Knight Library Murals (University of Oregon)

From Censorpedia


Artist: Arthur and Albert Runquist

Year: 2017

Date of Action: February 2020

Region: North America

Location: Eugene, Oregon

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Public Art

Confronting Bodies: University of Oregon

Description of Artwork: Knight Library opened at the University of Oregon in 1937 as a monument to the WPA public works program in the Depression-Era (as this program sponsored the constructio nof this building). The building is recognized as epitomizing a display of integrated design and is thus included in the National Register of Historic Places as of 1990.The murals which sparked controversy are Arthur and Albert Runquist's "The Development of Art" and "The Development of Science," which contains eight vignettes that present a racist hierarchal structure linked to biased ideals of race and civilization of the 19th century. The artists were brothers and University of Oregon graduates, associated with "progressive" politics. Additionally, the mural titled "The Mission of the University," which resembles a medieval manuscript but details the language of a 1909 speech by Frederick Young, a University Sociology professor; in the speech, Young stated: “From now on it must be a climb if our nation is to hold its position among the nations of the Earth. It means conservation and betterment not merely of our national resources but also of our racial heritage and of opportunity to the lowliest.”

The Incident: University of Oregon students protested three murals that were installed in the library's east and west stairwells when the library opened in 1937. Student protests began in 2017, with a petition -- which gained over 1,750 student advocates -- filed in November 2017 calling for the University's removal of the mural "The Mission of the University." In February 2017, the Knight Library Public Task Force was created to educate the University of Oregon community about the history of the building as well as information about how to respond to the building's controversial art while respecting first amendment-protected free expression.

Results of Incident: With regard to "The Mission of the University," librarians cleaned the mural, removingthe red paint, and posted a placard adjacent to the mural which recognizing the defacement with a written statement and a photo documenting the act. The murals were covered with aluminum panels in September 2020, the cost of which came to approximately $30,000.00.

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