Murals: Oakland, CA
Posted Jun 8 2009
One reason I moved to Oakland was my perception of its art scene and a group that I’ve been particularly drawn to is the muralists. We actually have an after-school mural program at my school, which has been a great addition to our programming. Below I included some images from a handful of murals and projects from around town, including some involving students at Unity High School and Urban Promise Academy.*
Towards the end of the gallery I included a couple of murals that were painted over by Oakland’s city government in an effort to “improve quality of life.” There’s absolutely no distinction made between intricate murals and simple tags or gang-related graffiti. While anecdotal, I’ve had conversations with neighbors and seen postings on e-mail groups that definitely favor murals. I think the before and after photos clearly highlight what the community prefers.
Of the two painted-over pieces that I highlighted, I spoke with artist Desi, who oversaw both projects and has done many permission walls. As part of a longer discussion, I explicitly asked him if they were done with permission and he made the following statement:
“The short answer is 'no,' but the issue isn’t about who gives permission, it’s about the benefit to the community. These are blank walls, usually on abandoned buildings. These are community treasures painted by people from the community. Oakland is supposed to be a city that supports the arts and artists.
It’s like if a garden were to spring up or someone planted fruit trees in an abandoned lot, should they be cut down because the proper channels weren’t used, even if it’s benefiting us and people have good food and a peaceful place to congregate? I’ve been here ten years and that lot and wall next to the liquor store up the street has been unused for as long as I’ve been here. The guy at the liquor store doesn’t even know who owns it.
Back in the mid-nineties in Chicago I got permission from Metra to paint viaducts and some already had murals. I didn’t go over any of them, but I would’ve. I was young and didn’t know what I would’ve stepped into. Anyway, a couple of years ago I was approached by the Chicago Public Art Group, who were working with the original artists of those murals and they had received funding to restore the original pieces. Those were all illegal, yet the city saw the value in them, so it can be done.”
This is definitely food for thought regarding the idea of what to do with abandoned properties, defining quality of life, what’s best for the community, and who has the interests of the community in mind. When the government is lagging on quality of life issues, when does the community have the right to take control of matters? Check out this link to The Heidelberg Project Project in Detroit that addresses similar issues. Thoughts?
*All projects by Unity and UPA are legal, permission pieces.