Proposed changes to an LA mural ordinance prompt ‘art or advertisement’ debate

Under the current regulations, Los Angeles has practically outlawed murals as a byproduct of strict ordinances aimed at keeping the explosion of billboards and over-sized advertisements under control. Now, changes are being proposed that would make the art LA is known for actually legal within its city limits.

At a United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council meeting last Thursday, the agenda included an item calling for discussion of the Department of City Planning’s proposed ordinance that aims to change some of the current laws to make it easier for artists to make their mark on the city.

Council member Laura Meyer presented a slideshow of photographs to the council as a sort of pop-quiz on art versus advertising. As each image popped up, members would look for criteria they felt distinguished a mural from a billboard before calling out their decision.

Many images met with a resounding “art!” or “advertisement!” But just as many weren’t so easily or evenly agreed upon.

“I’ll just tell you all now, this is all a trick question,” council member Norman Gilmore said.

With the intricacy of the decision well-illustrated, the council moved into a closer look at the ordinance. There are four main point of the proposal that the DCP hopes will encourage artists while discouraging advertisers.

The first point is requiring a permit for potential muralists. A new permit fee of $199 will be assessed after plans for the mural are approved.

Second, restrictions on the type of media that can be used to build the mural are aimed at keeping art and ads separate. While the list of approved materials includes only paint and tile in the proposal, some artists are concerned that this will limit their options for creating more elaborate or unique work.

Taking aim at the tendency for ads to change frequently, a third condition for a new mural is a proposed duration of five years. This could not only ensure that an artist’s work remains intact for a longer period of time, but also make it harder for advertisers to commit to one ad that could potentially become quickly outdated.

Similar to the required time a mural must be left intact, the fourth and final condition references the Visual Artist’s Rights Act, which states that—unless under commission—an artist’s work belongs to them and so cannot be covered up or disassembled in any way.

After discussing these four points, the UNNC moved to compose a letter to the DCP that would highlight the concerns and suggestions the council had worked up during their meeting.

All that is left now is to wait and see if any changes will be made to the proposal based on feedback from the UNNC and other members of the Los Angeles community.