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Lingering controversy from a mural painted on main street in Park City hijacked a discussion about affordable housing and racial equity at a retreat for city leaders last week.
Last July, the city council gave $15,000 to the Arts Council Park City and Summit County for four murals celebrating diversity and equality. The one that garnered the most attention was a 300-foot long mural that said “Black lives matter” in 14-foot high lettering. The installation was vandalized just four days after its creation.
“It very quickly got politicized. It became about the national debate about the organization of Black Lives Matter, which I don’t think we had any intention of supporting as an organization. It was about the community values we want to talk about,” said Park City Mayor Andy Beerman. “We inadvertently stumbled into one thing that had two very distinct meanings to people in the country and in Park City.”
A video of the council retreat was shared on Facebook.
Beerman says the issue hijacked the discussion likely because city leaders haven’t taken a hard look at what went wrong.
“Until now, we’ve never really had an opportunity to debrief this as a group,” Beerman said. “We were clearly moving too fast. We were trying to cobble something together because we had to cancel the parade and the fireworks and we were looking for an activity that would create some interest on the street.”
Beerman said they quickly decided on something addressing racial equity as protests following the murder of George Floyd were dominating the political discussion. They hoped an art installation would be a healthy way to foster that discussion. Instead, they stumbled into a political controversy.
“Just to be clear, the council did not go looking for a Black Lives Matter mural,” said councilmember Steve Joyce. “Just so everyone understands, we wanted murals to convey social equity. We did not sit there and say we wanted a Black Lives Matter mural, and we were not in cahoots with Black Lives Matter.”
Because of that hasty process, Beerman admits there wasn’t enough vetting of the proposed mural. Plans weren’t shared with the police department and businesses along Main Street, so they were caught off guard when the politics surrounding the mural overtook the message.
“We did surprise our police. For that, I regret the way it went down,” said city manager Matt Dias. “If we had to go back and do it again, we would likely do it differently.”
The murals no longer exist. Beerman says the plan was always to let the paint fade naturally, so they had disappeared by fall.
Park City resident Angela Moschetta criticized the council members for the haphazard way the murals came about, and their dereliction in not including a diversity of community members in the decision.
“Anybody with any kind of experience would have known what was going on,” Moschetta said. “That street would have known about the potential political implication, would have thought to call our police chief and alert him. Maybe if you could step back for just one second and acknowledge that you have no responsibility leading this discussion and no responsibility taking action on it until you consult with the people who do, I think we would be in a very different place.”
Beerman acknowledges this is still a sore subject in the community, and the conversation will continue.
“There are still some people in the community that are harboring some frustration over this. They feel like the city overstepped its bounds and made a political statement, but I disagree with that perspective,” he said.
Beerman is running for reelection this year.
“I have been warned this is going to be a campaign issue. There are people who haven’t forgiven us for what happened and plan to use it as criticism. So it’s probably not a coincidence it’s bubbling up now,” Beerman said.