Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles

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Volume 8, Number 1 -- Winter, 1997


by Robin Dunitz

Mike Alewitz, "Labor Solidarity Has No Borders," located in Los Angeles at 6120 S. Vermont Ave., will be featured on the June, 1997 tour "Community Murals of Social Conscience and Activism."



The Mural Bus Tours for the upcoming year have at last been finalized. Once again we will be publishing a schedule brochure jointly with the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC). This is now available. Each group will offer its tours in alternating months so that there will be a tour each month. To reserve your seat for a given tour, mail your reservation in using our Tour Order Form or call (310) 470-8864. Here is the schedule, including a description of each tour:

Saturday, February 22nd: A Day with East Los Streetscapers.

Veteran Chicano muralists Wayne Healy and David Botello will share some of the outstanding results of their 20-year partnership. The tour visits mural sites in Lincoln Heights, Boyle Heights, Monterey Park, Downtown L.A., and South-Central. We will also visit their studio in Rosemead.

Saturday, April 26: Murals by Women.

A selection of murals by some of California's premier public artists, including Eva Cockcroft, Johanna Poethig, Yreina Cervantez, Alma Lopez, Noni Olabisi, Jane Boyd, Judy Baca and others. Among the communities we will visit are Exposition Park, Downtown L.A., South-Central, Compton and South Gate. The tour will be led by MCLA board member and Street Gallery author, Robin Dunitz. A guest muralist will make a slide presentation of her work.

Saturday, June 28: Community Murals of Social Conscience and Activism

This new tour will focus on grassroots murals that speak to society's persisting class and racial divisions. The titles themselves say much about what we will be seeing: "American Justice," "Freedom Won't Wait," "What Happens to a Dream Deferred?," and "Labor Solidarity Has No Borders."

Saturday, August 23: Murals of the South Bay.

A broadened version of our much acclaimed Long Beach tour. Among the communities we will visit are El Segundo, site of a new Heritage Walk project; Torrance, San Pedro, Wilmington and Long Beach.

Saturday, October 25: A Day with Kent Twitchell.

L.A.'s most famous muralist will once again take us around to see his public works. This year will hopefully feature the finished comeback of "The Freeway Lady." If you haven't yet experienced the gentle, humble and funny personality of this master of gigantic portraits, you need to go on this tour! Don't delay--this tour always sells out!

Saturday, November 22: MetroRail, Part 2.

Because of the tremendous reception to our 1996 MetroRail tour, we decided to explore a different segment this year. Probably we will focus on the Green Line and parts of the Blue Line. Led by someone from the MTA Art Program.

For 1997 SPARC's tours will include:
Jewish Murals of L.A. (Sunday, January 26), African-American Mural Tour (Sunday, March 30), The Birth of Chicano Murals in East L.A.


by Robert A. Rootenberg, Esq.

On November 5, 1995 the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Los Angeles upheld the 1992 Federal District Court ruling in Finley v. NEA, et al., which struck down a federal statute requiring the National Endowment of the Arts to consider "general standards of decency" in awarding grants.

The decision was the first by a federal appeals court on the law, which was enacted in 1990 to curb government support for potentially offensive art. The Court, in a 2 to 1 ruling, said that the 'decency and respect' standard was unconstitutionally vague and violated the free-speech rights of artists who apply for grants.

"It grants government officials power to deny an application. . .(that) offends the officials' subjective beliefs and values," wrote Judge James Browning for the majority. "Where First Amendment liberties are at stake, such a grant of authority violates fundamental principles of due process. Since it is not susceptible to objective definition, the 'decency and respect' standard gives rise to the danger of arbitrary and discriminatory application."

In case your memory needs refreshing, the case involves four avant-garde performance artists who sued the Endowment in 1992 for overturning grants that an NEA peer panel had favorably recommended. Known as the 'NEA 4' the artists--Karen Finley and Holly Hughes from New York, and Tim Miller and John Fleck of Los Angeles, work with sexual and political themes. These artists were among the first to be affected by a 1989 backlash against the NEA-funded exhibitions of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano, whose photograph of a crucifix immersed in urine drew the wrath of North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms.

At Senator Helms' urging, Congress banned the NEA from financing projects that were considered obscene, sadomasochistic or homoerotic. The ban was later dropped, and the NEA agreed to judge applicants by "general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public."

In 1990 the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression sued on behalf of the four artists, who contended in their lawsuit that such standards were too vague and would be applied arbitrarily and discriminatorily. Further, the plaintiff artists said the standards would allow the NEA to suppress controversial speech in violation of the First Amendment. The denial of grants to the four artists for political reasons and the violation of their privacy by the NEA was also alleged.

