It’s still illegal to make a mural on private property! City Planning Commission delays Mural Ordinance.

LA used to be the mural capital of the world.  For the last 10 years, this title has withered away as there has been a city-wide ban on murals on private property.  Yesterday at City Hall in room 340, I was surrounded by many artists to listen to and fight for the future of LA’s murals.

L.A. City Hall Council Chambers, Room 340

For two hours of public comment, artists and community members came up one by one to share their issues concerning the proposed LA City Mural Ordinance, such as artist Anna Siquieros (the niece of iconic Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros), Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA) Executive Director Isabel Rojas-Williams, muralist and United Painters and Public Artists (UPPA) co-founder Raul Gonzalez,  Art Historian and UPPA co-founder Lisbeth Espinoza, CSUN Professor Yreina Cervantes, muralist Carlos Callejo, and the list goes on and on…

Artist Yami Duarte, daughter of muralist Norma Montoya, speaks to the Planning Commission.

The majority of speakers were unhappy with the ordinance.  One huge concern was that the community had attended several meetings and had submitted hundreds of written correspondences to give their ideas to the Department of City Planning (DCP), however, many changes and significant language modifications had been made later by city officials without the local art community’s input. According to UPPA, they are disappointed “by the political process, which favors the interest of big advertisement companies and digital graphic groups that negotiate backroom deals when support from the local art community is not achieved.” Parts of the Ordinance that many artists opposed include:

1.     Digitally printed images included in the definition of a mural- Artists argued that a mural should be hand-painted or hand-tiled.  They also stated that vinyl is not only toxic, fills landfills and lacks permanence, but that these kinds of ‘murals’ can be outsourced and can give opportunities to advertising companies and corporations to exploit.

2.     The ordinance limits murals to residential buildings with 5 or more units.  Many artists argued that there should be no limit and that if you want to paint on your own single-family residence, you should be able to.

3.     The ordinance has added administrative fees of $60, $80, $100 (depending on size) to register all murals.

4.     The ordinance states that a mural cannot exceed 100 feet in height.  Many artists don’t understand why there needs to be a limit.

The crowd booed after two employees from The Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) were called back up to the podium by the Planning Commission after they had already been given their time to talk during public comment.   They are in support of digitally printed image murals.  I found it interesting that Judith Baca, muralist and co-founder of SPARC, did not attend this very important event.  Instead she sent her two representatives to speak on her behalf and fight against the majority of artists there at City Hall for the production of digital murals.

Portable mural replica of the Galileo, Jupiter, and Apollo on vinyl. Photo from http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/Publications/Inside7/story.php?id=534

When I drive down the 101 freeway with out-of-town guests, as an art lover I have to admit that I am utterly embarrassed to show them the ugly vinyl banners bouncing around in the wind that are currently hanging on sites where murals used to be, those amazing murals that gave me inspiration as a child growing up in LA in the 80s.   Many of the artists expressed that they are disgusted and saddened that anyone could even think of this process as a substitute, especially in a city full of artists ready to work and apply paint to the walls.  In opposition to digitally produced images on vinyl as murals, muralist Noni Olabasi explained that hand painting a mural involves the community at large and “comes from the heart and soul of the people”.  The crowd cheered and applauded.

Flapping in the wind! Photo from http://www.dailybreeze.com/news/ci_18735561

After 4 hours of debate, the City Planning Commission could not come to a consensus.  The only thing they could agree on was to delay voting until September 13, when the artists will all return and continue to fight for what they believe in.  Once the ordinance is approved by the City Planning Commission,  it will move to Planning and Land use Committee (PLUM) before being adopted by City Council.

Artists listening attentively to the debate at City Hall.  At one point a group of artists started to shout repeatedly “No vinyl! No limit!”.

At the end of the hearing, I felt the energy of the artist community.  They are not going to give up.  But there were also some others who felt that this ordinance should have been passed so that they could just start working again… legally.  So the question is, do you compromise or do you stand strong, all or nothing…?  You decide. Be there on September 13th, City Hall.

It’s not over yet!

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for this report Carlyn. That we need to beg for permission to do a thong that is so natural to our city is crazy. Murals and tagging are LA. The beautiful and moving memorial murals that I used to see in the Arroyo Seco channel back in the 1980s are still among the most inspiring works of art I have seen. And now those walls are ugly grey and the artists are blamed for polluting the river. Hah. Artists don’t pollute – politicians who misunderstand the souls of the people they work for pollute.

    I guess we may accept a compromise, but damn it would be nice to insist on what is ours: freedom of expression.

  2. Haha “do a thing”

  3. Thank you for the update Carlyn! Los Angeles will lose it place in the forefront of the modern art world if art is not available to the masses via murals. I propose a large funeral procession, to mourn the death of art in LA….Let me know when and where, I will be there! Dr. George Meza

  4. Advocating for compensation (not just fee wavers) for muralist. Three major hotel developers recently granted 14% TOT (bed tax) WAVERS for 25 years (to “retain” an estimated $100 million). 1% of this tax funds Cultural Affairs. Impact to Artist Community not included in CLA’s Report/recommendation. Hotel wavers justified by suggesting new hotels bring tourist dollars. WRONG! Art and culture bring visitors that fill hotels. People travel to experience the culture (not just to stay in a hotel room). It’s time that artist and cultural promoters advocate for an “Artist Living Wage” and more arts funding.
    Possible funding;
    1) $3 million Annual Construction Fee paid to LA City by Wilshire Grand Hotel (plus Olympic North Hotels) developers should go to create LA Mural Fund. (as compensation for TOT waver, and part of “community benefits package” ).
    2) “1% for the Arts” of this billion dollar development can be used to create and restore fwy/community murals (1% for public art fund requiers that art work be near development).
    3) Graffiti Abatement contracts that are “buffing” the same walls for over 2 years should now be open to Mural Contractors. City of LA annual graffiti abatement budget is over $6mil. (MTA $12 mil. and LAUSD $14 mil.). City of LA Cultrual Affairs Artist Grants $3mil…. LA City alone spends twice as much of our money removing graffiti then it does creating art. This is unexceptable.
    ..

  5. I’m shocked and saddened to hear that Carlos and Felipe from SPARC were actually BOOED by other mural artists?? I am a longtime supporter and friend of SPARC and have been at a number of the most powerful community events in the last few years–Robert Kennedy Memorial, Miguel Contreras Dedication, CARECEN among them; and I believe they all utilized both painting and digital technologies. I respectfully submit that the conflict is between true art (community-driven murals) versus commerce (commercial advertising). And we all agree that vinyl is toxic. But new technologies that encourage lots of participation in the creation process and insure longevity should not be shunned. And turning on the heroes and heroines of LA muralism is complete folly. Please don’t fall for divide and conquer.

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