Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Case Of The Missing Murals

 Today the Open Culture Blog has a piece summing up the current state of murals in the city of Los Angeles, with a short documentary called Behind the Wall, which harshly denounces graffiti artists who ruin murals, but also directly criticizes the city's inability to protect its cultural artifacts. As the film describes it, murals are "bludgeoned by graffiti, censored by the city." The film claims that the city spent $60 million on graffiti removal between 2008 and 2009, but none on mural restoration.

Los Angeles has long been known as the street mural capital of the world. But in the past few years the city has painted over more than 300 murals,according to the Los Angeles Times, enforcing a decade-old ordinance that makes it a crime to create murals on most private properties. “The mural capital of the world is no more,” street artist Saber told the Times. “They buff beautiful pieces, harass property owners and threaten us like we are in street gangs.”
Some of the problems started in 1986, when the city was looking for a way to alleviate the growing scourge of billboard blight. The city was being blanketed with unsightly commercial advertising, so the Los Angeles City Council adopted a code to reduce commercial billboards. The new restrictions exempted artwork. Advertisers responded by suing the city, arguing that they had the same right of free speech as the muralists. So in 2002 the Council “solved” the matter by amending the code to include works of art. “The law left many murals technically illegal,” wrote the Timesin an Oct. 29 editorial, “no matter how talented the artist or how willing the owner of the wall or how inoffensive the subject matter.”
A favorite from my childhood
During my 28 1/2 years in Los Angeles, Ive seen many a mural come and go, not to mention tagged over, and it always breaks my heart.  The ones I feel especially connected to are on the freeways, painted for the 84' Olympics. I remember images from my childhood much much more than actual events, and these are significant for me. Sadly, after decades of tagging, these seem to be disappearing the fastest.

To be fair, Los Angeles has been making news with recent efforts to update the citywide Mural Ordinance, which would theoretically protect old murals and foster new ones. In addition to initial hearings in front of a joint committee of the City Council, the Planning Department has been holding public meetings to discuss the proposed ordinance.
· The Battle for LA's Murals [Open Culture]
· City Working on Bringing Murals Back to LA's Walls [Curbed LA]

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