Does Destroying Art Make Lives Better?

The New Deal art murals created by the WPA Federal Art Project of 1935 depicting the slaughter of native American Indians and our nation’s leaders supervising slaves are uncomfortable truths that cannot be erased by painting over them.

I don’t pretend to have answers to complex social issues, but I believe destroying art that illustrates our history is wrong. We cannot revise history; we must own it – all of it, in order to create change.

Can’t art teach about the brutality of an economy built on the backs of slaves and our government’s abuse of native American Indians?

After the rhetoric about removing a civil war piece, and tallying the cost dies down, we pat ourselves on the back for our altruistic gesture and nothing changes.

But, did it make a difference in the daily lives of people of color?

Ask the mother whose son who was shot because the color of his skin made him suspect if removal of art created change in her underserved neighborhood.

Isn’t it possible that a working mom who depends on inadequate public transportation to get to her low wage job might be better served by having the cost of removal applied toward economic development in her neighborhood?

The current leadership at the national and state level demonstrate little to no interest or involvement in any positive social agenda other than self-interest.

Where does it end? Removing art is nothing more than lip service and a step toward a dystopian culture.


  1. I think it depends on the stance the art is visibly intended to convey. If it’s supporting or glorifying past atrocities, then that shouldn’t continue to exist under government auspices; it would be in the same category as all those “Confederate monuments” which were put up 50 years after the Civil War for the sole real purpose of insulting black people, and are now rightly being torn down. If the art merely depicts slavery and the Indian genocide, then it’s a valuable part of preserving historical memory. With respect to the Holocaust, we always speak of the importance of never forgetting, and that means preserving reminders of it, however horrific they are. This seems to be the same principle.


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