Monitoring Art or Restricting Expression?

Bend-La Pine policies have students questioning their right to artistic voice in school


Mural by Nia Prinster

Pictured: Mia Prinster’s mural painted over with beige paint by district administration.

 Last spring, over the course of four days, Summit junior Nia Prinster created a mural of Mt. Bachelor, which was drawn out and executed as a gift for the SRO, Scott Shaier. Former Vice Principal Mary Thomas, now the interim Principal at High Desert, commissioned Prinster to share her artistic expression with the school. After strategically planning and executing the mural, Prinster finally finished her project on the last day of school. But then when returning in the fall, she found her canvas blank once again.

 “It felt like a really exciting opportunity, at first” said Summit Art Director Jessie Dale. However, what was once a fun idea turned into a complicated mess. With Thomas’ and Dale’s knowing little about the district regulations, the mural Prinster worked tirelessly on turned into another beige wall overnight.

 Over the summer, an informant found the Mural in the SRO’s office and contacted Dan Dummitt, the director of maintenance in Bend-La Pine District. Dummit and his team, with the guidelines in mind, decided to paint over the mural with beige paint. However, unlike in other situations, Prinster and art director Dale were completely unaware of this rule when creating the mural. Both had no idea that this was going to happen and, emphasizing that if they had known about it prior, the mural would never have been created. Per the district regulation, the mural had to be removed from the walls, before the school could honor the art and the artist. Disappointed, Dale reached out to the board of directors and decided to go to the board meeting this coming October to discuss these policies. Eventually, Prinster and Dale learned about the Miller Elementary Murals, which suffered a similar fate.

 Back in the winter of 2021, William E. Miller Elementary hired talented professional artist Teafly Peterson to design and paint nineteen murals for their school. Peterson incorporated quotes from famous individuals and original artwork to decorate the walls of the school. Nearly everyone was thrilled with the results, as the school and Peterson invested a lot of money and time into the project. Yet, nine months later, it had to be removed. The district allowed principal Jen Healy to keep only one of the murals per the allowed rules.

 This was not the first time the Bend-La Pine school district had to act on this rule, which has been in place since November 2010. Originally, before these rules were implemented, the schools went above and beyond to decorate learning spaces with colorful walls and murals. However, the freedom to decorate the walls became too much for the district janitors to deal with as painting became messy, and classrooms and wall colors constantly changed. Within the district guidelines, every school is allowed three colors to choose from—generally a school’s mascot colors—and one mural per school to manage the walls. In the district’s eyes, these murals were distracting for the students and were becoming excessively complicated for administrators. Except, Prinsters mural wasn’t in a highly trafficked area, rather tucked away in the SRO’s office.

 Director of Maintenance Dan Dummitt spoke to this recent controversy, along with Alandra Johnson, Bend-LaPine’s Assistant Director of Communications.

 “We’re supportive of having art in schools and on walls, just not directly on the walls,” said Dummit, addressing the clean-up process. “It’s easier for maintenance and the schools to just get the artwork approved by the Building Administrator and the Maintenance Supervisor.”

 Dummitt claims that painting on walls costs more money than it should and makes unnecessary work for maintenance staff. They have to come out and fix whatever accidentally gets painted, spilled or broken. Dummitt even addresses why walls are beige, “teachers move classrooms all the time” he says, “What happens if the next one does not like the color and wants to change it again?” Another reason for blank walls is because the district claims loud colors and art are distracting to students. Dummit and Johnson both expressed love for art, but respect and support for those who work behind the scenes, after hours.

 These district’s rules, however, don’t provide clear reasoning for those in the artistic world. There are loopholes—certain schools have more than one mural—and some schools choose just to put posters on the walls, which could be considered a distraction, but aren’t regulated by the district. The district rules are said to help maintain order in schools, yet Prinster’s mural at Summit was not a distraction or a drawing to be freely painted over.

 “Other people’s art, especially that of my peers, often inspires me, Prinster said. I was hoping the mural would serve as inspiration for others.”. Prinster and other artists felt invalidated with this change, not only that, but it saddened illustrators, students, parents and aspiring future artists.

“I’m hesitant to encourage my young artists to give their time and energy to the schools, like beautifying anything,” Dale said. “I can’t trust that the district is going to respect their artwork.”