In June, 1992, Los Angeles U.S. District Court Judge Wallace Tashima agreed with the plaintiffs, ruling that the "standards of decency" were unconstitutional, violating both the First and Fifth Amendments. Judge Tashima declared the "artistic expression is at the core of a democratic society." His ruling enjoined the NEA from enforcing the "decency" standard.

The Bush administration signaled its intention to appeal the "decency" ruling in October, 1992. But when Bill Clinton defeated Bush in the 1992 Presidential election, many considered it unlikely that the new administration would appeal the ruling. In his campaign, Clinton had won the favor of the arts community by stating his opposition to content restrictions in the NEA's funding guidelines. But in March, 1993, just two months after his inauguation, Clinton's administration went forward with the appeal.

Yet for two reasons, this seemingly important ruling may be a symbolic victory at best. First, there have been massive changes to the NEA's grant-making policies, since it's power to approve controversial grants was effectively eliminated by Congressional fund reductions last year. Although attorneys for the plaintiffs were greatly encouraged by the ruling, stating that from now on, the NEA must concern itself solely with art, not politics or decency, the plaintiffs themselves were less than enthused. When asked about the ruling, plaintiff Joh Fleck noted that the NEA no longer allows applications for individual artists' grants. Tim Miller added: "The NEA is basically fairly useless at this point for anything but the large organizations. It's not likely that any kind of grant that's pushing some kind of boundary will come up before the funding panel." Secondly, the Clinton administration may appeal the ruling. It has about another month before the ninty-day limitation to file expires. So stay tuned. . .



Lynn Aldrich, "Blue Line Oasis," mosaic, detail views of wall and bench, Metro Blue Line Artesia Station, 1996.



This initiates a new column that spotlights the latest murals appearing in the Los Angeles area. If we don't get new pages added immediately to the Murals Index, be patient, we'll get around to it. Look for links that may go to pages we have newly minted on the mural and/or the artist.

All you mural artists out there, if you want your public to know what you've been doing lately, please send the information, along with a picture if possible, to Robin Dunitz, PO Box 64668, Los Angeles 90064. Or you can call 310 470-8864.



Those appearing towards the end of 1996:

"Overcoming Barriers," various artists. Located at Fashion and Parade Streets, Long Beach.

"Hometown Traditions," by Don Gray (of Flagstaff, Arizona). Located at Main St. and Pine St., El Segundo.

"The Aerospace Mural," by Scott Bloomfield. Located at Main St. and Mariposa , El Segundo.

"Laurel and Hardy," by Francois Bardol. Located at Main St. near Venice Blvd. (rear parking lot), Culver City.

"Blue Line Oasis," mosaic, by Lynn Aldrich. Located in the MetroRail Blue Line Artesia Station.

Six murals by Elliott Pinkney. Located at Lee Elementary School, Long Beach.

Six murals by Elliott Pinkney. Located at Woodcrest School, Los Angeles.

A mural honoring Latino culture and history, by Judy Baca. Located at Topping Student Center, on the campus of the University of Southern California.


by Robin Dunitz

Dan Sawatzky, "Standard Oil Refinery Mural", El Segundo. Photo © Robin J. Dunitz.

The following interview is based on phone interviews with Nancy Cobb of the El Segundo Chamber of Commerce Mural Committee and artist Scott Bloomfield.

RD: How did the El Segundo Chamber of Commerce get interested in sponsoring murals?

NC: We were trying to pull together aspects of downtown revitalization that weren't going to require public funds because at that point (1995) we weren't getting any. We got this idea of doing a Heritage Walk with benches and flowers. . .and seven murals. We felt that to revitalize the downtown economy, we first needed to revitalize community pride. The murals are a key component of this re-establishment of community pride. We really started getting excited about murals when someone on the Committee went to Chemainus (the Canadian mural town) and brought back the book they published of their murals.

RD: How did your group become knowledgeable about murals and their sponsorship?

NC: I made a visit to 29 Palms, and they spent a whole day with me--before we started, explaining what they had done, and how they got community involvement. Also I talked on the phone several times with Gene Stevens in Lompoc. I haven't been up to see those, but some other members of our committee have. The public art instructors at USC met with us. I called the coordinatiors of the public art programs in Venice (SPARC) and Long Beach (Parks Dept) to ask them questions. I think we learned a lot talking to all those people.

RD: What murals have been completed so far?

