Mural taken down from MVRHS wall

School says removal of art seeks to make room for new creations.

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The new mural that was put up is called "The Song of the Towers." — Courtesy Dhakir Warren

Updated 9/23

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.

19 COMMENTS

  1. It is a shame there is such an abject shortage of wall space at the present building that it is fully unable to accommodate the addition of a single new mural.
    And of course what better target to remove than the well researched history of The African Trail?
    Let’s hope the new high school , if ever approved, has walls incorporated into its design.

    • They removed a bunch of artwork. This mural wasn’t singled out. It’s just being portrayed that way because then the removal looks pointed. And I believe it was in the 500s wing, where there is a limited amount of wall space for large works. They tend to keep the artwork approximately in the wing that pertains to its subject matter. Example, the sports figures were near the gym. There used to be a great mural incorporating scenes from plays near the performing arts center. So they chose to take down one history-related mural and put up a different one that both students and their parents helped creat and which honors black history. Only on MV would this be cause for outrage. Current students have just as much right to have their work displayed. There is no story here.

  2. Why was there some expectation that a mural painted directly on a wall would be permanent when school murals have always been removed eventually? I helped a friend paint something back in my school days there, and it has long since been removed. I’m shockingly okay with that. Chris Baer wrote a reasonable explanation for this under the Facebook post by Weintraub in question, and there are people calling for school officials to be fired. Absurd. If you want your work preserved for eternity, paint it on canvas. As it is, the school went out of their way to document the mural by photographing it before its removal, so I really don’t see the problem. They are adding another piece of African American history, not erasing the culture. Elaine Weintraub does not work there, does not own the building nor the walls, and does not have the right to make decisions for the school. She chose to quit because she didn’t get her way, and now she will continue to make as much “look at me” noise as possible…

    • They replaced it with a repro of a famous painting by Aaron Douglas, from his series that was titled Aspects of Negro Life. Yep. Whitewashing. #mvlogic

  3. It has become plainly obvious that the school administration does need some sensitivity training, and maybe some courses specifically on cultural awareness and white privledge. Ms. Dingledy has on several occasions showed her professional ‘blindspots’ when dealing with students of color, and with culturally sensitive images, art, and curation of murals at MVRHS. The NAACP has the right to investigate, and the community is owed an explanation from MS. Dingledy, not Mr. Warren. This is another chance to hold the leaders of our schools accountable for their actions, even if a public apology, or more severely a dismissal is justified. Stay Woke!

    • You want to fire someone for breaking no laws and staying within established guidelines and practice? White privilege is thinking a mural that promotes one’s own work is more important than one done by a group of multi-ethnic students and approved of by faculty from different backgrounds. “Stay woke” = willfully ignore the facts of what was put up in its place and use all of the current buzzwords to ring a false alarm.

      • Aquinnah- Sounds like you may work at MVRHS, and are defending Ms. Dingledy. THe Map of the ISland, and the African American Trail is part of the island history, and shows students more aabout an island they are learning about. The new painting from the Harlem Ren, is supportive of Black culture, but the old mural was important as it tells “our” history of islanders. Ms. Dingledy should have understood that. Ms. Shoquist is the Art Director for the school, maybe she should be contacted to explain as well?

        • I don’t work for MVRHS or the school system, and I’m not connected to anyone who does. I just feel strongly that employees being taken to task over this is unfair. Even by Island standards. Mr. Baer, for example, is a wonderful teacher, not to mention one of the best visual historians around. I’ve enjoyed the vintage photos he’s shared over the years and trust that he and the rest of the staff have no plans to eliminate Island history or multiculturalism. And yet he was told on Facebook that his perfectly respectful, logical explanation for why this was done is an excuse. Never mind that it’s entirely in keeping with what has been done over a period of decades. The implication of “excuse” is that there is some nefarious, unstated agenda at work. I don’t see evidence for that. Again, eventually changing up all school displays is standard, not personal. It did not start with Weintraub’s projects, nor will it end with them. Why take a victimized stance or act entitled? A school isn’t a museum. The purpose of displaying student artwork is to give the current group a chance at showcasing their talents, not to play old favorites. This change should’ve been a positive thing for the community. It’s nice to know there are still kids and parents willing to collaborate on art, and the resulting work is beautiful. Yet it’s been turned into an ugly topic due to personal interest. How is that in keeping with being a champion for the kids or peace? Someone wants an exception made for *one* specific piece of work connected to her own outside gig. Conflict of interest. After all, no one is questioning or defending other artistic contributions from years gone by that were also removed.

          The local heritage of African Americans (and Native Americans) is valuable and should be taught. Of course. To my knowledge, no one has said or demonstrated otherwise. They’ve even stated several times that there is a plan to display the previous mural elsewhere. Personally, I don’t think that’s necessary, nor do I see the mural in question as uniquely informative. The sites and people mentioned on the map are what matter and need consideration, not the map itself. Teach kids about those figures in a more in-depth way. Take them to see Dorothy West’s home. Assign interesting research projects so they can discover the significance of this history in a self-led manner. Bring the map to life by letting them take the full tour of all landmarks. Introduce local novels. There are tons of ways to honor the legacy of African Americans on MV that go beyond an at—glance murals. And while it’s true the Harlem Renaissance piece is not local, my point was that it should put to rest any worry that “whitewashing” and racism were the goal for that space.

          Bringing out the pink-slip pitchforks is drastic. Yet Islanders leap in that direction with such ease and quickness, especially now that we have the ability to post one-sided gossip on social media. It gets people riled up over emotion instead of reason before the facts are even made public. That’s also a part of our history, and we keep repeating it instead of learning from it.

  4. Oh no Ms. Dingledy! I can see that one mistake in a while in dealing with culturally sensitive issues in your career… but not two in just two years. This is basically a repeat issue, how could you have misjudged this one again? Negligence I would say. Maybe it is time for a career change.

  5. Not a story, just a weintraub rant.
    Admin notified some people, they’re gonna paint something new, and the drama stops there.

  6. if they were going to cover this over with a mural of trump holding a swastika, I would have a real problem with it– but to cover it with another mural created by students depicting a ” Harlem Renaissance ” is part of education at it’s finest. I know Elaine is well intentioned, and she had a great run as an educator, my daughter was a student of her’s– thank you for your service, Elaine, but times they are a changing.. Take a deep breath, it will be ok.

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