In Los Angeles, communities are struggling to hold onto their murals. Several murals painted decades ago with Chicano themes have been whitewashed in gentrified areas like Highland Park.
As neighborhoods are “reinvented,” longtime artists and community members have had a difficult time stopping developers and new building owners from painting over their much loved murals. Artists have called it “cultural homogenization.”
In the Northeast San Fernando Valley, it’s a very different story and there is a much more positive outlook toward public art.
With 50 murals strong, Pacoima is already a cultural and visual treasure with its “Mural Mile” along its main corridor.
Now, this week, another huge artistic milestone was reached. The valley’s largest above ground mural, "Rushing Waters" 10,000 feet long, was unveiled.
Both artist Levi Ponce, with his team of selected artists, and LA Councilmember Monica Rodriguez took their much deserved bows at the unveiling on Monday, Nov. 25.
The mural replaced a massive wall of graffiti which was a huge public eyesore for many years. The area was kind of tucked away until big box stores moved in and large amounts of traffic followed exiting the nearby freeway traveling on the street next to the marred walls.
“More eyes were on the blight-ridden wall once Costco arrived," said Ponce. “We had been talking about placing a mural there for over a decade but it was complicated, and I knew this time it would take money.”
The wall itself belonged to a kitchen manufacturing company and the adjacent property was owned by Metrolink, so to stand on the property to paint the mural required the approval of Metrolink and also required that their team go through safety training — which was also expensive.
“I give a lot of credit to Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez,” said Ponce. “We had been talking about placing a mural there for over a decade.”
Ponce said his previous attempts over the years to reach out to politicians for support for public art had been fruitless. But Rodriguez was instrumental in both cutting through red tape and securing the $100,000 that it took to get the project completed.
Murals serve as large-sized visual narratives and even historical public text, and Ponce included both historic and present day images in the work.
“I consider this mural a snap shot of the past and future of a beautiful and growing community that represents our aspirations for a unified neighborhood,” he said.
The last time a large mural in the Valley was created was in 1978, when artist Judy Baca created the “Great Wall in Los Angeles,” depicting the history of California.
Similarly, the “Rushing Waters” mural in Pacoima depicts landmarks and history with a 25-foot tall Tataviam woman with outstretched arms at it’s center focal point surrounded by the landmarks known to valley residents that include the Whiteman Airport, Hansen Dam, the San Gabriel Mountains, local freeways, the LA River and the Sylmar Aqueduct.
“At the center of the mural is a woman from the Tataviam village alluding to our native roots and the original inhabitants,” said Ponce, who asked for support for the project from the San Fernando-based tribe to assist him with curating the mural to assure its authenticity by providing information for the woman’s native dress.
Those who worked alongside him were selected artists of various skill levels that he believed could grow and learn from the experience, and hopefully “pay it forward.”
Ponce said now that this mural is complete, he’ll be starting two commissioned projects in Tarzana. “Then I'll come back with a little extra money and extra paint and start a new mural for Pacoima's ‘Mural Mile,’” he said.
Unknown to most, the murals along the “Mural Mile” have been self-funded by the artists themselves. Ponce has painted a dozen murals there, with the first one of Pacoima native, Danny Trejo.
“I bring the paint and scaffolding and someone’s mom brings lunch and another mom brings water," said Ponce, who has welcomed the community to grab a paint brush and participate.
Ponce didn’t wait for funding to come for the “Mural Mile” but this time, for "Rushing Waters,” he couldn't do it without major support.
“This is a big win for our community,” Ponce said.
Rodriguez is equally proud of the accomplishment which, in the end, took four years of planning, assistance from Walt Disney Imagineering, the Native American Commission, local businesses and community members and funding from a single source.
On her Facebook page she posted a panoramic photo of the entire mural and wrote: “When I’m told something can’t be done.”
Also lending their talents to the mural project were artists Erica Friend, Cristian Cardenas, Gore, Hector “Tetris” Arias, Jose Javier, Juan Pablo, Lisa Lee, Mighk Rivera, and Red Ortiz.
For more information on The “Rushing Waters” mural, go to #Rushing Waters.