Should Cedar Rapids Remove Mural with Swastika from City Hall?

Dec 7, 2017

During the 1930s, there was a mural commissioned by a depression-era arts program in what was then a district courthouse. Today, that mural has been restored and is now on display in Cedar Rapids' city hall. During a recent city council election, that mural became the center of a conversation about what kinds of art are appropriate to display. 

Ashley Vanorny, who is city councilwoman–elect in Cedar Rapids, noticed a swastika hidden in that mural and mentioned that she thought it should be taken down. 

"I didn't realize how divisive this would be," she says. 

"In light of the statues that have been taken down this year...this is an opportunity to discuss with fellow Cedar Rapidians," she explains. "Art is beautiful. It is supposed to elicit emotions, but it wouldn't be my preference to have artwork like this in City Hall. If you had a placard to put it in context, that would be nice."

During this hour of River to River, she talks with host Ben Kieffer. Sean Ulmer, director of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and Lisa Heineman, who is professor and chair of the history department at the University of Iowa, also join the conversation to talk about the history of the symbol, known to many Westerners as a swastika, and when art is offensive or a part of history. 

"There are other examples of this in history, namely the cross by the Klu Klux Klan, taking a Christian symbol of love and making it a symbol of fear and hate," she says. "What to do about symbols that have multiple meanings, some of which are really poisonous, is a really hard conversation."