Vandals spray paint over national award-winning social justice murals in Gainesville parks

Gainesville police are investigating the defacing of murals that were painted for the city as part of the social justice movement.

On one of the murals at Oakview Park last week, someone recently spray painted “Trump” twice over the face of a young black woman.

On another mural, someone spray-painted over a picture of a Black man holding his arms in the air standing outside of the U.S. Capitol with an American flag in the background.

Artists Thomas Berdugo and Jenna Horner were hired by the city to paint those murals, which were among the dozen that earned Gainesville a second-place recognition for the Cultural Diversity Award last year from the National League of Cities.

The ones that were painted over have since been taken down.

"People opposing social justice by expressing their hatred through criminal activity is exactly why the city needs to center and celebrate these artists and their message," Mayor Lauren Poe said Monday.

A mural done by Jenna Horner as part of the Gainesville Social Justice Mural Project in 2020 has recently been defaced, at Oakview Park in Gainesville, April 6, 2022.

In December of 2020, the city’s 352walls Community Artist Program selected 12 regional artist teams to participate in the Gainesville Social Justice Mural Project.

The artists were selected by a community panel made up of curators, members of the creative community and representatives from the social justice movement. Scoring was based on skills, mural experience, personal style and a proposed concept.

The dozen temporary murals were painted on plywood and affixed to wooden posts in city parks, addressing "the national reckoning on social justice," a city press release at the time said.

The project was underwritten by a fund established to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the city’s incorporation.

“We are truly saddened that vandals would deface the works of Thomas Berdugo and Jenna Horner in such a dishonorable display of intolerance,” said city spokeswoman Rossana Passaniti in a prepared statement. “While these murals were only intended to temporarily adorn our parks, it is unfortunate that we must remove them under these circumstances.”

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It's not the first time vandals have defaced murals that were part of the program.

Last November, vandals spray-painted over two of the social justice murals at Cofrin Nature Park.

On one mural, vandals painted over a picture of the late Patricia Hilliard-Nunn holding a megaphone.

Artists Mimi Stocker and Lauren Donnellan painted the murals remembering the life of Nunn, a local African American Studies scholar, historian and social justice advocate.

On the mural, someone painted in green the sentence “Don’t politicize parks” over the sentence: “To understand our present and ensure our future, we must know our past.”

Vandals paint over city mural recognizing the late Patricia Hilliard-Nunn.

The other mural that was defaced was created by art teacher Robert Ponzio in collaboration with his students at Oak Hall school.

In it, Rosa Parks is pointing at the U.S. Constitution that just came off Ben Franklin’s press, with a banner over Franklin’s head saying: “The tyrants foe, the people’s friend.”

At the top of the mural, someone spray-painted over the faces of social justice advocates through American history, including Martin Luther King and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Vandals painted over a mural at Cofrin Park last November. Contributed photo.

NAACP President Evelyn Foxx said Monday she was upset to learn about the defacing of the murals, adding that she hopes the perpetrators are caught by police.

“It’s hatred and bigotry,” she said. “Our entire community will be upset about it. How in the world can people be that mean and hateful? It’s racist.”

This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: 'Trump' painted over Gainesville murals for social justice change