The idea for the Great Wall of Los Angeles germinated from the social, environmental, and cultural aspirations that the city and its inhabitants have experienced throughout its history. In the late 1960s, murals in Los Angeles connected with disenfranchised communities that were long bereft of the resources to occupy public consciousness. The murals became symbols of cultural affirmation, improved neighborhood aesthetics, and provided a platform for communities to engage in public discourse.
Linking these aims was the guiding principle of the social mural movement that emerged in Mexico in the 1920s: to create public art with a social and ideological function. Taking inspiration, in 1971 artist Judith F. Baca co-founded the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), an organization devoted to producing, preserving, and conducting education programs on community based public art. The organization's first project, and one that would begin a collaborative effort that would last well into the next century, was the Great Wall of Los Angeles.
Touted as the longest mural in the world, the Great Wall was initially a beautification project proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1974. Under the direction of Baca, the mural transformed into a bold illustration of the history of California from the state's prehistoric past to the struggles of its ethnic minorities for civil rights and equality. Completed over five summers, the Great Wall grips 2, 754 feet, roughly half a mile, of vertical concrete lining the Tujunga Flood Control Channel in the San Fernando Valley. An expedition of over 400 youths and artists descended into the channel each year to paint thousands of feet of multi-cultural history; a narrative that had never before been achieved on such a public and prominent canvas.