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April 03, 2019 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily

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Repaint the wall, Annie Hall: Rethinking
Ann Arbor’s bookstore mural

Wednesday, April 3. 2019 // The Statement
Wednesday, April 3, 2019 // The Statement


have walked past the “Bookstore
Mural” hundreds of times during my
two years living in Ann Arbor. When-
ever my errands drag me across the Diag,
my heels instinctively turn the corner and
put me onto the perpetually busy street of
East Liberty. I find myself momentarily dis-
tracted from whatever music I have blaring
through my earphones, and I glance up to see
it, exactly where it has been since 1984.
Situated kitty-cornered from the fluores-
cent glow of the State Theatre and just down
the way from the light-bulb encrusted Michi-
gan Theater sign, it looms over downtown
as one of the city’s most prominent pieces of
public art. Beautiful and deliberate strokes of
red, yellow and blue accentuate the features
of the five portraits that are laid upon a con-
trasting black background, coming together
to create what is colloquially known as the
“Bookstore Mural.” The memorialized are
writers Anaïs Nin, Franz Kafka, Hermann
Hesse and Edgar Allan Poe — as well as
screenwriter and filmmaker Woody Allen.
Painted in 1984 by artist Richard Wolk,
a University of Michigan alum, the mural
stands on the side of what was originally
David’s Books and Discount Records. Later,
Borders Books was located next to the mural.
As reported by The Michigan Daily during
the mural’s production, Wolk had previ-
ous experience creating public art, having
painted a mural of famous figures on a record
store on South University Avenue the year
before. He then took his talents to the owner
of David’s Books, Ed Koster, who commis-
sioned the piece in order to replace an exist-
ing mural that was deemed unsatisfactory by
the State Street Area Association, a merchant
group that aimed to increase business in the
After the mural’s completion, however,
this same group of critics did not give the
replacement much praise. As it was put by
Ann Arbor News reporter Charles Child in a
July 8, 1984 report, “Oftentimes, years must
pass before great art is finally appreciated
by the public. Perhaps the mural needs more
It has been 34 years since its creation, and
the “Bookstore Mural” remains one of Ann
Arbor’s most symbolic images. Appearing on
seemingly every promotional video, social
media post or Ann Arbor must-see list, the
mural has become visually synonymous with
downtown and the Ann Arbor community.
This recognizability has increased since its
2010 restoration, when Wolk estimated it
would not need to be re-touched for another
10 years. Wolk claimed he would again do
the restoration, but also noted that if Oxford
Property Management — the owner of the

building the mural is on — wanted to replace
it with another mural in the future, he would
pass the opportunity on to a new, younger
It’s been nine years since this restoration,
and maybe it is time for the Ann Arbor com-
munity to start thinking about the mural’s
next touch-up. When looking at the authors
included in the mural, Woody Allen stands
out for more than his film career. Having been
accused of sexually assaulting a minor, he
was thrown into a controversy that involved
his image, work and influence on the film
industry. Is this something Ann Arbor wants
to promote through its public art?

he allegations against Woody Allen
date back to Aug 5, 1992 when
he was accused of molesting his
7-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan Far-
row. The allegation came to light along with
the revelation of his affair with the adopted
daughter of his long-term partner Mia Far-
row, 21 year-old Soon-Yi Previn. This affair
is claimed to have begun when Allen was 56
years old. He confirmed the relationship in a
press release on August 18, 1992 — the same
day the Connecticut State Police announced
an investigation regarding Dylan’s abuse
allegations. Four days before, Allen had filed a
lawsuit for custody of his and Farrow’s three
children — the mutually adopted Moses and
Dylan Farrow, as well as their biological son
Ronan Farrow.
After seven months of inquiry, Allen’s
lawyers announced on March 19, 1993 that
he was cleared of the molestation charges,
despite Farrow’s lawyer claiming the report,
done by a team of child abuse investigators
from Yale-New Haven Hospital that were
brought in by Connecticut State Police, to be
“incomplete and inaccurate.” The custody
battle began the next day, which led to over
two months of trial, until its verdict in Mia
Farrow’s favor on June 7, 1993.
Acting Justice Elliott Wilk claimed Allen
is “self-absorbed, untrustworthy and insensi-
tive,” also denying him visitation with Dylan.
Frank Maco, a state’s attorney from Con-
necticut, announced he would not further
try Allen for the abuse against Dylan despite
probable cause, as he did not want to subject
her to further trauma through the trial.
Over the next 26 years, these allegations
continued to be supported by the Farrow
family. Dylan went on the record for the first
time in 2013.
“There’s a lot I don’t remember,” she told
Vanity Fair, “but what happened in the attic
I remember. I remember what I was wearing
and what I wasn’t wearing.”
Since this interview, Dylan has consis-
tently and publicly supported her accusa-

