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A Bunch of Artists Just Turned This South LA High School Into An Outdoor Mural Gallery

Students walk by a new Shepard Fairey mural of Dr. Maya Angelou at the entrance of the South LA high school that bears her name. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)
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Dr. Maya Angelou Community High School in South L.A. has a new look.

This week, the school has transformed into a veritable outdoor art gallery, featuring dozens of murals by more than two dozen local and international artists, including Shepard Fairey, Faith XLVII, Axel Void, and 1010. Some of the muralists even got help from students, who pitched in to prime surfaces and fill in sections at the artists' direction.

They were brought to the campus by the Dr. Maya Angelou Mural Festival. It is presented by Warren Brand his company Branded Arts, which creates public and private art works both locally and internationally.

So why pick a high school as the location for a mural festival?

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The festival features art from locals, as well as internationals like Portuguese street artist Add Fuel. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

Brand said when he first started Branded Arts, they'd put up murals on buildings around Los Angeles, but some of the structures ended up getting torn down -- and the murals fell with them.

"I'm a collector at heart," he said, while giving a tour of the festival. "I'm sentimental."

In putting together the roster of artists, Brand said he aimed for a "diverse mix ... to inspire the kids to think globally and holistically." (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

So he set out to find a more permanent home for the work.

"We started looking at schools that were relatively new, that had new facades and weren't going to get torn down anytime soon," he said. "And now, we have an opportunity to create cultural art landmarks for the community."

Brushwork, one of the community artists, stands in front of his piece "Homegrown," a mural inspired by his family and the community. "My mom had over 400 plants in the backyard and she often spoke to them. I realized that like a plant, a community needs water, attention, and love in order to grow. In this mural, my home is transported into a planter pot, symbolizing the growth that I have gone through as a young man and working artist in this community." (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

It isn't Branded Arts' first time doing something like this: in 2016, Brand gave the school concept a try with a mural festival at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Koreatown.

But late last year, one of those murals received pushback from some community members over a geometrical pattern that critics said resembled the sun rays of the imperial Japanese flag. The artist denied that connection, saying it was not what he intended or meant by the design. But the ordeal made an impact.

Brand said he had always planned to hold community input meetings for this Dr. Maya Angelou Community High School project, but he thinks what happened in Koreatown might have led to even more participation and feedback this time around.

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The community surrounding Dr. Maya Angelou Community High was an important part of the festival's planning, said its principal, Hugo Carlos. "We had a rendering of every image before it went up, before it became a mural," he said. "So it was approved by the community and vetted by the community."

A sketch of the Ni Santa's Collective mural that will cover a large corner of the southwest exterior wall. The mural will represent a visual history of the community. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

The content of the murals is as diverse as the artists painting them. Shepard Fairey's mural features Angelou, while others display school mascots, cacti, bold geometric patterns, and members of the community.

Carlos said a group of students came up with a list of themes, which were passed along to the artists to inspire their work. The whole process took about two years. At its culmination, some of the artists worked with students to make those ideas a reality.

"The kids of course are helping, so they can have ownership, and so that they can enjoy it while they're here," said geometric abstract painter Rob Hill.

Dr. Maya Angelou Community High School senior Pamela Diaz helped geometric abstract painter Rob Hill paint his mural on the school basketball court. (Carla Javier/KPCC)

The women of color arts collective Ni Santas also worked with students on their mural.

"Most of the time programs like this don't happen in this community," Ni Santas artist Clover explained. "It's never really south."

Clover said it was important for local artists like her to participate because she's actually from the community - she said she used to run in the park across the street from the school.

"We're from the neighborhood," Clover explained. "We were these kids a few years ago."

Ni Santas artist Clover said it's important to engage with projects like this festival to support the students, and the local artists. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

The mural festival at Dr. Maya Angelou Community High School runs through Saturday, May 18. It is open to the public.

Check out the works in progress by dragging the sliders below to the left and to the right.

Add Fuel

Ni Santas







Axel Void

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