For months artist Andrew Morrison has been expressing outrage about the Seattle School District’s plans for its Native American program and a number of stunning murals Morrison painted on the buildings that are the program’s current home. The district has said it wants to tear the dilapidated buildings down, casting doubt about the future of both the program and the murals.
Opposition to that plan drew what Morrison says were a couple of hundred of protesters outside district headquarters on May 15, shouting slogans and waving signs. “I was one of the loudest people,” Morrison says. “It was a shape shifting moment,” he says, but not because it stoked his anger, at you might expect. Rather, it did the opposite.
On Monday, Morrison sent an e-mail to district Superintendent José Banda. “I offer a truce,” the e-mail began. He offered to paint two new murals at the Wilson Pacific campus in north Seattle, the historic site of the district’s Indian Heritage Middle College, which is a high school. One mural would be of Geronimo and one of Sitting Bull.
“I will cover all the cost of the materials and supplies,” added Morrison, who promised to complete the murals within 30 days.
What caused Morrison’s turnaround? Speaking to Seattle Weekly, the artist says he was chagrined by the animosity on display at the rally—specifically signs many held reading “No Way Jose” and chants of the same. At the time, he says, he didn’t realize that the slogan could be taken as an ethnic slur directed at Banda’s Hispanic heritage, which is why Morrison says he himself waved such a sign “religiously.”
After the rally, however, he started getting a flood of angry e-mails accusing him of anti-Hispanic racism. He says he holds no such sentiments and is part Mexican himself, as well as Native American. Nevertheless, he says, “I want to make things right.” Hence his outreach to Banda with what he calls a “peace gesture.”
Banda called the artist the next day to suggest a meeting, according to Morrison. The superintendent “looks forward to connecting with Mr. Morrison to talk about moving forward,” according to district spokesperson Teresa Wippel.
Whether Banda and Morrison will find common ground remains to be seen. The artist is proposing painting his murals on the current buildings at the Wilson Pacific site, and yet those are still slated to be torn down, according to Wippel. The district plans to build new schools at the site, so perhaps Morrison can paint new murals on them. But it’s still unknown whether those buildings will encompass the Indian Heritage school.
Banda had announced that the school’s students would be moving to space the district occupies at Northgate Mall, but after the rally sent out a letter saying that he wanted more input from the Native American community.