UPDATE: Controversial RFK Community School Mural Actively Undergoes Modification

Photo: Beau Stanton

Table of Contents

Background Story

In 2016, The Robert F Kennedy Community School in Koreatown, commissioned artist Beau Stanton to paint a mural on one of the major walls on campus. Although the LA artist intended no harm, public outcry immediately sprung up from the community because of the “rising-sun” esque background pattern on the artist’s Ava Gardner mural.

Although artist Beau Stanton has often used similar imagery in his work before, the prominence of the background sparked reactions within the community in which it existed, Koreatown, Los Angeles

Photo: Synergy: The Journal of Contemporary Asian Studies

Community Outcry

For those unaware, imperialist Japan caused major harm to Korea for many years well before WWI and WWII. From 1910 to 1945 imperialist Japan enslaved Korea, colonized its people, and stripped it’s already scarce land of all it’s resources. Imperialist Japan also burned 200,000 historical Korean documents, forbade speaking Korean, and started an all out war to destroy Korea’s history.

The usage of this imagery by Beau Stanton has invoked in the artist’s audience a negative reaction whether intended or not, so much so, that there were public protests against the artist’s mural which eventually prompted drastic action by Los Angeles Unified School District. Starting late 2016 – mid 2018 the Koreatown community protested the mural consistently demanding public discourse and action.

LAUSD Announces Planned Removal of Mural

Mid 2018, NPR then confirmed that Los Angeles Unified School District then promised to remove the mural entirely while the mural artist Beau Stanton attempted to prevent that effort. The community demanded action consistently and protested the issue enough to the point where the LAUSD decided removal was appropriate.

Photo: LA Taco Archive 2016

LA Times Reports Modification In Lieu of Removal

After much public discourse on May 29th, 2019 the LA Times reported that the removal of the mural would be halted and that the artist Beau Stanton would oversee a modification process to remove the rising sun imagery. Although it’s clear Beau Stanton intended no harm, the community appreciates his willingness to listen and implement the community’s wishes.

We Reached LAUSD & WCKNC Directly for Updates

After the community constantly requested follow up from our team, we decided to reach out both to the Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council and the Los Angeles Unified School District requesting updates and official responses on the promised solution. After speaking with both organizations directly we are able to clearly report the following:

Since the planned modification agreement in 2019 the community call to contribute ideas was “underwhelming” according to LAUSD. Shortly after the first round of community submissions the COVID-19 pandemic largely halted all efforts of conversation and community discourse to source the modification. 


Joint Community Effort to Reach Solution

Although COVID-19 has largely delayed this effort, Los Angeles Unified School District is now actively requesting the community submit ideas for the modification as of 8/21/2021. You can submit your ideas here!

Flier: Los Angeles Unified School District

Target Repainting Days 09/02/21 - 09/07/21

With the target date of repainting the community sourced modification looming, it is important that you contribute your ideas using this link before the deadline of August 27th 2021! Please take the time to contribute what would be a better piece of imagery and style to use for the community. 

Thank you to Beau Stanton, RFK Community School, WCNKC, media outlets, and the community for engaging in the public discourse and process. It is amazing to see that even with our difference 

To see more of Beau Stanton’s other amazing work please check out his website here or checkout his Instagram @beaustanton.

10/01/21 UPDATE - Consistent Follow-up by Community Holds Decision Makers Accountable for Promised Action

Following backlash from the community, Beau Stanton, agreed to alter his work. He agreed to alter the mural in a way that ‘involves creating a transformative work using the original mural as a base for layering and weaving additional imagery on top like an urban wall with many historic layers’. 

Although the decision makers behind the mural once promised complete removal, Beau Stanton agreed instead to modify the mural. Stanton showed his interest in hearing suggestions from a variety of stakeholders in Koreatown to communicate a more ‘positive personal meaning’ as well as reflect Koreatown’s rich history.

ava gardner koreatown mural modification
Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

What Do the Modifications Look Like?

The official modification of the Ava Gardner mural was unveiled on September 15th, 2021.

After receiving contributions and support from the local community to modify his work, Stanton leaned on the RFK Community School students for final touches. As a result, the mural now maintains its original base but includes imagery that celebrates Koreatown’s diverse immigrant culture. 

Most importantly, even though parts of the controversial stripes exist, Beau Stanton and the leaders followed through with the promises they made 3 years ago.

In Koreatown LA, Decision Makers are Held Accountable by Community Leaders

We are thankful that artist Beau Stanton and the decision makers at the RFK Community School collaborated with actual stakeholders of the local community to follow through with their promises. 

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