Controversial Mural Ends Its Run
After being the center of controversy for more than a decade, the Land Run Mural on the University of Central Oklahoma’s Communication Building was painted over last Tuesday with no replacement currently planned.
Edmond-based Palmer Studios oversaw the removal of the mural, with much of the work being done by the agency’s founder and the mural’s original artist, Bob Palmer. While the university has been exploring the possibility of replacing the mural with a more culturally representative work, a final decision on a replacement has yet to be made.
“There is no immediate plan to replace it with another mural but, in the meantime, we will be creating a university-wide committee that will provide oversight of future proposals for murals and other kinds of art on the campus,” said UCO Provost John Barthell.
Removal of the current mural was overseen by a campus-wide committee that included students, faculty and staff, as well as Palmer. While the committee originally hoped to decide on a replacement by last spring, co-chair Lindsey Churchill said she was proud of the work the committee had accomplished over the last year.
“I think the process has been a great example of shared governance,” Churchill said. “We worked in faculty senate and passed a resolution about the mural, held forums to get feedback from the community and worked with the artist, Bob Palmer.”
Discussion of replacing the mural had began in January, with the goal being painting a new work prior to the National Conference of Undergraduate Research that came to UCO in April. Due to concerns from the student body that there was insufficient time for input on what direction the new mural would take, the replacement process stalled midway through the spring semester.
“I think the process of mural selection should be about proper representation and choosing to celebrate something that doesn’t have negativity associated with it,” said Savannah Waters, a graduate student on the mural committee.
As president of Native American Student Association and Miss Native American 2016-17, Waters led the previous discussion on campus surrounding replacing the mural. Depicting a rush of wagons and cowboys during the 1889 Oklahoma Land Run, the 10 foot tall and 107 foot wide mural generated concern in the Native American community for romanticizing an event that forced many Native Americans from their land.
“The mural depicted a history that was one sided, as history is often presented, and that’s why it was hurtful, because this one side did not represent what UCO is as a school,” said NASA President Savannah Anderson.
The student organization has hosted several events and forums over the last year that have not only focused on putting the Land Run in context, but Native Americans within historical and contemporary context as well.
A discussion spearheaded by the organization for more than a decade, Anderson said that while the removal of mural is a major step in accurately representing diversity and Native American culture on campus, there is significantly more to be done to address representation on campus.
“I would really love to see programs and classes that focus on not only Native history, but Native Americans in contemporary society,” Anderson said. “We aren’t just the feather and buckskin wearing people that you see when you Google ‘Native Americans.’”
Funded through a $3,500 donation made by former university student Mac Maguire to the Donna Nigh Art Gallery, the mural was commissioned by former UCO President George Nigh in 1993.
While Palmer said he had no comment on the mural’s replacement, he previously had said that the mural had reached the end of its lifespan and that he supported the idea of either removing or replacing the work.
The College of Fine Arts and Design is expected to spearhead the discussion on the next mural, as well as any other subsequent works on campus.