Raising the The Great Wall of Los Angeles was a monumental exercise in the preparation and collaboration of materials and human resources. Each historical segment required a full year of research and planning before execution. Mural Makers, as the youth workers were called, were employed through the Summer Youth Employment Program and mostly came from low income backgrounds. Professional artists supervised the Mural Makers for up to eight hours a day, as the concrete wall was sandblasted, waterblasted, sealed, drawn on, and painted. By the end of the first summer of 1976, 1,000 feet of California history had been painted. During each of the following summers of 1978, 1980, 1981, and 1983, 350 feet of the mural was added, which depicted a decade of history from the viewpoint of a California ethnic group.
For the young Mural Makers, working on the Great Wall was a time of maturation alloyed with triumph. Hector Martinez, a teenager at the time of construction, recalls the Great Wall as not only his first involvement in an artistic project but also his first job that taught him about the rigors of responsibility. Like Hector, many of the Mural Makers also grew up in neighborhoods afflicted by gang culture. The Great Wall presented a challenge of assimilation for these young men and women as they assembled together under intense working conditions. Supervisor Bea Rully remembers the hazards of working in the oven-like concrete corridor, including heat exhaustion and snow blindness incurred by the brightness of the concrete walls. Flash floods were also a threat. One summer Bea was swept into a powerful deluge that carried her miles down the channel and prompted a swift helicopter rescue.
What was ultimately gained through the Great Wall experience was a sense of achievement and trust. The Mural Workers learned to trust one another in an environment that promoted tolerance and agency. Each of their names now proudly scales the mural's edge: a credit to their achievement on the narrow banks of the Tujunga Wash, one of the many vital arteries of their land.
The Great Wall of Los Angeles Movie
Directed by Donna Deitch, founding member of SPARC, this archival video was shot in the summer of 1976 featuring youth involved with The Great Wall of Los Angeles mural project.
Bea Rully and Hector Martinez: Youth & Diversity
Supervisor Bea Rully and Mural Worker Hector Martinez explain the population dynamics amongst the youth workers.
Bea Rully and Hector Martinez
Supervisor Bea Rully describes a freak accident that occurred during the production of the mural.
Diana Ferrari: The Vandalism Stakeout
Supervisor Diana Ferrari recounts the problems of vandalism and theft on the site, an unpleasant sleepover in the Tujunga Wash, and the decline of spaces for public art.