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Mural Ordinance Grievances: What to Expect [UPDATED]

[UPDATE 1:30 p.m.: As expected, the debate was long. After several hours, it was decided that the City Planning Commission will revisit the mural ordinance at a Sept 13 meeting.]

Around now, in City Hall room 340, the Mural Ordinance Report Recommendations are undergoing public comment, a long road that seems to have no end in sight. In brief, murals were collateral damage, prevented from being produced, while the city and media companies had wall turf wars in the courts. After that dust was settled, City Planning took to rewriting municipal codes to have mural removed out from under the defination of signs, so Los Angeles can once again have works on private property and restore itself as Mural Capital Of The World.

It's been the subject of a public comment and workshop period that has taken on the spirit of art revolution, which if you know your public art in Los Angeles legacy, was the content development for one style of outdoor art: The Latino/Chicano Mural.

If the City of Los Angeles Mural Ordinance was wheat-pasted on a random wall, it would be tagged, sections switched out, changes marked, ripped off, then put back in, and every section would have an artist declare "they ignored our demands" in a presumption they represent every style of art who that is placed on wall.

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In between the public comment declarations that murals are part of the city legacy, which is already known, you can expect to hear quite a bit about three grievances: Artists who feel a mural should as such if done in a certain process; protests on where you can paint a mural; and that the fees are still too high.

One school of thought demands that a wheat paste on a wall isn't a mural, but a form of graphic art, or an installation that should have another ordinance to keep that separate from painted murals. For real mural credentials, it must be painted. No wheat paste. Nothing affixed to a wall, which leave tile mosaics like those from Millard Sheets, or "Story of Our Struggle" in East Los Angeles be declared as installed public art. And the big protest you can expect to hear about is the call against digitally produced works that are affixed to a wall, of which "no vinyl" will be the battle cry.

The Mural Ordinance attempted to leave it open for different works to be part of the other battle cry "Making Art Happen," which includes new substrates being adapted, such as SPARC's method of saving a previously produced work on Broadway, that will take a digital replica of "Calle de la Eternidad" and reinstall on the different side of the same building.

Thumbnail image for Anna SiqueirosUnless its the interaction is considered, that art had been hand sculpted and part of human process, it's not public art, declares Anna Siqueiros, who will help lead artists attending the public hearing this morning. "Wheat paste is another way for a graphic artist to take the jobs of muralists," she said. Any other process, other than painting directly on a wall, isn't the work of a muralist, but an "installation graphic artist."

That, of course, would include any work produced in a studio that is digitally output on canvas, or non-traditional substrates, like metal or aluminum. Or worse, that dreaded material, vinyl.

SPARC is expected to consider a work produced by digital means to be a valid form of mural.

"MCLA (Mural Conservancy of Los Angele) is not opposed to the production of digitally printed works," said its Executive Director, Isabel Rojas-Williams. "MCLA states that by definition digitally printed artworks belong under 'Public Art Installation' because they must be installed on a substrate and then bolted to a wall. Unlike Kent Twitchell's murals which are painstakingly painted entirely by hand and then adhered directly to a wall, no substrate or bolting necessary."

She adds that artists or the city may not realize that digitally printed images on the exterior wall of a building, mounted on a substrate and attached as "mural" may not be protected under federal based Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA).

Dr. David Diaz, PhD a specialist in Urban Planning, who has been guiding United Painter and Public Artists (UPPA) as they hosted workshops, "doesn't like the mural ordinance" that has strayed from the "building blocks" from months of talks. Other than sharing the mandate that murals are only to be painted, he added "The [City] Panning Department had no rational reverence to public art. Not allowing anything with less then five units . . . conflicts with with class and revitalization."

That is based on the ordinance showing a short list of limits for Original Art Mural, including they will "only be permitted on residential buildings of five or more units."

Thomas Rothman, City Planner, who has been a spokesperson since the departure of Tanner Blackman, who drafted the ordinance, assures that privately owned commerical buildings will be allowed to have murals. The residential clause was based on a Portland Oregon detail that prevents murals on single family homes.

That may also include murals not allowed on walls on private property, such as those that face an alley?

We would have to look at that, he says, and can be reevaluated. "But that is what public hearing is about."

Of course, there is the issue of fees. A permit for an artist would top at $100. Murals before 2002 are grandfathered and not required to obtain a permit. What is sketchy are the murals produced after 2002. Will an artist or sponsor be required to obtain a permit works already up? And if so, if artists who wheat-pasted or installed works not have to obtain a permit if those muralist who lobby that a painted piece is the only true mural style are successful in swaying the City?

Frankly, the ordinance states murals after 2002 and produced up to now will not be required to pay a permit.

Those details will have to be hammered out quickly. The Mural Ordinance Report & Recommendations, if approved by City Planning Commission, will move to Planning and Land use Committee before being adopted by City Council.


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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It's a shame you tke vinyl so lightly. It is one of the most toxic materials on the planet. from cradle to grave. It produces dioxin and other poisons. But you are too cool to take it seriously. If the environmental degradation aspect of this discussion on murals is not important to you, maybe KCET should consider assigning someone whocan at least be willing and open to learn before tossing the subject off as if it had cooties.