Street Art: Benefit or Detriment?

Los Angeles' existing public art murals are falling into disrepair. The City so often referred to as the "mural capital of the world" may soon lose its title. While in the past the City did protect some older murals, it has allocated very few funds (if any) for the restoration of conservation of public murals. The City of Angels may have as many as 2,000 murals which are fading fast.

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Starting in East Los Angeles, and eventually moving west, many of the City's most famous murals were painted decades ago, beginning in the 1960s. Some of these murals were commissioned later, for the 1984 Olympics. Many are now in tatters, either the victims of time, taggers, or both.

At a time when people are struggling to feed and care for themselves, should we be worried about whether the walls look pretty? Perhaps, if the money spent restoring our murals is less than the money reaped by a possible infusion of tourists and investments. Lets do a cost-benefit analysis and see tourists will go on mural tours as well as star tours.

And what about new murals? A Los Angeles law defines murals as signs and the City's 2002 Sign Ordinance has effectively prohibited most murals on private property.

This so-called moratorium on street murals is much maligned. One local graffiti artist, Saber, has protested the moratorium by taking to the skies. Literally. Saber hired five jet planes and painted the sky with messages like, "Art Is Not A Crime" and "End Mural Moratorium."

Prohibiting art, particularly on private property, is a dangerous business. While the City has an interest in ridding the city of violent or offensive graffiti, or even less than that - blight, our lawmakers must be careful not to outlaw murals because they do no like or agree with the message or the messenger.

More murals and street art commentary from KCET Departures:

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government in Los Angeles every week. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user GrahamKing. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

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