Are L.A. Murals Worth Protecting?
Los Angeles has the highest number of murals of any city in the U.S. except for Philadelphia. But the city is divided as to the merits of this street art.
For some, public murals are an unwelcome sight on the city’s landscape, marking areas with high crime, unemployment and gang activity. Others view them as an emblem of Los Angelenos, representing the city’s vibrant, creative and diverse nature.
Of L.A.’s remaining 1,100 murals, more than half are located on private property. City officials are now pushing for somewhat draconian laws regarding street art; one would require mural painters to obtain permits in public spaces.
The Social and Public Art Resource Center, SPARC, has launched a campaign to Save L.A. Murals and change the negative perception of such artwork. Judith Baca, the founder of SPARC, explained the difference between Graffiti and Murals: “Graffiti is one syllable… while a mural is a story”. She went on to say that a whole new generation of muralists is being lost as they have no public space to draw on, and those who draw illegally are now arrested.
The Save L.A.’s Murals campaign centers on the Great Wall, found in the Coldwater Flood Canal (in North Hollywood), which stretches for hundreds of yards and covers the history and struggles of Los Angeles. One mural pays tribute to the survivors of the Jewish Holocaust arriving in America, while another to the American Inventor Edison and early war films.
However, the 25-year-old mural needs half a million dollars in restoration work, and the same is true for hundreds of others, many of which have an ephemeral existence, lost to whitewashing, vandalism and sun bleaching.
For many Angelenos, protection and promotion of street art is essential to the city’s community relations. Schemes such as that at Pico Graffiti Center help prevent street war by giving gang members a wall to paint their latest works on. And L.A. Gang Tours, a bus tour run by ex-gang members, earns money for the local community.
Los Angeles now has to decide if its rich legacy of murals is worth protecting before more invaluable pieces are lost.
To reach reporter Ken Van der Meeren, click here.