LA is getting its murals back!

LA City Hall Council Chambers, Room 340…for the last time; Photo by Daniel Lara

Back in July, muralists from all over Los Angeles filled up room 340 in City Hall to find out that the LA City Mural Ordinance could not be agreed on and we’d all have to wait until September to find out when and under what circumstances original art murals on private property would be legal again.  But then in September the City postponed it to October.  After a 10-year Mural Moratorium, artists were getting tired and fed up.  (Here’s the link to my post back in July about the Public Hearing in case you missed it.)

Artists line up to get their 60 seconds in front of the City Planning Commission; Photo by Daniel Lara

So on Thursday, we all returned to that same room in City Hall to find out about the future of LA’s walls.  The City Planning Commission (CPC) heard many artists, teachers, activists, etc. explain once again what should be included or disregarded in the proposed ordinance.  Many agreed on the same issues as last time, such as how the definition of “Original Art Mural” shouldn’t include digitally printed images and that single-family homes should be able to have a mural.  The difference in this hearing was that more artists who wanted digital murals included in the ordinance spoke their minds, including Judy Baca from SPARC (who failed to attend the last hearing).

Muralist and United Painters and Public Artists (UPPA) co-founder Raul Gonzalez expresses his concerns about the proposed Mural Ordinance; Photo by Daniel Lara

After the discussion went back and forth between council members, compromises were starting to be made.  In the end the council members agreed that residential buildings with 2 units could lawfully display a mural.  However, even though there was a big divide in the issue of digitally printed images being permitted, it was not voted against.  We will just have to wait and see what details will be changed as this ordinance will go on to Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) commission.  If it passes it goes to City Council for final approval.  Now it’s just a matter of time…

When all was done, there was no cheering or clapping.  The vote happened so quickly that when it passed it seemed to catch everyone off guard.  The group of artists behind me stormed out of the hall.  The ones in front of me embraced.  You could still feel the division… but in the end LA will get its murals back.

Glenna Avila’s famous 1984 mural “LA Freeway Kids” on the 101 currently in the process of being restored by the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA); Photo by Daniel Lara.

Daniel Lara, Carlyn Aguilar and Willie Herrón III discuss the Public Hearing on the 101 Freeway; Photo by Isabel Rojas-Williams, Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA)

After the hearing I was invited to see the 1984 Olympic Freeway Murals on the 101 freeway, in the process of being restored by the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA).  MCLA’s Executive Director Isabel Rojas-Williams, with hard hat and orange vest in hand, took me to see first-hand the amazing work they have done so far on Kent Twitchell’s Jim Morphesis Monument and Lita Albuquerque Monument.  Luckily iconic muralist and ASCO artist Willie Herrón III, commissioned by MCLA, was on the freeway restoring Glenna Avila’s famous 1984 mural LA Freeway Kids.  When we told him what had happened at the Public Hearing, he was not happy at all. He explained “I feel LA/CA will have to ban the use of vinyl in mural reproductions/commercial signs in the near future if the city allows the use in the mural & sign ordinances.  This is not an issue of artistic freedom.  Vinyl is poison!”  (Here’s a link to a site Herrón referred to about vinyl.)

Kent Twitchell, “Lita Albuquerque Monument” being restored by (left to right) Carlos Callejo, Raul Gonzalez, Willie Herrón (commissioned by MCLA); Photo courtesy Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA)

With MCLA Executive Director Isabel Rojas-Williams in front of Kent Twitchell, “Jim Morphesis Monument”; Photo by Daniel Lara

As he was saying this, a vinyl reproduction of a mural was not only flapping in the wind but also covering the spot where an image of the final kid running is supposed to be.  The metaphor was like a slap in the face.  Side by side, however, it was obvious which “mural” needed to go… unfortunately in a landfill.

