Burlington Leaders Approve Task Force To Review Options For Controversial Mural

Mar 13, 2018

Following a quarrelsome debate Monday night, Burlington city councilors decided to create a task force to determine the next steps the city should take regarding a controversial downtown mural.

In 2005, the city of Burlington received federal funds to upgrade an alleyway between the Church Street Marketplace and its parking garage.  The initiatives included a 120 by 14-foot mural depicting the history of Burlington.  The artwork was installed in 2012 and was expected to be on display for about 10 years.  But some residents say the “Everyone Loves A Parade” mural does not depict the city’s minorities and new Americans. Some want it revised. Others want it removed.

During Monday’s city council meeting, artist, filmmaker and historian Doug Lazarus said the key problems with the mural are its historic deficiencies toward minorities.  “I am not in favor of the idea of taking the mural down in its entirety and replacing it. By the addition of probably a dozen or so figures the mural could be altered so that its statement would be inclusive of both historical material and a balance of the contribution of non-white Vermonters.”

The city council had asked City Attorney Eileen Blackwood to report on any legal ramifications of removal of the mural.  At Monday night’s meeting she noted a key question is who actually owns the mural.   “There is only a verbal agreement with the building owner and there was a draft agreement between the Church Street Marketplace Foundation and the artist. The foundation folks indicated that they believe that they had gifted or in some way given the mural to the city and therefore our conclusion is that the city essentially owns the mural. If there’s a decision to go forward we may want to get something in writing from for example the foundation to just verify that.”

Ward 7 Democrat/Progressive Councilor Ali Dieng is the only person of color on the city council and is among the critics of the artwork. He took the attorney to task for not clearly defining ownership of the mural.  “The city of Burlington owns the mural?”
Blackwood:  “We are telling you we believe that we own it but that we think we should take a step to make sure of that by getting some kind of release from the Foundation.”
Dieng:  “This is very critical for us to have the right information before we make any action.”
Acting City Council President Kurt Wright:  “Mr. Mayor.”
Mayor Miro Weinberger:  “It’s not a question of her securing the right information or not and I don’t appreciate the way in which the question was phrased or the statement was made.”

Dieng again came under fire during debate over the resolution offered by South District Democratic Councilor Joan Shannon that would create a task force to review options and assure an inclusive outcome.  Dieng felt immediate action should be taken.  "We are here trying to take the issue under the rug. I don’t think that’s fair.”
Wright:  “Councilor Shannon.”  
Shannon:   “I take great offense at the idea that the intention of this resolution is to sweep anything under the rug. In fact what this resolution will do is it’ll bring more people into the process.”   

Newly reelected Mayor Miro Weinberger hopes a task force would ease polarization over the issue.  “A task force will help the community move through what is currently quite polarizing and it is in no way from my perspective an effort to sweep anything under the rug. It is in fact the opposite: an effort to have a full discussion of what is currently a difficult issue.”

The resolution creating a seven-member mural task force passed 9 to 1 with two councilors absent.

Audio from the Burlington City Council meeting is courtesy of Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.