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Dollar Bill Mural Faces Uncertain Future

By Jenny Zhang

Scheduled for demolition over winter break, MIT’s dollar bill mural has been spared, at least for now.

Initial plans for converting the recently vacated Cashier’s Office into a student lounge called for the replacement of the mural facade with a glass wall, said Phillip J. Walsh, director of the Campus Activities Complex. But after last-minute opposition from some students, the committee is reconsidering construction plans, he said.

Just before final exams last fall, Estevan M. Martinez ’08 and Sarah C. Hopp ’08 conducted a simple online survey targeted at undergraduates asking whether students wanted the mural to remain or be replaced by glass.

The e-mail publicizing the survey could have introduced a bias, however; it began with the words: “I am writing to you today to help conserve a piece of MIT history.” Even taking bias into account, the strong student response “calls for re-evaluating” what to do to the mural, Martinez said.

Over two days, 587 responses were recorded, with 72 percent supporting preserving the mural, although repeated responses from the same person were not prevented, he said.

Though the possibility of the mural’s removal was known several months prior, Martinez said he started paying attention when he saw someone photographing the mural because it would be taken down soon. After sending an e-mail to some dormitory discussion e-mail lists soliciting feedback that quickly generated about 70 responses, he decided to bring up the concern at an Undergraduate Association Senate meeting, and the survey was created, he said.

Walsh said that the results of the survey are being considered by the committee, and that the fate of the mural has not been determined. A decision will be made “hopefully very soon” so that construction can begin, with the project to be completed near the end of the Spring term, he said.

If the original plans move forward in the end, Martinez said he would accept them. “At this point I think I’ve done all I can,” he said.

Gordon B. King of the department of facilities said construction to convert the space into a lounge will be extensive and probably take three to four months. The glass wall choice was designed to allow light coming in from Killian Court to reach the Infinite Corridor, he said. If the bill mural were removed, it would likely be memorialized with an etching on the glass, he said.

Walsh said one concern was that the glass wall would offer too much exposure, and ways to soften that would be considered.

The mural has been at the center of several hacks. When President Susan Hockfield took office, Washington’s face was replaced with a painting of hers, and in 1993, as tuition neared $10,000 a term, the facade was changed into a $10,000 bill, according to the IHTFP Gallery. Most recently, a teardrop appeared under Washington’s eye around finals week last month.