A township mural meant to honor and acknowledge students who persevered through months of remote learning during COVID was recently defaced, according to a post by the Voorhees Arts Council.
The 198-foot mural on the northeast side of the Voorhees Town Center was commissioned by the township as a special project for the council, a nonprofit arts program started in 2018 to commemorate the end of the year for students of all grades who missed important school events due to COVID.
The wall depicts silhouettes of dozens of students marching toward a podium at its right side, and includes the various stages of education. The mural also includes a significant amount of imagery and references to various clubs, athletic teams and organizations offered at Eastern Regional High School.
One of those is the Eastern color guard, which used a Pride Flag in its 2019-’20 performances that was pictured on the mural. It was discovered on Jan. 2 that the word “gay” was written underneath the flag with an arrow pointing toward it, according to the co-chair of the arts council, Marianne Leone, who said the defaced area has been painted over.
According to township officials, the Voorhees police department was notified of the defacement and security cameras around the premises were reviewed in an ongoing effort to locate the vandal. An artist who has frequently contributed to and worked with the arts council in recent years first noticed the defacement and immediately notified the nonprofit’s co-chairs.
Leone said the vandalism of the mural was certainly disappointing, especially for a piece of art intended to celebrate how students made it through the difficult end of the 2019-’20 school year.
“The intention of the wall was to honor all graduates and students and to be all inclusive in congratulating anyone that went through the changes that schools saw at that point in time,” Leone said. “It was disappointing that, in that celebration, someone was compelled to deface the wall …
“I don’t understand what anyone would really get out of doing something like that.”
The township and arts council believe the defacement reflected malice toward those who identify as a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Leone noted the irony of the mural – meant to show inclusivity without fear of judgement – being defaced at the point where it highlights that community’s symbol of pride.
“It struck me recently that in the most recent kids camp we hosted, we were speaking with the kids about what they enjoy most about art, and they kept saying they love that you can’t get art wrong, you’re creative in your own way and self-express,” Leone said.
“Now, here we as grown-up artists created a beautiful mural aimed at inclusivity, but there was judgement with the defacement, which was disappointing.”
Mayor Michael Mignogna commented on the vandalism, saying such hate is not tolerated or accepted, especially in a township as diverse as Voorhees.
“This wall has been such a treasure and gift to our community,” he said. “It celebrates the youth and diversity of our town. I’m thankful for the artists who made this mural a reality.
“In Voorhees we do not judge; we embrace.”