Park City mayor thrust back into Black Lives Matter mural dispute as election nears
Message from Beerman, newly released as part of a public records request, shows he did not expect the amount of controversy that occurred
By a little after midnight on July 6, 2020, Mayor Andy Beerman and members of the Park City Council had already received intense criticism after murals with social justice themes had been put on the Main Street asphalt on Independence Day.
A large “Black Lives Matter” work was especially controversial. The mayor at 12:07 a.m. sent an email to the Park City Council and Park City Manager Matt Dias addressing the building tension centered on the murals. There were questions at the time about the process that led to the creation of the artworks and whether there had been adequate publicity prior to the artists starting the work.
“A little bit about our murals since I’m guessing you’ve all fielded some angry calls. They say that good art both entertains and provokes – I think we accomplished both today,” Beerman wrote in the email. “I apologize that Council was not better informed and prepared to respond to resident inquiries. I will take that blame. I pushed for this project to be hurried, and I did not expect the level of controversy for some. I was caught off guard too.”
The email was among the communications sent internally between Park City officials as questions arose from Parkites and others about the murals. Beerman on Sunday released a cache of communications centered on the controversy about the murals. The communications were compiled after a request by a private citizen using the state Government Records Access and Management Act. They were then provided to the media in addition to the citizen.
The release of the communications occurred as Park City voters are receiving their ballots in the City Hall election. Beerman is seeking reelection against Nann Worel, who is a member of the Park City Council. Two seats on the City Council are also on the ballot.
The July 6 email from the mayor covers some procedural issues regarding the murals. He said the Black Lives Matter mural was the choice of the artist and “this was not intended to be a BLM focused event,” as, according to the mayor’s message, it was characterized in the media.
“Despite some vociferous public feedback, I heard far more excited, proud and happy locals. Many participated in the painting, especially our youth,” the message said. “I went for a walk tonight and the street was full of people taking selfies on the art. Much of the negative feedback I received was not from residents.”
Beerman in the email, though, acknowledged there was “some drama with a few police officers that were offended by the BLM mural.” He also said he, his wife and a figure in the Park City arts community “ended up in an ugly argument with some of the artists working on” one of the smaller works.
“They were aggressively harassing and provoking our police officers (calling them f-in pigs…). We tried to talk to them about it, and it blew up. Very angry young people!” Beerman said in the email, indicating the dispute between the artists and the police officers was de-escalated.
In another email from the mayor, sent to the City Council and high-ranking staffers on July 7, Beerman acknowledged some of the members of the City Council were unaware of what was to occur on Main Street. He said, though, a communication from a week earlier “was pretty specific about the plan for the murals.”
“We did not hear any concerns, so things proceeded with the assumption Council was OK with this project,” he said in the email.
In an interview, Beerman discussed the efforts of supporters of Black Lives Matter to hold a rally in Park City. He said he started to be “hammered” in June of 2020 about the possibility of a rally or demonstration. An art project was a “safer alternative” to approach the topic, he said. The discussions broadened to racial equity, but, he said, leaders were “clear from the start there would be some BLM. … It was expected.”
The communications released by City Hall included a July 2 email from Sarah Pearce, a deputy Park City manager, to Beerman with a concept of the Black Lives Matter mural. Beerman said in the interview he understood the Black Lives Matter message would be included once he received the concept. The mural that was eventually created was 300 feet in length with 14-foot-tall letters.
“I was not aware of the scale,” he said in the interview, adding he did not anticipate that some would see the Black Lives Matter mural as an endorsement of the organization.
He said City Hall did not intend to align itself with the organization. Beerman said he stands behind the values expressed in the murals that were put on Main Street in 2020.
The mayor also said the timing of the request for the communications by the private citizen was “clearly political.” He said the campaign should instead be focused on issues like growth, climate change and traffic.
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The Park City Council will soon be short one member and Parkites will have an opportunity to take the seat with no campaign required. Officials on Tuesday are scheduled to hold an event designed for people who are considering submitting their name as a candidate for the appointment.