Up Against the Wall Documentary to Revisit Prescott Mural Controversy

Artist R.E. Wall and the mural that sparked the debate
Artist R.E. Wall and the mural that sparked the debate

Prescott may not be a large town, but it made big news when a local mural became the impetus for a national discussion about the intersection of race and public art in Small Town USA. Though the original conflict erupted three years ago, public art in Prescott is still feeling the effects.

A small group of Arizona creatives led by Jacob Devaney of Culture Collective is working on a film, titled Up Against the Wall, to document the controversy and its lasting impact.

See also: Herberger Censorship Will Have Long-Term Impact

The film will explore what really was going on when R.E. Wall, director of Prescott's Downtown Mural Project, was told to lighten the skin tone of a figure in a collaborative mural done at public school Miller Valley Elementary. Artists Wall, Margaret Dewar, and Pamela Smith worked with students from the school to create the mural Go On Green, which deals with themes of sustainability.

Officially, no one has taken responsibility for the directive to lighten the main figure's skin in Go on Green, but City Councilman Steve Blair made several negative public comments regarding the mural on radio station KYCA (1490 AM), putting him at the head of the opposition to the public art piece.

But Devaney says Up Against the Wall is not just meant to be a Michael Moore-style attack of Blair.

"Both the artists and the city council member got caught in the middle of the national climate," says Devaney. "This was during the time of SB 1070, so the whole country was looking at Arizona. They wanted to have a discussion about race, and they found an outlet in this piece of public art."  

So far, the film crew has collected 35 hourlong interviews with Prescott residents. Now, they are working to get the footage edited down in hopes of submitting to such film festivals as Telluride Film Festival in the spring.

The Go on Green mural is still up and unaltered at Miller Valley Elementary. But Devaney says despite the three years that have passed, the climate around public art in Prescott is still incredibly tense.

Censorship is a loaded issue, and when coupled with racism, it becomes truly explosive. At its heart, Up Against the Wall isn't just about the Prescott controversy, Devaney says. "It's about using a microcosm to look at a macrocosm."

To learn more about the film or to make a donation, visit its Indiegogo campaign page. They are shooting to make $12,000 to cover all post-production costs, and the donation period ends Wednesday, November 6.

You can also keep up with the project on Facebook.

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