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L.A.'s New 'Mural Task Force' Looking to Portland, OR for Answers

Art or against the law? (Photo by Karol Franks via the LAist Featured Photos pool)
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Some people turn to an elder or a higher power for guidance in a time of struggle. Los Angeles turns to Portland, Oregon. While before we've turned to Stumptown for direction for our street car transit and bike-friendliness on our streets, this time the City of L.A. has formed a "Mural Task Force" and is turning to Portland for advice based on the success of their mural ordinance.

It comes down to drawing a firm line between crime and art; current blurring has led to confusion and anger, and a call from artists, business and home owners, art lovers, and regular ol' residents to update L.A.'s policy on public mural art.

So what is Los Angeles looking to do? The Daily News explains:

"There are two policy goals," said Tanner Blackman, the Los Angeles city planner in charge of the Mural Task Force. "To preserve and protect existing murals, and create an environment for new ones."
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Blackman, incidentally, was recently the target of a "sticker bombing" by local artist Shepard Fairey.

Under the current ordinance, many murals are deemed "advertising" after the fact, and are removed or covered over, regardless of what the property owner wishes, or whether the mural was put there by request or by chance. This happened earlier this year in Valley Village, when a homeowner who commissioned a mural by local artists was forced to paint it over, since the city defined the artwork as a "sign."

While a draft of a new ordinance is forthcoming next year, the approach being considered is three-pronged:

First, the city is looking at an Art Easement program. In that scenario, a private building owner would grant an easement on the wall to the city, and the city essentially becomes a "patron" of the wall. The city wouldn't own the wall, but would have input on what type of content went up on it. Another category under consideration is the Original Art Mural program. In this case, permits handed out by the city would allow "original art murals," defined as a hand-produced work of visual art that is tiled or painted by hand. The permits would "encourage murals citywide, and let art happen citywide," said Blackman. "It's potentially simple and cost neutral to administer."

To qualify for both the Art Easement and Original Art Mural, the mural would have to remain in place for five years. The time frame ensures that owners don't swap out the mural for commercial advertisements.

A third approach would put murals in special districts, modeled after the city's sign districts. One benefit of mural districts is they could promote distinct work in different neighborhoods.

Recently, artist SABER has led a rally cry of sorts mobilizing fellow artists and others to press city officials to end what's being called a "mural moratorium" in Los Angeles, a city with a vibrant history of prolific mural art.