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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.