Testing SAISD's New Mural Policy

Rosendo Gonzalez working on his mural tribute to teacher Robert Sutton

Just one week after celebrated local artists Vincent Valdez and Alex Rubio received an in-person apology from San Antonio Independent School District members who authorized the destruction of the Burbank High alums' mural on their alma mater's western wall, another local muralist says he's getting the run-around from Burbank and SAISD staff.

Last year, Rosendo Gonzalez painted a tribute mural to the late Robert Sutton, a beloved auto mechanics teacher with a 30 year career at Burbank, who died suddenly last April. Gonzalez, who graduated Burbank in 2003, said Sutton was a father figure to him and many other Burbank students and the pair grew particularly close during several years of classes. After his passing, students raised money for supplies and contacted Gonzalez, a budding tattoo artist and muralist, who agreed to paint a giant portrait of Sutton on Burbank's auto shop interior wall. At the time, he said he didn't sign it. "I just thought it was for the teacher," Gonzalez reasoned, "but after all that's happened, I think `signing the mural` is what I should do."

Gonzalez became concerned about the state of his mural when he learned that Valdez's iconic Burbank mural had been painted over during a beautification process earlier this month. Among the many reasons given for that mural's destruction was that Burbank Principal Mona Lopez could not find Valdez's signature on the piece. During their sitdown with Lopez and SAISD board members, Rubio and Valdez said the district promised to catalog and protect existing and future murals. "They also said they would make sure research would be done to find out who these artists are," said Rubio. But when Gonzalez tried to contact SAISD to let them know he painted the Sutton mural and wanted to sign it, he says he ran into issues. For one, just calling the school turned into a byzantine process of transfers and voicemails. With the help of Palm Heights Neighborhood Association president Fernando Velazquez, also a primary organizing force calling for SAISD accountability in the Valdez/Rubio mural debacle, both SAISD school board member Adela Segovia and Assistant superintendent Priscilla Canales sent emails expressing their desire to follow-up with Gonzalez, claiming his many calls never reached their telephones. This morning, Segovia confirmed she had been in contact with Gonzalez, but said they had not discussed the issue in detail. In a Palm Heights Neighborhood Association meeting last night, Gonzalez said he had arranged a meeting with Dr. Canales for Friday morning. Thus far, the only thing approaching an answer to Gonzalez's request to sign his work was an SAISD representative Segovia claiming the mural may be exempt from preservation because its creation was unauthorized. Gonzalez contests that, saying that Burbank students purchased the paint and that the former principal put him in touch with a school counselor who helped arrange access to the auto shop, where he painted the mural over two days in the middle of the week last May. Gonzalez was also told that the school did not have the money to preserve the mural. "My response was that we don't need no money," Gonzalez told the Palm Heights group last night. He painted the indoor mural with high-quality paint, and it's unlikely to chip or fade quickly. Even so, to preserve the mural with clear coating would cost somewhere between $24-$40, Gonzalez estimated. Palm Heights meeting attendee Tony Alvarado quickly volunteered to foot the bill. Recently, Sutton's sister has weighed in on the mural, writing an emotional letter to SAISD superintendent Robert Duron, asking that they not remove the mural. "I know that through his mural, his legacy will live on and be passed down through the years," she wrote, noting that neither she, nor her two brothers nor her elderly mother had seen the mural yet. Many members of the Palm Heights community, including students who commissioned the mural initially, shared those sentiments and hoped that this time, SAISD would acknowledge them.

When informed about the signature snafu, Rubio conceded that Gonzalez ought to have signed the mural in the first place, but also said he would like to attend Gonzalez's Friday morning meeting, to ensure an issue he thought was resolved stays that way.

UPDATE: Gonzalez stopped by the office to give us a photo of the mural and told our art director he may have to reschedule tomorrow's meeting with SAISD. His girlfriend is scheduled for induced labor tomorrow. Congratulations!