Plaques providing context for 1930s Will Rogers murals move closer to installation

dfwnewsa | December 25, 2023 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Plaques providing context for 1930s Will Rogers murals move closer to installation

Plaques will be added to the plaza at Will Rogers Memorial Center to contextualize imagery in two 1930s tile murals following a resident’s complaint that described the art as racist. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
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Editor’s note: During the holiday season, the Fort Worth Report is looking back at the stories you told us you appreciated the most in 2023. Plaques for Will Rogers Memorial Center are one step closer to installation with final proofs expected to arrive in January.City Council approved a plan to install plaques in August, following a 2019 resident complaint describing murals on the coliseum and auditorium as racist for their depiction of Black fieldworkers.The solution came following multiple community meetings led by the Fort Worth Public Art program. The murals predate the program, which assumed responsibility for the murals’ upkeep as part of its legacy collection.Members of the advisory panel said that details in the murals make it clear that the Black fieldworkers depicted within it are sharecroppers and not slaves, as some initially thought.However, at least one critic pointed out that sharecropping was also an oppressive system that kept many Black farmers in poverty and reliant on wealthy landowners.Deborah Liles, a history professor at Tarleton State University, published a book on Will Rogers Coliseum and spoke at the commission’s June meeting.

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All residents played a part in the state’s history, but not all of them had the opportunity to weigh in on how it was remembered, she said.For Liles, acknowledging the past, even when it’s not always flattering, is important.“We know better now. And when you know better, you do better,” she told the Report in a July interview.“I think it’s important to always have context,” she continued. “When you go to a museum, for example, there is a write-up about the piece of art that is on display, and that helps people get a better understanding of that artwork itself.”

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Kevin Kemp, general manager of Will Rogers Memorial Center, served on the committee and expressed gratitude for everyone who contributed.  “I can’t even tell you all the thought that went into the text, getting it correct. It was very important for the committee. We weren’t trying to interpret the art for anybody,” he said. “We wanted to explain what was there and let each individual interpret it for themselves.”Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here

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