Coming Out Party for Murals Has a Calling Card in Highland Park

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With new developments in mural regulations in Los Angeles, the city's mural tradition is entering a new era. What better way to mark that transition than with a symbolic coming out party -- which could come by issuing one of the first permits under the new mural ordinance, to an artist who just celebrated her Quinceañera.

The end of the mural ordinance's waiting period, which lasts for 30 days after the mayor signed it, will be marked on October 11 at City Hall.

And in Highland Park, community members have been patiently waiting to install a mural.

Catalina Bolivar is 15, and a fixture at Highland Park's Avenue 50 Studios, as reported recently by The Eastsider LA. Her grandmother, Dolores Franco, 91, first brought Bolivar to the gallery to enroll in art classes. With with no children's classes being taught, curator Kathy Gallegos gave Bolivar some art supplies to take home.

That was almost eight years ago, almost the same duration as the ban on murals has been in effect. But in the spirit of all Los Angeles artists, the young Bolivar carried on by drawing at home, visiting the gallery once in a while to show her progress.

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Bolivar's father helped her artistic interests grow by taking her to the Southwest Museum, and the library to research art, said Pola Lopez, one of Bolivar's lead art guardians at Avenue 50's 2 Tracks Studio.

No doubt, the murals of Highland Park were also studied by the apprentice and emerging artist-in-residence.

Even at a young age, Bolivar has already experienced the bureaucracy professional artists have had to deal with. Under the mentorship of Lopez, Bolivar's entry won a mural competition, sponsored by Avenue 50 Studio and Peter Bedard, which was decided by a online poll. Bolivar was eager to get the mural up, but Bedard insisted on waiting for the mural ordinance to pass, so the installation could be legal. Bolivar kept working, while keeping up with her homework, at the studio.

Catalina Bolivar
Catalina Bolivar

The result of the mentorship is a mural design that flashes with color, in a mix of experience and childhood memory -- a greeting to Highland Park that will welcome commuters on the Metro, when completed and painted near the Gold Line station at Marmion Way and Avenue 57.

"The design contest was posted online through the Highland Park Patch, and [Bolivar] won by popular vote," said Lopez. "She and I then took her basic design and developed it into a [new] design, that resembles a nostalgic old time post card that represents Highland Park, and Northeast L.A."

Even Chicken Boy has a cameo within the playful bubble letters, which are part street art and part crafted postcard typography.

The lessons on design concepts included the process of painting a mural," adds Lopez, noting that Bolivar has been coming to the studio regularly to help out all the artists. "All the artists at the Avenue 50 Studio complex have embraced her as well, and she assists all of us in any way needed."

And the mentorship is now about presentation. With the attention the young artist has been getting, Bolivar is still nervous at times -- unless the subject turned to her goals for an art career. She has been attending gallery openings to watch artists in their natural habitat, of face-to-face social networking.

Now Avenue 50 artists and staff are also working toward getting Bolivar enrolled in the Los Angeles School of the Arts to get formal training, as long as the apprentice is able to keep up her grade point average at Franklin High School.

We see so many students with talent, but not the drive, says Lopez. "Kathy Gallegos is credited with bringing her into our space, as she saw the spark of talent that she carries at a very early age, and wanted to encourage and involve her in the arts."

So did Bolivar's grandmother, who dabbled in art herself. Last week, she visited the studio and saw her granddaughter working with mentors, and was emotionally moved.

After so many had worked to bring back a mural tradition to this city for future generations, it's the work of a child in Highland Park, whose first mentor was her grandmother, that will permit Los Angeles muralists be moved.

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