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City of Ukiah Censors Youth Project Mural in Todd Grove Park

Stacey Sheldon

November 25, 2021--The City of Ukiah recently censored the message, “No Human is Illegal on Stolen Land” on the new mural in Todd Grove Park. The mural is the creation of the Ukiah Valley Youth Leadership Coalition, a teen program of the Arbor Center at Redwood Community Services. The teens, with the help of lead artist Josue Rojas, designed a large-scale mural on the theme of immigration, and painted it on the exterior walls of the park’s restroom. When Rojas and the teens arrived at the park on Friday November 12 to finish the mural, they saw something that shocked them. 

Cat Karpov-Kinrad, one of the teen artists, explained that when the team showed up on Friday to complete the mural, they were greeted by a City official who informed them of the censorship. The teens saw that the message on the mural’s banner had been painted over. Karpov-Kinrad knew the message would be controversial, but did not imagine it would be censored before the mural’s completion.
Neil Davis, Director of Community Services for the City of Ukiah, assisted the Coalition in implementing the project and fulfilling the youth’s artistic goals. Together, the Youth Coalition and Davis moved forward on the project. But waiting for approval from the city’s design board and planning commision takes approximately 3 months. Because the Youth Coalition was working with timely grants to fund the project, grants that would expire before the 3 month approval process, Davis suggested the mural be put on boards and installed on the exterior walls of the restroom. This method would result in what would be considered temporary art and would not require the lengthy wait for approval. 
Problems arose when the Youth Coalition realized they could not install boards on the walls of the restroom, and Davis gave them permission to paint directly on the restroom walls.
When objections to the mural’s message were received by the City, Davis was asked to stymie the mural’s progress as it had not received the proper permitting.  Ironically, Davis was the one to spray paint over the mural’s message. He is hopeful that the City and the Youth Coalition can dialogue and arrive at a positive resolution.
Lead artist, Josue Rojas,  spent months helping the Youth Coalition design and paint their mural. He traveled from his home in the Bay area and spent over a week in Ukiah, painting for hours a day, to help the youth meet their deadline to complete the project. His frustration over the censorship is palpable.
At the heart of the mural’s controversial message resides the word “stolen”  and this word is, perhaps, the source of contention for objectors. Rojas recognizes the difficulty some may feel in acknowledging the painful truths of the mural’s message and our country’s history.
Like Neil Davis, Rojas is hopeful that the Youth Coalition and the City will work together and find a mutually satisfactory solution to reinstate the mural’s message, a message he believes can facilitate conversations to help unite humanity in a reverence for Mother Earth and one another.

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