Community response: South LA murals

Mural on Crenshaw Blvd. in South LA. | Stephanie Monte

Mural on Crenshaw Blvd. in South LA. View more mural photos on Flickr. | Stephanie Monte

The L.A. City Council decided Tuesday to allow South L.A.’s private, single-family houses to be painted with murals.

The vote — ten approvals with five absences — extends a former provision limited to commercial buildings. It will apply to homes in Districts 1, 9, and 14 — many parts of South and Southeast Los Angeles as well as Boyle Heights and Downtown. (Click to view the City Council reports.)

The council only requests that these private, home murals steer clear of advertisements or other commercial intent.

In the couple of months that the City Council has spent debating the ordinance, little has been heard from the residents of the communities it would affect. We took to the streets to get their input, and discovered that many residents had no idea the extended provision was even on the tables for discussion. Still, they had plenty to share.

Click on photos in the slideshow below to read their thoughts and opinions. Visit Flickr to view Stephanie Monte’s photos of existing murals.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

City council considers more murals for South L.A.

A June 2013 photo of a mural outside a home in South L.A. | Intersections

A mural outside a home in South L.A., as seen in June 2013 | Subrina Hudson

The L.A. City Council considered an ordinance Thursday that would allow single-family homes in South L.A. to paint exterior murals. The ordinance would affect Boyle Heights and Highland Park as well.

Bernard Parks was the lone council member who opposed mural ordinance in a 14-1 vote, saying that individual communities should decide whether residents can paint murals on the sides of their homes.

The response from community members was mixed.

Hear their comments in an audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

[Read more…]

In South LA, the Art Doctors Are In

By: Danielle Tarasiuk

The Art Doctors might not be able to cure a crippling illness, but they may be able to provide a colorful cure for a bland t-shirt, shoes and even cars in South Los Angeles.

The list of artistic endeavors the Art Doctors take on is extensive: air brushing, silk screening, painting wall murals, logo and graphic design, car murals, illustrations, and graffiti art.

Owner Alan Araugo is passionate about his small store near the front entrance of Slauson Super Mall where they have been a main staple for over 20 years.

He is currently the only artist there, but occasionally take on apprentices.

During that time, they have been able to work with a long laundry list of celebrity stylists doing everything from music videos (their artwork appeared in Gwen Stefani’s music video for “Hollaback Girl”) to painting celebrities’ cars.

Araugo said they have even gained notoriety due to different mentions in pop culture. The Art Doctors and the Slauson Super Mall were mentioned in rapper Dr. Dre’s song, which brought attention to the store, he said.

Since he mostly works with stylists and not directly with celebrities, he has been able to remain under the radar. Araugo refers to himself as a “ghost designer” and prefers to remain that way.

“It’s crazy that people don’t know who you are, but you’ve done so much work,” said Araugo.

Despite the Art Doctors’ success, Araugo has no interest in moving his shop to other areas of Los Angeles where the urban art scene is booming.

The entire artistic movement in California was born out of South Los Angeles and Araugo likes staying close to his roots.

He said he has seen friends and colleagues move their business, become successful for two or three years then after a short period of time close down.

“For some odd reason, being here [Slauson Super Mall] is kind of timeless,” said Araugo. “People come here regardless.”

Fighting vandalism with murals

imageBy Samantha Katzman

Ten years ago, when Scott Schmerelson arrived as the new principal of the school now called Johnnie L. Cochran Middle School, he knew he was facing a major challenge to turn around the school’s poor academic performance.

He also knew that he wouldn’t get very far until he fixed the school’s abysmal appearance, its exterior defaced by graffiti.

“I like things to look nice,” he said, “and when I came here and saw those awful looking pictures I said ‘we have to do something about this.’”

With test scores improving and kids more engaged in the classroom, there was only one thing missing among students and staff: morale. Enter Raul Baltazar.

imageThe school’s physical “rehabilitation” started with Schmerelson and Baltazar’s initial contact. At first, the concept was for Baltazar and his partner Melly Trochez to simply renovate the school, but with heavy backlash by taggers and vandals, it was decided that they would create entirely new works for and with the students.

With timing and funding on their side, the plan was set in motion for Baltazar to begin work on six murals around the school.

For Baltazar, a master of many mediums, murals have a special significance for him. He was inspired by the murals he describes as “eye candy” he saw every day on his walks to school growing up in El Sereno.

“It was a public practice to teach and exhibit,” he said.

Baltazar, Trochez, and a team of volunteers spent eight months designing and painting the murals. They wanted to depict concepts and ideas that spanned many cultures and ethnicities.

image“You don’t want to leave people isolated,” Baltazar said.

Chinese, Egyptian, Tibetan, Mexican, Mayan, Ndebele, Chumash, and Tonga cultures come together to paint a portrait of the modern urban landscape.

“Not only are we trying to beautify,” he said, “but as much as we have to create a presence, to transform the space.”

Baltazar has kept in contact with the school, and when the economy is more forgiving, would like even to do more work with them. But for now, the goal is to maintain the physical murals as well as maintaining the education for the children in the school.

What started as a desperate attempt to save a floundering school has resulted in a full-bodied makeover, improving more than just the kids’ test scores.

Before these changes, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Middle School (previously Mt. Vernon Middle School) was in a state of decline. Test scores were so low, the school was almost kicked out of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Recruited by the superintendent at the time, during the last decade Schmerelson has been helping dig the school out of a load of troubles.

imageModernization and improvements to materials, class sizes and class structure has resulted in an increase of 200 points in the Academic Performance Index (API), with scores increasing every year. But Schmerelson didn’t stop there.

“Once you get in the swing of making things nice, you know you look around for what else you can make nice.”

Located on the fringe of the Crenshaw neighborhood, many of the students come from lower income, working families.

“They depend a lot on us,” he said.

Senior Lead Officer Pierre Olega of the Southwest LAPD division also knows how important murals can be to the public.

“They want them to represent the community,” he said, “The main focus is one, to beautify the community and two, to create something the community can relate to so they don’t vandalize it.”

Vandalism is still a problem, but a problem Schmerelson and Baltazar planned for. They set aside a large amount of the budget for Tradewinds Graffiti Guard, a coating that allows for graffiti to be removed without repainting.

“You still have kids who are outside of the school, who don’t have that connection to the school who don’t know to respect the murals,” said Schmerelson.

imageBaltazar was passionate about educating the children about the murals and their meaning so vandalism would not become a huge issue, and for the most part it was a success.

“Anything that the community embraces and takes as their own, they won’t vandalize,” said Officer Olega.

Schmerelson, passionate about the appearance and morale of the school, often does the work himself.

“Oh yeah he’ll be out there cleaning it,” said Sandra Belton, a Cochran Middle School faculty member.

“To me it’s a personal insult,” Schmerelson, “so when you see things like that when you come into work in the morning and see that graffiti it kind of turns your stomach.”

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.

An interview with Autry Museum Director Jonathan Spaulding

Listen to the audio story here:

Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros had a short and controversial influence on mural art in Los Angeles.

Murals bring street art to Manual Arts High School

On Feb. 20, Manual Arts Senior High School hosted the “2020 Visionaries” project. Twenty street artists from across Los Angeles painted murals on the school’s grounds.

Art teacher John Latsko describes the event “In His Own Words.”