Letter to Gov. LePage from U.S. DOL: Display Maine’s DOL mural or repay federal funds used to create it

Over 350 concerned citizens protested LePage's action of taking down the mural but the Governor is on vacation in Jamaica

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

April 4th, 2011 

alt
Panels 5-8 of the mural by Judy Taylor which was taken down at the DOL by Gov. LePage

If Gov. LePage refuses to display the mural depicting the state’s labor history, the U.S. Department of Labor demands reimbursement of any federal money that paid for it.

A senior Labor Department official said Gov. Paul LePage’s decision to remove the art work from state offices does not comply with terms of a federal grant that paid for 63 percent of the cost of artwork.

The official request for reimbursement came in a letter to state labor officials from Gay Gilbert, administrator of the U.S. Labor Department’s office of unemployment insurance.

The LePage administration must return 63 percent of the current fair market value of the mural, which would now be higher than the $60,000 it cost to create it, or “Alternatively, the state could again display the mural in its headquarters or in another state employment security building,” the letter said.

Part of the mural’s federal DOL funding, from the REED Act, came with the understanding that the mural would be displayed at administrative offices of Maine’s Department of Labor. When LePage removed the mural he broke that contractual understanding by violating the terms of the grant.

“The best solution at this point would be to put the mural back up so Maine taxpayers won’t have to cover the original grant. Public art belongs to all of us and I don’t think the governor should have acted so hastily in taking it down. It wasn’t a decision for one person,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.

Some of the panels of the 36-foot mural illustrate important events that changed workplace conditions like the 1937 shoe mill strike in Auburn and Lewiston and Rosie the Riveter – who actually worked at the Bath Iron Works. One panel shows Frances Perkins, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor. She was the first woman to be a U.S. Cabinet Secretary and severed for twelve years. Perkins had a strong connection with the state and is buried here.

Today at the State House in Augusta over 350 artists and concerned citizens protested LePage’s action of taking down the mural. The removal of the mural, in secrecy, has also prompted a federal lawsuit against LePage and two administration officials.

“The only, reason we have freedoms and equalities in this country is because of idealistic, organized struggle by people who had been marginalized for others’ profit,” said Robert Shetterly, President of the Maine Union of Visual Artists. “And the presumption of removing Cesar Chavez and Frances Perkins, great heroes of our democracy and social equality, as names of committee rooms, is like deciding to tell the story of our Revolution without mentioning Tom Paine or Sam Adams.Just as we cannot be true citizens if we forget our past history, as citizens today we cannot fail the obligations of our current history. The mural must be returned.”

Outrage was first sparked in Maine when LePage announced he would remove the mural, which happened to correspond to the Triangle Shirt Factory fire’s anniversary.

LePage was unable to comment for this story as he is vacationing in Jamaica.