Since I’m in Augusta every week, I always thought a field trip of our Capital City would be in order. The historic waterfront along the Kennebec River seemed like a great place to start until last week, when our Department of Labor suddenly made national news.
Our governor, Paul LePage, announced last week his intention to remove a mural that depicts Maine’s labor history, this in response to complaints from “several business officials” (so far, unnamed) and to an anonymous fax to his office claiming that the mural reminded the sender of “Communist North Korea where they use these murals to brainwash the masses.”
I don’t typically use this space for any kind of political agenda, but today is an exception. This mural is historical, not political. More than that, it’s ours. The whole idea of having art in public places is that it’s there for all of us. There’s no entrance fee, no velvet rope to cordon off a particular sculpture, no docent telling you to move back from the painting. It’s the kind of art that lives among us. It’s special, but not precious. Whether you go to the library or your town office or city hall, or even out in the parks and streets, our public art is part of our collective daily lives, and it ought to stay put.
At any rate, I wanted to see the mural before it was hauled away to god-knows-where. The Department of Labor is just a couple miles away from UMA, so off I went, camera in hand.
Too late…it’s gone.
All that remains is bare walls. While I was there, a worker came in and ran his hand over the walls to see if the spackle was dry. Apparently the mural was taken down over the weekend, not even a week after the governor made his announcement.
The Public Service Coordinator told me there had been crowds of people coming through to view the mural the previous week. He gave me one of the last copies of a booklet about the mural and the artist, Judy Taylor. At the counter was a printout of a local news article saying the mural may end up in Portland City Hall, but at the moment, it’s not clear what will come of it.
Yes, there’s something very wrong about viewing a mural on a small computer screen. And there’s something very wrong about taking art away from the people.