Hand painted vs. digital murals; Photo by Daniel Lara

This week was a historic one for LA and its mural community as Siqueiros’ América Tropical on Olvera Street was unveiled to the public after 80 years.  As Isabel Rojas-Williams expressed to me, “the gods of the murals are aligning with us.”  Well it’s about time! ¡Si señor!

“América Tropical”, David Alfaro Siqueiros; Photo by Daniel Lara



  1. Thanks Carlyn, for your work documenting and spreading the word. The part of Hollywood I live in is rich with graffiti and even murals – a business on Gower has very elaborate murals that the owners must support – I see painters there quite often, changing and touching up their work.

    (Gower and Willoughby, for those who are interested.,-118.321617&spn=0.00718,0.013937&sll=37.269174,-119.306607&sspn=14.114059,28.54248&t=h&hnear=N+Gower+St+%26+Willoughby+Ave,+Los+Angeles,+California+90038&z=17&layer=c&cbll=34.087105,-118.32226&panoid=c-b91Az0QWyIO1StoCJCUw&cbp=12,334.3,,0,-0.69)

    I want to quote from your previous article a paragraph about specific protests to the proposed ordinance, forgive me for the length:

    “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.”

    (continuing to quote)

    “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.”

    (end quote)

    What about some of those points? Under the ordinance as passed, will fees be charged, and to whom? Building owners? Must muralists register or pay some fee? What about size limits? And what on earth can be the reason to limit murals to multi-unit buildings? What about businesses, I mean in this case business that support muralists, not for advertisement?

    Indeed, speaking of advertisements, there have been scandals documented in the LA Times for years about the City Council forking over rights to billboard companies for advertising. Currently there seems to be no limit at all, I see many lighted and obnoxious billboards even in residential neighborhoods, on through streets.

    Finally, why are SPARC so invested in vinyl murals?

    By definition murals exist directly on the surface of walls. The point of this is that murals occupy the skin of the city – they become, for a time, the material of which public space is made. Murals have a long history, in Los Angeles as elsewhere, of documenting histories – and contemporary moments – that are excluded from public discourse. It seems very important that this vital tool not be removable except through time or serious effort. This surface application and their treatment over time creates a metaphor for society’s actions to either accept those difficult histories into the common tale, or indicates that the struggle is still afoot.

    Excellent job, Carlyn. I hope more people comment and get involved.

  2. calling out to all artists who cannot get their mural space… here is the legendary BLF these guys were offspring and adament situationists from SF….. good luck to you all !

  3. and Mr Tuck thanks for posting all the rules and regulations most helpful…i like your drifting!

  4. ……drifting not just staying on the same track of the white cube.

  5. Thanks Geoff! This Ordinance is only a recommendation, as it still needs to go to PLUM and to City Council. So nothing is definite… things may get rewritten…but what is being recommended is a $60 flat rate fee, residential buildings with 2 or more units can now have a mural, and digital murals being included in the definition of an “original art mural”… among many other points (but those were the biggest ones that caused debate). As for SPARC, you should ask Judy Baca. Sorry I don’t have all the answers. The official minutes of the hearing as well as a future date for these recommendations to be approved have not be released.

  6. Cool, I understand, Carlyn and my question might be rhetorical.

    Thanks for the comment, PJ Panrice!

  7. Thanks for your expert reporting, Brenda Starr! It’s goog to hear some progress was made at least. I agree w/ Geoff that a mural is by definition painted on a wall. Those vinyl hangings are a joke. Private homes & businesses should be able to display a mural if they want. Vandalism is the City’s big issue with murals isn’t it? Personally, I’d like to see more innovations to cope with vandalism to murals, like motion detector spotlights or, haha, maybe sprinklers. Is that evil? No harm to mural or vandal need occur! Carlyn, did you ever hear about anything like that in the hearings? Eventually the costs of such measures would probably be offset by savings in restoration costs, don’t you think?

  8. Great post! Thanks for keeping us informed about this. Hopefully will get to see more murals when in LA!

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *