We understand the affinity that many of our alumni and community members have to the murals displayed in the URI Memorial Union. We appreciate the emotional connection many have to the past as depicted in the murals showing campus life in the 1950s.
The murals commemorate student life at URI in the 1950s. They are not World War II murals and in no way do they “depict the events of World War II” as some media outlets have stated. There is not one single image or section of the murals that depict the events of World War II.
Misleading and inaccurate reporting by some media outlets of this situation has caused a great deal of concern among members of our URI community, including the University officials who have worked hard to honor our veterans and have an unwavering appreciation for their service.
In no way was the decision to alter the space in the Memorial Union connected to any disregard or insensitivity toward our veterans. We are committed to our veterans. Our Office of Veterans Affairs and Military Programs and our very active Student Veteran Organization both view this artwork as a depiction of a specific period of time and not reflective of campus and military culture today.
The Memorial Union itself, the center of student life at URI, is a war memorial, but the murals are whimsical cartoons that also show a class reunion, URI commencement, a South County beach scene, students piled into a jalopy wearing letter sweaters and a marching band.
The necessary renovation of the Memorial Union brought to light the issue of the condition of the murals. During this process, we explored options for preservation of the murals, including removal of the plaster walls on which the murals are directly painted. The construction method of the wall – plaster and lathe – does not permit removal without damage to the murals and to the walls.
The University has enlisted the assistance of Professor and Chair of the Department of Art and Art History Ronald Onorato to share his expertise with regard to mural preservation, with the goal of incorporating the work of the artist, Dr. Arthur Sherman. As Professor Onorato notes: Most importantly, we should strive, as an educational institution not toward removing history but moving toward contextualizing the mural to use the original mural as a way to open discussions about our University culture in the 1950s and how it differs from who we are now.
When we complete the renovations, we will invite the Sherman family to the ceremonies to thank them for their contributions to the University. The University will announce plans on how it will proceed by the end of September.
We are a community that values equity and diversity, and we will work to ensure that our students, alumni and community members of all backgrounds feel welcome and included.