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Pop-Up Mural Policy a Sign of Things to Come?

The duty of the new mural ordinance to prevent art from being exploited by advertising is being challenged by paint splattered, sprayed, highlighted, and buffed on a wall at Third and Main.

The piece had a beer logo prominent for a week, placed for visual background for a video promoting the artist and a new product.

The video by Miller Fortune was released last week, part of a major roll-out for the new beverage, designed to attract, according to Time magazine, "the prized demographic of male drinkers aged 21 to 27."

The work on the wall may be used in an ad, but that doesn't make it an ad, said Daniel Lahoda of LALA Arts and LA Freewalls, who oversaw this mural and other sponsored works downtown.

"The easy answer is that in person there's nothing on the murals that identifies them as ads, because they are not ads," said Daniel Lahoda by e-mail. "Artists are not commodifying their art; what they are painting is not a compromise to what they would do otherwise."

The "M" was painted over after the shoot was completed, and can't be seen by photographs taken across the street, as seen in materials sent by Lahoda. Still, standing up close to the sign, the "M" is the same shade as the highlight giving the ghosted image the layered form and pattern of street art.

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That adds a new significance to the mural. These shades of black and grey make the ace at Third and Main a centerpiece in a direct challenge of what is art, what is an ad, and how it fits under the policy designed to keep them separated.

The murals are reflective of art in the city, said Lahoda in posted rebuttals, and are legal. "All murals were created in complete accordance with the new mural ordinance that we advocated," he wrote, in response to a previous post that wrote that other works completed by LALA Arts -- the Ron English mural sponsored by Juxtapoz, who work in tandem with Converse Wall to Wall; and the mural of the album cover for "Supermodel," commissioned by indie band Foster the People, the completion of which coincided with a concert last week -- were works sponsored by commercial firms that also functioned within a larger marketing strategy.

As for the work on Third and Main, there is no permit for it. "DCA has not received an application for the mural in question, so the mural is not officially registered by the city," wrote Felicia Filer, Director Public Art Division Department of Cultural Affairs, the department assigned to oversee mural permits for art painted on privately owned property.

According to the city of Los Angeles, the painting on the wall was done without a mural permit, so it is considered a sign. "If a new mural is not registered as an original art mural, it is considered a sign and is regulated by article 4.4 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code," according to Flier.

That leaves the Third and Main work a hybrid project that taps into, what Lahoda considers, an unofficial allowance for temporary, spontaneous walls that the community can use without requiring a permit.

The wall is one of the public spaces that have become spontaneous canvases for the artists in the community, and that Cultural Affairs are aware. "[T]echnically these type of walls are not permitted but tolerated," Lahoda was quoted in a recent article on Hyperallergic.

In the same e-mail from early last week, Flier confirmed there is no unofficial agreement, as Lahoda suggested. "DCA does not have any knowledge of, nor endorses any, 'temporary, spontaneous walls for the community to use without requiring a permit,'" stated Flier.

For now, the painted wall at Third and Main, called a mural by default, is really a sign, according to the city. But not an ad, said Lahoda, even if it's used as part of a well financed marketing strategy for a new brand.

The only clear message coming from the painted image with a beer logo is simple and direct: mural responsibly.

Above: Ghost "M" in Miller mural at Third and Main. Taken Jan. 26, 2014. Photo: viewfromaloft

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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