A social justice mural has been set to replace a decaying U.S. flag mural at Forest Glen Park in Forest Grove, OR, causing outrage amongst residents of the city.
In June of 2020, Forest Grove Residents Seema Khatcherian and Karsen Buck submitted a proposal to the Forest Grove City Council for a social justice mural that portrayed imagery of diverse races, the American flag, the BIPOC flag, and multiple fists in varying skin tones. The words “Grow Together” were accompanied by a land acknowledgement to the Atfalati, Kalapuya, and Clatskanie people under the words “You are on Native land”. In October the mural design was amended by the city council to reduce the number of fists, change the wording of the land acknowledgement, and rectify the American flag to comply with U.S. flag code.
The mural has since been discussed at Parks and Recreation meetings, a Public Arts Commission (PAC) meeting, three City Council meetings, and multiple work sessions. Due to Covid-19 restrictions the meetings were online and open for the public’s viewing pleasure. Monday October 12th a Forest Grove City Council meeting with 30 minutes of allotted time to speak about the social justice mural ran over two and a half hours with constant conversation between council members.
“People don’t watch our programs, they don’t care,” said City Councilor Mariana Valenzuela. “But suddenly this mural comes up and everybody is sending emails, coming to talk, hearing the public testimonies.”
The mural also sparked a heated discussion on the Forest Grove Community Facebook group with one post receiving over 350 comments. Most of the heated comments expressed anger or discomfort over losing the American flag. Eventually the group’s moderators decided to remove inflammatory posts on the mural topic. City Recorder Anna Ruggles also received over 60 separate emails stating both support and opposition to the new artwork.
“We are huge fans of the flag and it doesn’t need to be replaced with some angry political BS,” said Forest Grove Resident Jennifer Cooper in an email to the city. “Leave the flag. I don’t want to raise kids in the neighborhood that has such a political mural.”
Some emails argued that the U.S. flag mural was already a symbol of inclusivity and freedom and that the imagery of fists in the new artwork was unwelcoming. The emails also expressed that the social justice mural had no place in Forest Grove. Other emails stated their pleasure with the new mural and said that it was time for change. Some
The original American flag mural was painted in 2015 by a Boy Scout troop and had since peeled and decayed naturally over its five year reign on the highly visible wall ball court in Forest Glen Park. Once vibrant, the red white and blue paint eventually began to reveal the grey wall beneath. Khatchrian and Buck started the removal process of the flag mural in early October, chipping away at the paint with a handful of volunteer community members and seeking to begin priming the wall by the end of October.
The new mural design was created by Portland Artist Jamaali Roberts as commissioned by Khatcherian and Buck. Unlike the murals that Roberts typically creates, this social justice design wouldn’t be painted by Roberts himself.
“One part of the mural that is special to me is that the community members get to paint it and are going to work with Karsen and Seema in order to redo the wall,” said Roberts. “Give it a facelift because it’s kind of an old crusty wall.”
Khatchrian and Buck also expressed their excitement over getting to work with the community and the importance of bringing conversation of diversity to Forest Grove. The project has received funding through a $500 PAC mini-grant, $300 from Pacific University’s Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion, and $200 from Students for Environmental Activism. Some enthusiastic Forest Grove residents have even donated art supplies such as scrapers, rollers, and even paint primer for the project.
“I would feel so welcome and so uplifted to see this artwork representing the diversity and strength of my community!” said Forest Grove Resident Jack Koran in an email to City Council. “I can’t wait to volunteer— co-creating some outdoor public art seems like a great opportunity to meet more of my neighbors while respecting social distancing guidelines.” — Rylee Skidmore
Photo: Community members help paint the new mural in Forest Grove