tions through an open letter to The New York
Times in 2014 and an op-ed for the Los Ange-
les Times in 2017. Both Mia and Ronan Far-
row have shown public support for Dylan’s
story, questioning the lack of accountability
toward Allen and writing their own pieces in
defense of her, like Ronan’s 2016 guest col-
umn for The Hollywood Reporter asserting
his belief in his sister and documenting her

he downtown mural featuring
Allen and his controversy was
an early part of the mental map I
began building for myself when I first came
to the University. As an amateur artist and
someone who finds joy in the works of oth-
ers, this piece used to mean a quick smile and
feeling of warmth. The stark contrast of light
and dark, white and color would lift my mood
and prompt my admiration before I was again
bopping along, my music intact. But early this
semester, my friend Sophie ReVeal, an LSA
sophomore studying Film, Television and
Media, began a conversation with me about
the impact of having certain idealized images
within our community — like this glorified
portrait of Woody Allen.
The question of how to regard influential
artists after allegations of sexual misconduct
has become a difficult debate in recent years,
especially when their body of work is signi-
fied as having notable cultural capital. At the
time of the mural’s creation, Woody Allen
was regarded as the hip, progressive and
culturally relevant filmmaker — and even
today, he maintains recognition in the film
industry. His 1977 Academy-Award-winning
“Annie Hall” is considered one of the earli-
est and most successful romantic comedies,
and his emphasis on incorporating nervous
humor into his films has made him one of the
most well-known and appealing filmmakers
of the modern era.
With these oustanding allegations against
him, the question, Can you separate the art-
ist from the art? is more than warranted.
And this question is doubled when referring
to the mural, as it layers the issue by having
to think not only of Wolk and his art, but the
lives and artistic work of the five featured
artists as well.
This question becomes difficult to answer
when an artist has made notable cultural and
academic influences. And this same argu-
ment stands for Woody Allen, whose cultural
influence on American cinema seems to be
unignorable. A 24-time Oscar nominee and
a four-time winner, Allen has been charming
audiences since his emergence in the 1970s.
However, is there a way to acknowledge this
historical importance without creating pub-
lic glorifications of him?

