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Mural Ordinance Public Meeting Period Does Not End Quietly

Mural Ordinance Panel

A final public meeting on the mural ordinance draft was held earlier this month, giving artists one more night to butt heads with policy makers and differing perspectives before the draft heads back to City Hall. (The deadline to submit comments for the zoning code amendment was February 8th).

The final meeting brought over 155 people to the new LALA Gallery in the Arts District. The panel, moderated by City Planner Tanner Blackman, included Saber, the street artist who took to the sky to state "art is not a crime;" Shepard Fairey, the street artist who arguably has the highest profile of any creative guerilla; and Daniel Lahoda, owner of the gallery and curator for L.A. Freewalls.

The panel and the attendees first discussed the historic tradition of Los Angeles murals; the question period brought out territorial aesthetics. A heated debate arose on the floor when the panel credited commercial sponsorship as a means of allowing them to produce new works. The conflict between corporate-funded street art and socially-minded murals with ethnic-based narrative has been at the center of many of these public meetings.

Saber and Shepard Fairey listening to muralists in the audience during a January Mural Ordinance public meeting I Photo Ed Fuentes
Saber and Shepard Fairey listening to muralists in the audience during a January Mural Ordinance public meeting I Photo Ed Fuentes

"Rise of Planet of the Apes" by Andy Lister, a recent piece commissioned by a film studio in January, was an example of a graffiti-based work sponsored by a corporation to advertise a product. Street artists say the growing partnerships with corporate sponsors must be kept, "Otherwise, we are shooting ourselves in the foot," said Saber.

But it's about art serving a community, the collective of Latino muralists declared in response, and murals must avoid being a direct commercial endorsement. During previous meetings, artists with deep roots in Mexican Muralism recanted that the tradition of Los Angeles murals began in the early 1970s as an homage to David Alfaro Siqueiros, creating works that represent a neighborhood's historic and political ethos.

On a side note, one has to remember that African-American artists are just as rightful to claim the disputed origins of the urban community mural movement. In 1967, Chicago-based artist William Walker led twenty other African-American artists to paint the "Wall of Respect" at 43rd and Langley, a project that led to one of the first mural programs in an inner-city.

In Los Angeles, while artists in Venice and the Eastside were painting their neighborhoods, African-American artists like John Outterbridge, Roderick Sykes, Richard Wyatt, Alice Patrick, Alonzo Davis, Ulisses Jenkins, and Charles White were also taking to the streets in South Los Angeles as the 1970s began, as confirmed by Isabel-Rojas Williams, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Mural Conservancy.

Back at the meeting, one activist had an ideological tantrum, calling the presence of council members a "token visit." He sounded off before storming away, waving his hands in disgust as he opted to leave the meeting "to get tacos." But an artistic truce settled in during the last few questions, and the panel steered the topic back to how murals are on the cusp being street legal.

The ordinance is in the process of moving through committees before being presented to City Council for approval, informed Blackman. With the cancellation of the February City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission meeting, the approval process will be stalled until March 15th.

"I'm optimistic this ordinance will make a difference, but not optimistic that humans will get along on every issue," said Fairey after the meeting. "Regardless of people, most will agree, more outlets for creativity is a good thing."

Jose Huizar defending his point during a January mural ordinance draft meeting. Huizar has been working on restoring mural production in the city since elected as District 14's Councilmember in 2005 I Photo by Ed Fuentes
Jose Huizar defending his point during a January mural ordinance draft meeting. Huizar has been working on restoring mural production in the city since elected as District 14's Councilmember in 2005 I Photo by Ed Fuentes