Library mural proposal draws criticism
A proposal for a new mural on the western wall of the Porterville City Library drew criticism from a few during a special meeting Monday night.
The proposal was presented by representatives of WildPlaces, a Springville-based nonprofit organization, and three Burton Pathways Charter High School students to the Porterville Library and Literacy Commission and the Porterville Arts Commission for consideration.
Last year, WildPlaces was the recipient of a $10,000 Tulare County Step Up Youth Activities Grant — a program designed to fund projects that target the involvement of youth who are gang-affiliated or are gang-exposed. As part of the organization’s grant application, writers proposed to work with students living in District Five. Currently the group is made up of approximately 35 students, many from Burton Pathways Charter High School.
The mural would come at no cost to the library, as would its maintenance, WildPlaces representatives told commissioners.
Monday night’s draft proposal, presented in black and white, depicted a watershed with the Sierra Nevada and Sequoia National Forest as a backdrop. Along the currents of the Tule River were several raised human fists, one clenching a book, another a carrot, and another a paint brush. A few fists weren’t clenching anything.
One commissioner noted the carrot in the fist resembled a weapon.
“Knowing my students as I know them, this looks to me like a weapon, like a knife, and I’m sure there are other root vegetables that can be used in place of that carrot,” he said.
Other commissioners agreed and even suggested replacing the carrot with perhaps a bunch of grapes or a bundle of wheat.
Council member Greg Shelton, who walked in after the presentation, said he had trouble understanding the clenched fists.
“Here’s the problem, artists and regular folk like me don’t think on the same political plane. If I have to have art explained to me, then you lost 75 percent of the audience,” Shelton said. “When I see this it looks like a political statement.”
Library commission member Allan Bailey said Shelton more or less articulated the question he had.
“I can look at this and the fist is a powerful image and specifically a raised fist...I’d just be curious to hear what the idea is behind that,” he said.
Brian De La Cerda, program coordinator with WildPlaces, explained.
“What we’re empowering our youth with is health, literacy and creativity but none of that can happen without the source — water, and humans cannot exist without that water. So that’s where the human aspect of the hand comes in because the human is the catalyst of change,” De La Cerda said. “Universally, there seems to be a negative connotation to a fist...this is my interpretation: there’s a fight that we’ve been talking about which is purely through non-violence. We’re working with youth who are affiliated with gangs and so we can redefine what this image means throughout the community.”
Carlos Gomez, WildPlaces program manager, said he thought the commissioner’s recommendations were “heartfelt,” and on Tuesday, said the team was already making the changes as requested.
As for Shelton’s comments,
“To be honest, I’m not interested in politics, I’m interested in providing a wholesome opportunity for students to express themselves and have something they can call their own,” Gomez said.
He said some of the students were taken aback by the meeting.
“They said, ‘We’re trying to do something good for the community and people are being negative about it,’” Gomez said. He added that the experience served as an opportunity for students to learn about the process of proposing a project to the city.
Due to a lack of quorum on behalf of the Porterville Arts Commission, and because the commission asked for several modifications, the matter will be considered at another special meeting to take place at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 7 in the Local History Room on the second floor of the library, 41 W. Thurman Ave.
Contact Denise Madrid at 784-5000, Ext. 1047. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseMadrid_.