Prescott radio host fired over school mural flap
School reverses decision to lighten students' faces
A Prescott radio host embroiled in a controversy over a school mural is off the air, while the mural won't be subject to a whitewash order.
Steve Blair, who also holds a seat on the Prescott City Council, was let go from his talk radio show after drawing fire for his opposition to an environmental mural painted on an elementary school.
The "Go to Green" mural, based on the faces of children who attend the school, drew local criticism for featuring minority children.
The school district has reversed its request to lighten the faces of the students in the mural, after attracting national attention with the move.
"Shame on us if we can't say, 'We made a mistake and we're sorry,'" said Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Kevin Kapp on Saturday.
"From the very get-go, every time I drove by this beautiful mural, I got a wonderful feeling of pride and pleasure at the work these Mural Mice have done," said Kapp at a rally in front of the mural.
"Miller Valley made a mistake. When we asked them to lighten the mural, we made a mistake," said Miller Valley Elementary School Principal Jeff Lane.
The mural artists should "go back to the original intent, which is to absolutely celebrate Miller Valley Elementary School and its efforts to go green, as well as celebrate the four beautiful children on this mural," said Kapp.
"It is okay that this issue has become a major issue," said Kapp. "It's good for the town to stand up once in a while and take a look at itself, and this mural has done that."
With the loss of his radio spot, Blair may not hold the same opinion.
"It was defacing a public building, of a historic nature," Blair said when interviewed after losing his radio job.
"Nobody bothered to let the community know what that mural was supposed to depict, made it very difficult even to buy in on what the mission statement of that mural was supposed to be," said Blair.
"It was too big, too in your face, wrong place, wrong time," said Blair.
"It looked like a guy, in my opinion, a black guy, brown guy holding a stick, and flowers and stuff, what was it supposed to mean? If they say it means going green, what does that mean?"
R.E. Wall, director of Prescott's Downtown Mural Project, told USA Today that he and other artists heard slurs from passersby as they worked on the painting.
"We consistently, for two months, had people shouting racial slander from their cars," Wall said. "We had children painting with us, and here come these yells of (epithet for Blacks) and (epithet for Hispanics)."
He said principal Lane pressed him to make the children's faces appear happier and brighter.
Lane said in USA Today that he received only three complaints about the mural and that his request for a touch-up had nothing to do with political pressure. "We asked them to fix the shading on the children's faces," he said. "We were looking at it from an artistic view. Nothing at all to do with race."
Wall blames the controversy on comments by Blair on his local radio talk show, reports the Prescott Daily Courier.
On his May 21 show, for instance, Blair said, "I am not a racist individual, but I will tell you depicting a black guy in the middle of that mural, based upon who's president of the United States today and based upon the history of this community when I grew up, we had four black families - who I have been very good friends with for years - to depict the biggest picture on that building as a black person, I would have to ask the question, 'Why?'"
On Wednesday, Blair again emphasized that "I'm not a racist by any stretch of the imagination, but whenever people start talking about diversity, it's a word I can't stand."
Blair questions whether the mural is representative of Prescott, noting, "The focus doesn't need to be on what's different; the focus doesn't need to be on the minority all the time."
Blair said he has received a number of calls from long-time Prescott residents who ask, "Who authorized that graffiti on the wall?" He added: "What these people don't like is somebody forcing diversity down their throats."
The “Go on Green” mural covers two walls outside Miller Valley Elementary School, and it aims to advertise a campaign for environmentally friendly transportation. It features portraits of four children, and a Hispanic boy as the predominant figure.