Tomorrow, Wednesday Sept 4, Los Angeles City Council meets at 10am for the final vote on the LA City Mural Ordinance, and will address staff recommendations regarding murals on private homes, including the Opt-In policy, discussed below. Your input is important. Please contact your City Councilmember, and if you can, come down to City Hall, 200 S. Hill Street. Here’s guest writer Lindsay Carron, an art activist living and working in Venice, California with her analysis.
I love murals. I love art. But…
This sentiment presented itself countless times at the Los Angeles City Council hearing on Wednesday, August 28th in regards to the Mural Ordinance. The Ordinance was meticulously written to finally end the ban on murals in Los Angeles begun in 2002 due to the incapability of the city to keep up with conservation of its growing mural population. Competing with a strong presence of artists, activists, and community members in support of the freedom and rights of mural painters, council members found it hard to say no when the vote arose. The Mural Ordinance was tentatively passed with a 13-2 vote and will be addressed in its final version on Wednesday, September 4th. Though the decision appeared simple: either support art or don’t, it was very apparent that there were more sides of the issue.
In Los Angeles, there is no such thing as “one size fits all” legislation, council members reminded attendees. In a city as vast and diverse as Los Angeles, agreeing fully on anything is next to impossible, but coming up with legislation that is fair in its entirety is the goal. The discussion fell mostly on whether or not privately owned businesses and single family homes would be allowed murals on their walls, which was the difference between Version A (allowing) and Version B (not allowing) of the Ordinance. A very strong case in support of the Mural Ordinance Version A was presented by community members of diverse backgrounds and organizations. They claimed murals educate, inspire, and beautify. The artwork acts as communication, presenting ideas unblocked by closed doors, connecting to a huge demographic. Murals inspire youth and present opportunities for apprenticeships and community involvement. They argued that no one should be able to limit artistic expression and for the freedom of speech and the right of property owners to make their own decisions. The goal, for those in support of the Ordinance passing, is to return Los Angeles to its once acknowledged role as mural capital of the world.
Compelled by the passionate Ordinance supporters, each council member reiterated that they love art and love murals. The “but” came into play in the form of the need of revisions. Several members brought up the discussion about protection and conservation. Should it be the artist’s responsibility? The city’s? What is to be done about murals that are vandalized and become “eye sores” to the city? Council members claimed that a protection measure was missing from the Ordinance and that a revision should be made to include it. One council member tried consoling his audience with the assurance that “time, place, and manner” restrictions would be utilized in reviewing mural proposals, and no decision would be based on content, thereby avoiding stepping on First Amendment rights. Groans and boos erupted from the room when the word “fear” was used to describe community members’ reactions to not knowing what could be painted on their neighbor’s home and if it would disturb their children. This council member claimed there is a need to make people more comfortable by giving them some control over what art goes up in their neighborhoods. The necessity for revisions proved too important for council member Paul Koretz of District 5 and council member Bob Blumenfield of District 3 who voted “no” on the Ordinance. Los Angeles needs a refined piece of legislation that protects the spirit and freedom of artists while also protecting community rights and opinions. Many of those present felt that they already have this piece of legislation in the form of the Mural Ordinance.
A key item that will come into play during Wednesday’s final decision is the concept of the Opt-In policy. With Opt-In, though murals on privately owned buildings and homes would be banned, communities could vote to allow the murals, thereby opting in for their area. It satisfies more than one side, claimed some council members. Though, where the Opt-In policy falls short is with those communities too concerned with other issues to take a survey of whether murals are welcome in their area. Never taking the time to opt in, artists are left limited in these communities. An example of this is Koretz’s reason for voting against the Ordinance. He claimed he received no calls from his constituents wanting murals in their community, and therefore assumed murals were not welcome. With the reverse policy, opting out would allow a community who feels strongly against murals in their neighborhoods the opportunity to ban them on privately owned homes while allowing the rest of the communities to go forth with art on their walls with no obstruction.
What do you think is the solution for mural art in our diverse Los Angeles? As we await a final verdict on Wednesday, I urge you to call your representing council members and voice your opinion. In the end, listening to all sides of an issue and making decisions collectively always ends in a more successful solution.
WPA mural painted by Boris Deutsch at Los Angeles Terminal Annex Post Office; during the Great Depression, the government paid artists to decorate buildings in Los Angeles as part of Work Project America.