The removal of a mural from the walls of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) has caused some contention on social media.
A recent Facebook post by the former chair of the MVRHS history department and founder of the Martha’s Vineyard African American Heritage Trail, Elaine Weintraub, said the removal of the mural is the “second phase of eliminating African American Heritage Trail murals,” referring to an unrelated incident that occurred in 2017. In that case, history teacher Andrew Vandall went into the school after hours and painted over murals without permission of the administration. He was suspended for the first part of the 2017–18 school year.
But school officials say the claims made by Weintraub that the school is intentionally obscuring or trivializing the heritage of African Americans here on the Vineyard are unfounded. “We alerted the heritage trail last week that this mural was going to be taken down,” Dhakir Warren, administrator of student affairs, said. “This is not an attempt to wash away the culture of African Americans here on this Island.”
Warren said the NAACP was notified ahead of time that the mural was going to be removed, and a new mural depicting the Harlem Renaissance has been put up, titled “Song of the Towers.”
The mural was painted last year at the Evening of the Arts by MVRHS students, parents, and community members.
“It’s unfortunate that this person took pictures and wanted to start controversy on social media. It is now no longer an issue of murals being removed, and more of a personal grudge against the school,” Warren said.
Weintraub left the school amid controversy in June 2017. She claimed that she was being bullied by administrators. When she returned from a medical leave, she retired.
Warren suggested that the only reason murals are removed from MVRHS walls is for them to be photographed, preserved, and to make room for more art.
The mural that was removed was a 2002 map of the Island titled “African-American Heritage Trail,” by Brooke Emin and Lauraye White, naming a dozen or so important historical sites around the Island.
Warren said the school is trying to shift toward installing murals on canvas and wood in order to easily move works of art around the building.
MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy said they removed the mural “in order to put up high-quality student-generated art.”
“Our effort is to continue to fill the school with current, contemporary art. A lot of this content that we put up is what students have asked for directly,” Dingledy said.
Weintraub said she wonders why the school needs to remove artwork from walls when there is “plenty of unused wall space.”
“The school is full of blank white walls — there is plenty of space for murals,” Weintraub said.
Weintraub said she understands the mural is going to be replaced, but suggested utilizing unoccupied wall space instead.
“We need to focus on preserving these stories, because once they are lost, they are lost forever,” Weintraub said. “As a historian, this is absolutely essential.”
Warren said the school is making sure to document and preserve all murals that are taken down.
Weintraub said, “It’s not enough.” “For students to walk down the hallway and see the history of their own community is essential,” she said.
Dingledy reiterated Warren’s point that the school is not looking to diminish the culture of African Americans here on the Island, but to embrace it. “We want to allow students to showcase their work they have created and curated by themselves each year,” Dingledy said.
Updated to correct the title of the mural that was removed. – Ed.