NC: All the Heritage Walk murals are along Main Street. The easiest way to see them is to get out and park at Main and Mariposa. The Aerospace Mural by Scott Bloomfield is very near that corner (on the Masonic Hall). At the corner of Main and Pine is Don Gray's Hometown Traditions. Handprint Alley is in the 300 block of Main between the Bank of America and the jewelry store. Handprint Alley was a community mural and a fundraising effort. The next murals are at the corner of Main and Franklin. An American flag mural is in progress on the post office. Across the street is the Dunescape by Scott Bloomfield and the Standard Oil Refinery by Dan Sawatzky (of Chemainus). This last mural shows the establishment of the refinery, which is why we have a town here. Standard Oil built the town and named it El Segundo because it was the second refinery town the company built. This was our first official mural, and it was completed in October, 1995.

RD: What murals are upcoming?

NC: At the moment Northrop-Grumman has hired an artist who was previously their head illustrator. He is putting together the design for an aviation mural. It will focus on planes that were built in El Segundo around the time of World War II. The number of murals we want to do has dramatically increased. We'd like to have 24 by the year 2000. We have a committee working on The Sports Heroes of El Segundo. They've been working for months just making the selection of who's going to be portrayed.. The other one we plan to finish in 1997 will be a pet mural by a local artist. It will be a fundraiser. People will pay to have their pet painted.

RD: When did you do your first public mural?

SB: About three or four years ago I was approached by Jay of JB Fine Arts. He asked me if I would be interested in doing a painting on his wall. It was his daughter's idea to paint the endangered El Segundo Blue Butterfly. It's at the corner of El Segundo Blvd. and Standard. It's not an official mural in the Heritage Walk project.

RD: Describe the Aerospace Mural you are completing right now.

SB: At Hughes Corporation I've been an illustrator for 13 years. Mike Armstrong, president of Hughes, gave the nod to the company sponsoring the already planned aerospace mural. I wanted it to be as much my image as I could make it, but I took input from Hughes, the Mural Committee and the Masons. A portrait of Howard Hughes became the starting point. I had used a Wright Brothers image a couple of times previously. I found a photograph of Amelia Earhart in which she has a poignant expression on her face. I was attracted to those three images first without knowing why. After some internal questioning, I think my image is a view of Heaven. It's people who have no limitation in scale. The aerospace part is about getting to the heavens. I hope the mural will be as fun as any Disneyland ride for the minute and a half when you walk up and look at it. It's a feeling I've expressed when I've walked up to a wall.

Final Note: MCLA's August mural tour will include a visit to El Segundo, where a local docent will take us along Heritage Walk.


. . .Thoughts on Starting and Developing a Community Mural Project

by Arthur Mortimer

Muralist Art Mortimer with his latest mural project, "South Park Mural", located in Billings, Montana.

(Published originally in the MCLA Newsletter, v. 7, n. 4 & v. 8, n. 1)

A mural project can be a very daunting prospect to a community: Where do we start? How do we raise the money? How do we find artists? How do we select an artist? How much should we pay for a mural? What are appropriate themes for the mural(s)? These questions, and many others, can seem overwhelming to people in communities with little or no experience.

Let me take some of these questions one at a time and try to answer them from an artist's perspective.


My experience with communities has been that the best place to start is: In the community. Start with local people who are involved in the arts. Look for people experienced in fund-raising. Look for people, perhaps in local government, who have had experience in awarding commissions or contracts for community projects. Maybe there are artists in the community who have had experience with public art projects and competitions--maybe even an artist or two who has had experience painting murals. Find people with experience that is in some way relevant to the process you want to undertake and get their input--and hopefully even their participation.

Most community mural projects I have been involved in have been organized and brought to fruition by a committee of citizen volunteers who have taken it upon themselves to make a mural project a reality for their community. They have had meetings, asked questions, gone to City Hall for support and even money, looked at artists' slides, done fund-raising in the community, organized community forums, etc. In some cases there has been a local Arts Council or other such organization that has provided the focus for a mural project.


I have encountered several different ways of raising money for mural projects. Sometimes a grant or series of grants from government and foundation sources can be obtained to fund a project (although this is less likely in an era of downsizing and government deficits). Corporate sponsors are often a good source of support, particularly local corporations whose success involves goodwill in the community and who have a history of sponsoring community events.

Several communities I have been involved with recently have been raising money by producing and selling limited edition prints of the artist's renderings of their mural designs, numbered and signed by the artist, to local collectors and supporters as a way of funding each mural.

Private donors and community boosters will also make donations (especially if they can get a write-off on their taxes). One community even made it possible for citizens to add an extra dollar or so to their monthly utility bill, and that money went to the mural project. Most projects use a combination of the sources mentioned above plus a few original twists thrown in for good measure. Be creative!


