San Diego Elementary School Mural

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Date: 1989

Region: North America

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Public Art


Artist: Artist Ken Keegan and students

Confronting Bodies: Ericson Elementary School

Dates of Action: October 1989

Location: San Diego, California

Description of Artwork: A mural painted by Keegan and students outside of the elementary school on a wall around a gateway. The mural depicted children with books leading in an never-ending staircase into the sky. On each book spine was the title of a book that had once been banned.

The Incident: Keegan and Ericson students painted a mural that had been approved by then-principal Stewart Brown. After getting approval however, Keegan decided to paint the titles of once-banned books on the stairway, according to district officials. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Ulysses by James Joyce and the Bibles were included -- all books that had once been labeled violent or obscene or unfit for minors in various jurisdictions. "Those titles were not approved by the principal," said Dianne Bess, assistant to district fine arts director Kay Wagner. "The Principal was upset and asked that the titles be removed. (Keegan) refused." Another artist was hired to obliterate the book titles. Now the stack of books to the stars is nameless.

Results of Incident: By painting over the titles the district violated state law," Lewis Gillooly, Keegan's attorney, said. "That law, embodied in the Art Preservation Act, says the owner of a work of fine art is not permitted to alter, mutilate, deface, or change it without the artist's consent. The questions then asked were: Is it fine art?, Who owns the painting?, and What were the conditions of hire? The book titles were painted over by another artist. Keegan spent over two years involved in the judicial process resulting in the mural being judged as school property.

Source: The San Diego Union and Keegan