Editorial: Mural debate veers off course

The desire by supporters of the Lawrence Public Library to accommodate a mural on the wall of the parking garage next to the library is appropriate and respectful. What isn’t appropriate is to portray that stance as racist or sexist.

The Lawrence City Commission voted last week to receive a proposal for the mural, which depicts stories of local women of color. The group leading the project, Womxn of Color, initially proposed that the mural be painted on the parking garage; however, the group now says there are technical issues with the garage wall surface. The group wants the mural on the library instead.

But the Friends of the Lawrence Public Library and the Lawrence Public Library Foundation, independent nonprofit fundraising organizations for the library, submitted a letter to the commission expressing concern about the placement of the mural on the building. The groups do not oppose the mural; rather, they are concerned about altering the $19 million building that opened in 2014. The groups said they are willing to participate in and support fundraising for panels or surface priming so that the mural can be painted on the parking garage.

So, the library supporters offered a reasonable compromise and offered financial support to help make it happen. In return, some at the City Commission meeting suggested members of the library groups were marginalizing people of color.

Connie Fiorella-Fitzpatrick, one of the project’s lead artists, said she thinks those opposed to a mural on the wall of the library building don’t understand the historical significance of adding a mural depicting stories of women of color to the library.

Lawrence resident Jameelah Jones suggested library supporters were trying to oppress mural supporters.

“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 said the desire to have the mural on the parking garage was simply about not altering the new library building.

“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.

Morgan is right. It’s certainly reasonable for supporters of the library to be concerned about placing a mural — any mural — on the exterior wall of the new building. It certainly doesn’t appear to have been designed to accommodate a mural and it’s inappropriate to try to force the mural there.

The proposed Womxn of Color mural has been embraced by the city, the public and library supporters. It’s a good idea. But the current location isn’t ideal. Rather than trying to make the location into an issue of race and justice, mural supporters should focus their energy on finding the right public space for the project.


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