The subjects of the “Bookstore Mural” are
understandably linked to the piece, as each is
a prominent author. However, Woody Allen
has more of an industrial connection to the
mural, which is placed within sight of both
the Michigan and State theaters. But is his
image truly the best representation of what
the film industry is? And if this image were
to be changed, would that be erasing history,
or simply avoiding a personal glorification of
LSA senior Sophia Georginis is studying
both communication studies and Film, Tele-
vision and Media. She is currently one of the
general managers of WOLV TV, a student-
produced television network on campus, and
works with Sisters in Cinema, an organiza-
tion intending to give female and non-binary
filmmakers a chance to tell their stories. She
said she is in favor of erasing Allen from the
mural due to the abundance of other film
icons without assault allegations.
“I don’t think it’s erasing him from his-
tory as much as it is putting people up on
that mural who haven’t sexually assaulted
somebody. There’s so many people that have
impacted film — there’s so many women, so
many people of color that have impacted film
and have made changes. Greta Gerwig, Spike
Lee, so many people that I can just name
She also spoke on Allen’s existing influence
on the film industry, stating that his position
in academia is secure regardless of his place
on a piece of public art.
“Yes, he has made impacts to the film
industry,” Georginis said. “But it’s also like
so many people have who haven’t done these
disgusting things. And we’re not erasing him
by taking him off that mural, he’s very much
so in people’s memory. But it’s like putting
somebody up on that mural that shows what
the film industry is and where we’re moving.”
This attitude toward academic acknowl-
edgement is echoed by another LSA senior
studying Film, Television and Media, Maria
Mikhailova, who works as outreach coordi-
nator for Sisters in Cinema. In terms of the
academic uses of film, Mikhailova said there
is a way to keep relevant directors in the con-
versation without glorifying them and keep-
ing them in positions of power.
“It’s just a matter of being transparent
and saying, ‘This is why I want to show this
film,’” Mikhailova said. “It’s not because this
person in particular did it, it’s because this
particular scene is relevant to what we’re
studying right now. If we eliminate everyone
who’s ever had allegations against them or
anything like that, then we don’t have any-
thing to study.”
This academic debate around the relevance

and usability of Allen’s work remains justifi-
able, but this doesn’t seem to reflect directly
on the use of his imagery and personal brand
as a cultural symbol. To that point, Mikhailo-
va also spoke in support of the idea of more
worthy subjects for the community.
“It’s not erasure of history, it’s just making
way of better history, for celebration of better
history,” Mikhailova said.
These questions of erasure versus glorifi-
cation were touched upon in a conversation
I had with Tara Ward, a lecturer in the His-
tory of Art Department, who also has vested
interest in gender issues. Ward said the battle
between these combating ideas is a compli-
cated conversation that should be dealt with
“(This) essentially (is) the debate. Is this
about history, or is this about our contempo-
rary values?” Ward said. “And it’s a hard call,
and you know, it’s unclear what’s broadly the
right thing to do politically. White-washing
history doesn’t stop it from happening it
again, but allowing for a celebration of prob-
lematic figures is equally an issue. And so it
does become, I think, a case-by-case choice.”
And in terms of a case-by-case decision,
Ward said it is important to look at both the
historical and modern context surrounding a
piece of discussion in order to come to mea-
sured choices.

n the fall of 2017, #MeToo was pushed
to the forefront of societal conversa-
tion as the hashtag gained a strong
following on Twitter, revitalizing the move-
ment that activist Tarana Burke began in
2006. This then spurred the Time’s Up move-
ment, which was created with the intention
of stopping widespread abuse by men in the
workplace. The growth of these movements
has increased social awareness of sexual
assault and harassment, publicly challenging
powerful, influential men who exploit their
positions of power, and sometimes are still
able to retain strong levels of cultural weight
after allegations become public.
Also during the fall of 2017, strong inves-
tigative reporting uncovered suppressed sto-
ries of abuse and brought survivors of assault
to the public eye, playing a crucial role in
increasing public awareness of institution-
al issues like sexual assault. One of these
reporters is Ronan Farrow, Woody Allen’s
son, who broke the Harvey Weinstein scan-
dal in October 2017 in a piece for The New
Yorker. His reporting opened the floodgates
for a series of journalistic pieces regarding
similar systems of abuse.
Farrow and Ken Auletta visited the Uni-
versity on March 19 for a Wallace House
event. Auletta, another reporter for The New
Yorker, took a moment during the event to

briefly comment on Farrow’s connection to
Woody Allen, citing it as his initial concern
over Farrow’s motivations to pursue these
stories. Farrow’s response to these claims,
then and now, is that his sister’s abuse func-
tioned as a contribution to his passion, not a
conflict of interest.
Farrow used the event to speak to the big
strides that were made in these movements,
but referenced the remaining changes that
need to occur.
“I don’t think we’ve achieved accountabil-
ity … I don’t think we’ve extended the tenta-
tive steps towards accountability to all the
segments of society that desperately need it,”
Farrow said.
And in order to promote that much-needed
accountability, Farrow claimed we need to
“keep holding their feet to the fire.”