Depending on the experience level and competence you are looking for in an artist, and the amount of funding you have, different routes are available. For low-budget local projects, local artists are a great resource. Most have little or no experience with murals, but are eager for the opportunity, and often produce remarkable results under the right circumstances. Larger projects, with larger budgets and more ambitious quality goals, probably indicate finding more experienced and recognized mural artists. There are many of these in most parts of the county. The West Coast and large eastern cities are home to many accomplished and experienced mural artists. Surprisingly, some small towns and cities also are home to very accomplished artists. Communities that have already produced murals or started mural projects will probably be happy to share their resources with you, as well as their own experiences.

Several books have been published in the last decade or so about murals in particular cities and regions of the country. These are a good resource for artists and for becoming familiar with different styles of murals. Also, the California Arts Council used to keep a list of artists who have done murals that was available to communities. Authors of books on murals are a good source of artists' names and addresses. In particular, MCLA's own Robin Dunitz, author of Street Gallery--Guide To 1,000 Los Angeles Murals and a soon-to-be-published book on the murals of California, is a great resource for experienced and talented mural artists of all types and styles. MCLA is a valuable resource for information on many mural artists and their work; mural techniques, maintenance and preservation; referrals to experienced artists and other mural organizations.

MCLA also maintains a Web site on the Internet ( which contains information on many murals in the Los Angeles area, articles on mural preservation and restorations, educational materials, and bio-graphies of many mural artists, along with photos of their work.


Most communities organize some sort of competition to select an artist based on his or her submissions. The most common way is to first advertise (either by contacting artists directly or by advertising in art publications such as Artweek [west coast] or Art Calendar [east coast]) for artists to send in their qualifications for a preliminary selection process. This is called a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) and usually asks for a certain number of slides, a current résumé, possibly a letter of interest and other supplemental information.

Frequently, communities will select an artist based solely on qualifications and then work with that artist to develop a concept and design for the particular project. A possible second step is to select a half-dozen or so finalists from the responding artists and ask them to submit proposals. This is a Request for Proposals (RFP) and usually invites the finalists to submit some sort of proposal within certain guidelines by a certain date. An honorarium is usually paid to finalists. Serious muralists usually will not respond to an RFP unless the amount of the commission is substantial. Most experienced muralists are happy to participate in a lower-paying project if they don't have to make a proposal in order to be selected. Proposals are a lot of work and require a big commitment of time and energy in order to do a good job.



This varies greatly depending on the circumstances. As an artist, I certainly encourage you to pay as much as you can possibly afford. Murals require a tremendous amount of time for research and design, planning, and finally painting. Artists have to pay bills and eat just like everyone else. Small projects by local artists should be do-able for a few thousand dollars. A large, important project by a nationally known artist for a large city or major corporation could run into six figures easily. Most projects fall somewhere into the lower range of the middle, in my experience. My rule of thumb is: Can I make enough on this project to pay my bills, live for the duration of the project and get me through to the next project with something left over? Different artists work at different speeds: some paint faster than others. But speed or slowness are no guarantee of either quality or efficiency. A general range for me would be something on the order or $10.00-$20.00 per square foot, plus travel, lodging and equipment expenses if it is necessary to travel to and live in your community while painting the mural. Larger murals can be done for less per square foot provided the overall amount is substantial. A $7,000-$15,000 commission will secure the services of many experienced mural artists if the project is of moderate size, provides them with a good opportunity to express themselves and is not too far from their home.


This is mostly up to the community. Each community has its own particular history, citizens, and view of itself. Anything that is of importance to the community can probably be a good theme for a mural in the right artist's hands. Historical themes are the most popular and accessible, and different artists have different ways of approaching such themes. The committee can select which approach or approaches they like best, and then work with the artist to develop it. A mural project provides an opportunity for a community to see itself through the eyes of artists who can depict for people their community in a new light and in a fresh way. It is important to give artists input into the process once they are selected and not tie their hands by being too specific about subject matter and content. Select an artist you feel comfortable with, let the artist make a proposal based on general guidelines and community input, and then work with the artist to improve or refine the proposal if necessary. It is the artist's job to be creative, to come up with new ideas and ways of doing things.

There are, I am sure, plenty of other questions that people might have about starting and seeing through a mural project. As an artist, I have probably had experience with most of those issues. Please feel free to contact me via the Mural Conservancy with questions or problems if you think I can be be able to help with answers.


Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles Journal

Published quarterly, © 1997, Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA).

Editor: Bill Lasarow
Contributing Editors:
Robin Dunitz, Orville O. Clarke, Jr., Richard Solomon, Nathan Zakheim
Masthead Logo Design: Charles Eley.

The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles was formed to help protect and document murals, and enhance public awareness of mural art in the greater Los Angeles area. These programs are made possible by the tax-deducible dues and donations of our members, the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, the California Arts Council, the National/State/County Partnership Program, and the Brody Fund of the California Community Foundation.