With L.A.'s Mural Code About to Change, the Code of the Streets Should Be Next

Days after being restored, Kent Twitchell's mural was marked | Photo via Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles

Days after being abated of graffiti, Kent Twitchell's "Jim Morphesis Monument" was once again marked. The damage comes at a turning point in Los Angeles mural culture, as aerosol based works have gained credibility and support from civic cultural leaders, traditional muralists, and -- reluctantly -- law enforcement.

The 1984 Olympic-era mural, located on Grand Avenue at the 101 Freeway, just went through a major graffiti removal process that began in mid-November and finished in early December with a final protective topcoat (there is still ongoing fundraising to pay for the project).

This tests the skywriting call-to-action, "Art is not a crime," made by street artist Saber who in September took to the sky to scold the city for its moratorium on murals and law enforcement's "harassing of artists." Even some media hummed along that the city is the main reason murals have disappeared -- that creativity has solely been victimized by bureaucracy.

Yet, if someone marks (or is tagged?) an iconic and commissioned mural, is "Art is not a crime" still relevant? If not, what is?

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The mark was applied sometime late on December 19th, or in the early morning of the 20th. By that afternoon, a photo of the marked mural was on Facebook and Twitter in a virtual victory lap by supporters of the "artist" who marked the piece.

The swirls of letters was "bringing the real art back to the streets," claimed one twitter account, which later said: "Disrespecting the **** out of all them Murals . . . Hahaha shout out to [name]."

The first recommendation by those who work within street culture is just clean it up and move on, or to play the street code by not saying anything so the mark doesn't get any more attention. Some may shrug shoulders and say, "It isn't the same thing. That's a tag. We are artists."

Not this time. Not when murals, including street art, are on the cusp of being legal in Los Angeles.

Just as street artists challenged the city to change the municipal code, they may have to find a way for the proverbial street code be modified.

Street and graffiti artists must gather the elders and change protocol, such as the one that was supportive by being silent when this specific person had co-conspirators gloat online.

"The whole thing is a shame. Particularly for those of us who are working specifically to influence the culture to be responsible and productive," Daniel Lahoda of L.A. Freewalls said, just a few hours after the photo was posted. "It's just bad for the whole aesthetic."

It's a new kid on the block looking for cheap fame, said one street art curator.

On one hand, the Twitchell mural is art and has to be respected, added one undisclosed graffiti artist, who noted the subculture doesn't call out any form of applying paint on walls.

It can't be this way anymore. Not if this mural ordinance passes, especially when the influence of street art was considered. Not if any artist hopes that someday funding be earmarked toward any sort of mural program. Not if any artists wishes dynamic graffiti and street art space, like the Belmont Tunnels, can be part of the city again.

In this case of a mark on a mural, street artists cannot point a finger to the city, county, or state failing art--or flay at billboards companies during public comment. And they cannot distance themselves too far from this form of marking a wall with paint.

This is not a call for artists to start identifying those responsible for marks like these to LAPD or county sheriff's deputies. Taggers and graffiti artists do that enough on their own now, tweeting out portfolio pieces before the paint is dry.

It should be the starting point for a New Year's resolution: sending the word directly to the street that the official mural code now belongs to artists.

With a fury directed at the city, street artists made a stand on behalf of murals. It worked. Now it has to be directed to those who emulate them.

Ed Fuentes has extensively covered mural policy in Los Angeles for KCET's Departures. Read previous mural posts here.

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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