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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.

Comments

1. Mike Palmer said at June 8, 2009 1:43 am:

A couple things come to mind: first, those are great murals and the "after" shots just show their value to community and mind. Second, I find it ironic or downright hypocritical that the "Save Mother Earth" was painted with aerosol - CFCs anyone?

2. Daniel said at June 8, 2009 2:11 am:

Good point about the CFCs. Do the ends justify the means? I've heard of people painting with more Earth-friendly materials but I don't know the details. Can anyone fill us in?

3. Martin Rey Rochin Inda said at June 8, 2009 5:12 am:

Sad to see that govt. once more fails at serving the best interests of its community. As with Chicano Park in San Diego, or the South Central Farm, sometimes the community needs to reclaim what is not being used otherwise we'll collapse as a whole. The media stuffs images of self-destructive behaviour, but they never show things like this. Perchance there is a way to get help from the govt. on something like this though? They may be owned, but they are not being used at all, therefore it is a waste of resources to paint over it, a distinction b/n more random graffiti and murals should be made since these people are supposed to be working to represent the community. Much love to Desi and those that have worked with him for all their work, best of luck with keeping this movement alive

4. Lilian said at June 9, 2009 11:53 pm:

yeah. i gues it is a bit ironic that we painted the "save mother earth" mural with aerosol paint. the whole point of our mural is to send a message to our community that global warming is occuring, its not like our unity council is trying to bomb our comunity..we want to make it a better place were there are not blank walls we want to make it a place were there are murals that actualy mean something and not just be some quick meaning less tag.......class of 2012! whooooo!

5. Nina Council said at August 15, 2011 10:43 pm:

I am of course for murals, those which indeed can improve a neighborhood when they are well done, and have a message. I personally painted for an entire year on the Northridge Bart Station mural of planets. The leader of the project was well known muralist Gary Graham. That was the year of 1982, and the mural is still in good condition because it was well done and painted with love and patience.

6. Nina Council said at August 15, 2011 10:44 pm:

I am of course for murals, those which indeed can improve a neighborhood when they are well done, and have a message. I personally painted for an entire year on the Northridge Bart Station mural of planets. The leader of the project was well known muralist Gary Graham. That was the year of 1982, and the mural is still in good condition because it was well done and painted with love and patience.

7. Daniel said at August 16, 2011 2:17 pm:

Nina, thanks for checking in and giving us some history. I'll make sure to check it out. One question though. Where is the Northridge BART station? Is that Rockridge?

8. Nina Council said at August 16, 2011 11:55 pm:

The Rockridge Bart Station is in north Oakland on College Avenue on the border of Berkeley. Once you find that station on a Bart map, the mural itself is located under the tracks in the big parking lot at the East end of the lot. It is 300' by 60'. In reality it was only Gary, Charles, Jack, me and one other woman painter who did that mural, the rest were people who showed up once or twice and got their on the wall.

9. Daniel said at August 17, 2011 12:31 pm:

Thanks, Nina! I'll make it out soon. Do you have any other projects in the works?

10. Nina Council said at August 17, 2011 6:03 pm:

I no longer paint murals since I am now 73 years old and have back problems. I now make jewelry, do some painting on canvus, and am involved with horses. I work hard as an animal rights activist now for 10 years. We must save the wild mustangs, a mural of them would be so timely now that people are beginning to become more aware of their serious plight. Its very serious. Look up www.SavingAmericasMustangs .org

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