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Pullman City Council delays decision on Black Lives Matter mural as multiple art commissioners resign

UPDATED: Wed., March 10, 2021

The Pullman City Council delayed action Tuesday on approving this proposed “End Racism Now – Black Lives Matter” mural.  (Pullman City Council agenda packet)
The Pullman City Council delayed action Tuesday on approving this proposed “End Racism Now – Black Lives Matter” mural. (Pullman City Council agenda packet)
By Ryan Blake For The Spokesman-Review

Nearly half of the members of the Pullman Arts Commission have resigned as the city chose to table a “Black Lives Matter” mural.

The Pullman City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to create a subcommittee to re-evaluate and clarify the objectives of an anti-racism mural project.

The decision delayed a vote on a proposed mural design that would read “End Racism Now – Black Lives Matter.” The design had been selected by the Pullman Arts Commission, the body committee tasked with delivering a recommendation to the council.

Councilwoman Eileen Macoll said there was confusion among residents on the design selection process.

Macoll said the Arts Commission request for public comment asked people to “vote” on their favorite design, which led many to feel as if it was a popular election and created a general sense of frustration.

“We have never put together a large art installation that has an overt message,” Macoll told the council. “We have to be very sure that we are being fair, and to be fair we have to have very clear policies and procedures.”

The council vote Tuesday effectively resets the project to the beginning. The mural was first proposed in July by a local Black Lives Matter group as a show of support for the movement. The City Council eventually approved the idea under the theme “End Racism Now” and directed the Arts Commission to recommend a design for the mural.

Council members Brandon Chapman and Dan Records both voted against the motion on Tuesday, and each said they were ready to move forward with the current design recommended by the Arts Commission.

Pullman Arts Commission Chair Jeri Harris and members Katie Bunch Emerson and Gail Siegel each resigned in the last week. The arts panel is made up of seven members and serves in an advisory role to the Pullman City Council.

Bunch Emerson said in an interview she had grown increasingly frustrated with the mural process. She said the City Council was unclear in its directions from the beginning and was indecisive throughout.

“I believe that they’ve done everything possible to delay the project and divert the attention off of the fact that they’re not ready to support a Black Lives Matter mural,” she said. “They could have had this project done months ago.”

She said some council members did not respect the Arts Commission’s input, and she accused the council of stalling the project to avoid a vote on Black Lives Matter.

Bunch Emerson said a project of such magnitude should not have been left to the Arts Commission in the first place.

“A statement piece for the city should be determined by elected officials since it is something that is of great significance and importance,” she wrote in her letter of resignation. “This never should’ve even gotten to us. The fact that it did shows that you all aren’t taking it as serious as you should.”

The Arts Commission received seven submissions from local artists, though two were later rescinded. The commission determined through public feedback the most popular design to be one that read “End Racism Now – Black Lives Matter.”

The City Council’s newly created three-member subcommittee, which includes Records, Macoll and Councilwoman Pat Wright, will return to the full council with new project objectives and procedures on March 9.

The mural is entirely funded through donations. A location has not been approved, though the Arts Commission recommends the city-owned retaining wall near Spring Street and East Main Street.

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