nd how do we do that? A clear place
to start seems to be one’s own com-
munity. It’s easy enough to broadly
and indirectly recognize the existence of
power structures and imbalances that give
certain people greater authority. It’s more
difficult to look internally and see the ways
one’s own city is supporting problematic
people, like Ann Arbor’s inclusion of Woody
Allen in the “Bookstore Mural.” But this type
of identification takes self-reflective work
that is often strenuous to community memo-
ries and values.
While speaking with Ysabel Bautista, an
Ann Arborite and LSA sophomore studying
biopsychology, cognition and neuroscience,
she reflected on her experiences seeing the
mural as a staple piece of public art in Ann
“My mom and I used to go (to Borders
bookstore) every weekend to get books, and
then we’d walk down to Ben and Jerry’s and
get ice cream, so when you’d turn that corner
you’d see that mural,” Bautista said. “Every
time I think of that mural I think of … going
to Borders to buy books with my mom.”
enhances the need for productive communi-
ty dialogue about questionable public works
in order to understand dissenting opinions.
Bautista did, however, note her understand-
ing of community concerns after reflecting
on her new perspective as a student rather
than a local Ann Arbor resident.
“I feel like everyone who’s lived in Ann
Arbor who goes to the University of Michi-
gan, you just see Ann Arbor in a different
light when you’re living on campus because
now you see perspectives of people who
aren’t from Ann Arbor,” Bautista said. “And
you’re like, ‘Oh wow, maybe Ann Arbor’s not
as picture-perfect as I thought it was before.’”
Public art can act as a representation of

a community, blending together an artist’s
intention and the values of the place where
their art resides, seemingly bringing the resi-
dents of an area together in acceptance of an
image. But this does not necessarily need to
be a permanent assertion of personal or com-
munity value. As perceived by Art and Design
freshman Gabe Consiglio, art is allowed to
change with the times given our new cultural
“With learning of allegations like the ones
against Woody Allen, I don’t think an art-
ist should be obligated to keep that stance
that they had when they originally made
the piece,” Consiglio said. “So I think if they
wanted to, they definitely should be able to
go in and change it based on new informa-
tion that they learned. Because opinions on
that should be ever-changing, you know, you
shouldn’t ever need to hold the same stance
on one issue. So I think definitely art is some-
thing that can be revisited and tweaked.”
Making a point of calling out damaging
imagery or perpetuations of unfair power
structures, like those that allow for the exal-
tation of prominent men like Woody Allen, is
how community perceptions can be adjust-
ed to champion more conscientious values.
Being able to rally behind a change, or at the
very least, generate a greater conversation
about what our art says about our commu-
nity, is how a community is able to challenge
its own internalization of social hierarchies.
By continuing to talk to ReVeal, it has
become clear that a conversation needs to be
had about the art that is so prominently dis-
played in Ann Arbor.
“If we’re allowing someone who has hor-
rible allegations against them in this public
space, we’re perpetuating this idea that men
who have done things like this can remain
in power because of (professional) things
that they’ve done, and we’re not taking into
account the whole picture,” ReVeal said.
ReVeal and I are now in the early stages of
reaching out to property owners and affili-
ates with the mural to start a broader con-
versation within the Ann Arbor community
about the type of imagery that we promote.
Woody Allen’s history of abuse exists clearly
in downtown, but remains ignored in favor
of an artistic glorification of his cultural
impact. What exactly should happen to the
mural is unclear, and requires the engage-
ment and perspectives of the entire Ann
Arbor community. But the city must take
some agency over what is being displayed in
their own backyard, because, in the words
of lecturer Ward, “No painting, no film, no
technical ability should let you get out of the
ethical rules of humanity.”

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