UCO Mural Runs Its Course
Painted in 1994, 105 years after the Land Run, the mural on the outside south wall of the Communications Building is set to be removed this spring following controversy over the nature of the Land Run. (Vista Archives)
After more than a decade of controversy, the Land Run mural painted on the University of Central Oklahoma’s Communications Building will be replaced with a more inclusive work later this semester.
The announcement came as unexpected news during the Native American Student Association’s Spring Semester Kickoff celebration.
“We are excited to announce that in several months, the Land Run mural will be removed and repainted with something that is representative of the UCO students on campus in a positive way,” said Savannah Anderson, public relations chair for NASA.
Commemorating the Oklahoma Land Run of 1989, the mural is an especially contentious topic for the university’s Native American community for its celebration of a time when Native Americans were forced from their lands to accommodate incoming settlers.
Depicting a rush of wagons, cowboys and a photographer, the 10 foot tall and 107 foot wide mural portrays nothing of the Native American perspective, an oversight that Anderson said is unacceptable for UCO’s inclusive campus.
“The main focus of the new mural will be the cultural diversity that is represented here on campus instead of just focusing on one perspective, which is one of the reasons the Land Run mural is so bad,” Anderson said.
Awareness for the historical context of the mural has been a central focus for NASA in recent years, building on the organization’s mission to educate the community on issues related to the Native American community.
Last spring, the organization hosted an open forum to discuss both the history and future of the mural. In November, they held a discussion on the negative impact the Land Run had on Native Americans.
“Many times underserved communities don’t see themselves reflected in the story of our country in a way that shares the full detail and their full experiences, nor in a way that will allow us to better understand the current ramifications of history and the resulting feelings, emotions and societal challenges,” said MeShawn Conley, director of UCO’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
In 1994, former UCO art professor Robert Palmer and several UCO art students began painting the mural on the 105th anniversary of the Land Run.
Funded through a $3,500 donation made by former university student Mac Maguire to the Donna Nigh Art Gallery, former UCO President George Nigh asked Palmer to create the work after seeing several other large murals he had painted near campus and in downtown Oklahoma City.
While the mural became a subject of debate shortly after its completion, Palmer said most of the initial conflict stemmed from a perceived lack of consultation prior to it’s creation as well as some objections to the mural’s content.
“George was a bit of a historian and since UCO was a territory school, he wanted something that captured that connection,” Palmer said. “Some of those first complaints had to do with the fact that the mural just seemed to appear out of nowhere one day. I think some of the Communication faculty didn’t even know it was going on, but that’s kind of how George ran things.”
Palmer said he did not begin to hear about concerns over the mural within the Native American community until about ten years ago, when he heard that NASA found the Land Run’s history offensive.
But now that the mural approaches its 24th year on campus, Palmer said the mural’s age and weathered appearance makes it a candidate for replacement with a fresh and more inclusive mural.
“Some murals have a certain lifespan largely depending on the surface to which they’ve been affixed, such as brick for this mural, and it is likely that this one has reached the end of its lifespan,” Palmer said.
Although discussions surrounding the mural’s replacement have been going on since the start of the controversy, Palmer was not approached by the university until last semester to work with the committee that was considering alternative artwork.
“No final design has been approved, but there is an active process underway to do so which includes faculty, staff, students and Dr. Palmer,” said UCO President Don Betz. “I anticipate that a final draft rendering will be presented for consideration and approval soon.”
No date has been set for the mural’s removal, but the committee is hoping to see the work finished by April. The process to remove the mural is expected to take several days and the new mural is anticipated to be completed within a week, according to Palmer.
Palmer is confirmed to be the primary artist for the new mural, which he said will likely again be a collaborative effort with current UCO art students.
The committee will be hosting a forum at 6 p.m. Jan. 30 in the Nigh University Center Ballrooms, where members of the campus community have been invited to share input on a new inclusive design for the artwork.
“The hope for the new mural is that it will be one that promotes inclusivity and not exclusivity,” Palmer said. “As murals have the potential to represent more than just the artist and be representative of the entire community, it is important to have as many voices and perspectives as possible involved in shaping this new design.”