly submitted a letter to the commission. The letter states that the groups heard from a number of library supporters and donors who were concerned about the placement of the mural on the library building. The letter states that the Friends group and the foundation are willing to participate in or support fundraising for panels or surface priming so that the mural can be painted on the parking garage wall.

Dozens of supporters of the mural attended the City Commission meeting Tuesday, some of whom were upset about opposition to the mural being on the library itself. The commission heard about an hour of public comment, with some commenters likening that position with marginalization of people of color. Lawrence resident Jameelah Jones spoke in support of the mural being on the library, and said the issue is about race and social justice.

“I’m not afraid to say that, because power and control are not colorblind,” Jones said. “… When other folks who have a lot more money and a lot less pigmentation decide they want something to happen, it happens.”

Lawrence Public Library Foundation Executive Director Kathleen Morgan later emphasized to the Journal-World that there is widespread support for the project, but that the only disagreement was the placement. The library underwent a $19 million renovation a few years ago, and Morgan noted that some of the donors and supporters of the library worked for many years to help bring that renovation about. She said the desire to have the mural on the parking garage was not about the content of the mural, and it was not meant to be disrespectful.

“It was not at all the mural itself, it was just any change to the building was just something they were concerned about,” Morgan said. She added that she thinks reading other motives into that position is unfair.

Library Executive Director Brad Allen said it was also his understanding that those who want the mural on the parking garage are only opposed to altering the library building. Allen, who at the meeting Tuesday reiterated the board’s openness to having the mural on the library, said that the project has powerful meaning and he wants to see community resolution on the topic. Allen also said he understands that the city, as owner of the building, will have the final say.

Before voting to receive the proposal and move it through the review process, commissioners expressed support for the mural’s concept and concern for some of the sentiments shared during public comment. Mayor Stuart Boley said he wants everyone to be welcome and feel at home in the city’s library.

The City Commission is scheduled to review the final mural proposal on July 10.

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