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'What is a Mural?' No Easy Answers for City, Arts Community

Tanner Blackman of the City Code Studies Section fielded community concerns about the city's mural ordinance at Eagle Rock's Cactus Gallery on Thursday evening.

A public outreach meeting hosted by the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles at Eagle Rock’s on Thursday evening started with a deceptively complicated question—What is a mural?

The question was posed by Tanner Blackman of the Los Angeles planning code studies department,

Blackman presented a series of images, which ran the gamut from “traditional murals” to paintings of products like Frito corn chips and Ajax floor cleaner.

While the audience’s response suggested that paintings of products should not be considered art, Blackman urged the crowd to the take a more liberal view of what constituted a mural for the cause of allowing art to reign once again on Los Angeles’ walls.

Blackman explained that the city’s previous sign ordinance--which allowed murals but not commercial signs--had invited a lawsuit from the commercial advertising industry, which since 2002 has forced the city of Los Angeles “to be equally unfair to everyone.”

He told the crowd, which comprised mostly muralists and public art activists, that he hoped to construct a “time, place and manner” ordinance, which provide basic size and duration guidelines for murals, but not regulate the actual content.

“I’m willing to promote a little clutter in order to promote the arts overall,” Blackman said. “I’m stepping to the ledge here, and I’m asking you all to walk off the cliff with me.”

One audience member raised concerns that Blackman’s inclusionary policy would allow commercial interests to plasters their advertisements across Los Angeles’ walls.

Blackman responded, saying that part of the 'time, place and manner ordinance' would require that murals be maintained for a period long enough to deter advertisers, who prefer to frequently rotate their campaigns.

He added that a provision could be added to the mural ordinance that would prohibit private property owners from “renting out” their walls for payment, which would reduce the incentive of working with advertisers.

Blackman also pitched other guidelines for the ordinance, including stipulations that would prohibit the murals from having mechanical parts or changing images. Blackman also suggested a provision that would require muralists and business owners to follow a community involvement process.

“The community wouldn’t be able to dictate the content of the mural, but we could perhaps rely on a good neighbor policy," he said.

Artists Want Input

Though Blackman told community members that Thursday evening’s meeting was the first step the long process of drafting the mural ordinance--which would rely heavily on community input--some meeting attendees expressed concerns that the framework for the ordinance had already been set in stone.

Jimmy Centeno--a South Central-based artist—said that there had been “no representation of the South Central, East L.A. and Northeast L.A. communities.”

“It seems like you already have a framework, and we’re just filling in,” Centeno told Blackman.

Blackman responded to Centeno’s comments, saying that he had constructed a basic framework in order to receive the go-ahead from the city council to begin crafting the ordinance, but was open to suggestions from the community going forward.

“Now it’s all about what works best for Los Angeles,” he said.

Blackman said he would be attending further workshop’s like Thursday evening’s before releasing a first draft of the mural ordinance—which would then be open to continued public critique.

According to Isabel Rojas-Williams of the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, the next workshop would be held on Tuesday, Nov. 15 from 10-11 a.m. at the California African American Museum in Exposition Park.

“We’re not even at day one yet,” Blackman said. “I need to put something out that the people can respond to.  You guys are the experts, I’m just shepherding this through the process. “

Dave Russell, an artist from the Mobil Mural Lab, told Blackman that the broad guidelines would need to fully vetted by the mural community before they were set in stone.

“I think each bullet point presents a lot of gray area which really needs to be discussed and have the input of the mural community,” he said.

anita acosta November 05, 2011 at 10:14 PM
Here we go again, lots of talk, ideas, suggestions, talk, talk. A mural is from my humble opinion mural is painting executed directly on a wall! As far as private property legal I cannot believe it would be legal for "someone" to absolutely forbid one painting a mural on their property wall. Murals are beautiful and historic of Los Angeles. I am quite apathetic at this point, I am sure you will all reach a conclusion/solution. We should be spending more time and mtgs discussion how we can gather together and lend a hand in these dire economic times. aaacosta Owner La Vida Loca galeria Multicultual Center H..

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