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For Mural Installation, Los Angeles Looks to Portland

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Detail of a mural by Elmac and Retna in Hollywood | Photo by Lord Jim via Flickr

Detail of a mural by Elmac and Retna in Hollywood | Photo by Lord Jim via Flickr
A Los Angeles City Council panel is investigating Portland, Oregon’sPublic Art Mural Program for inspiration on how to deal with murals locally. Once known as the mural capital of the world, Los Angeles has fallen far behind with mural maintenance as well as commissioning, funding, or allowing new murals to be put up.

During the discussion at today's meeting (.pdf), noted local muralist Judy Baca said that at one time that there were about 3,500 to 5,000 important, historical documented murals in the city. But in 2003, the decline of Los Angeles murals began after the city stopped funding graffiti removal or any organized plan for production. Then under the sign ordinance murals were no longer seen as works of art but rather the same as advertisements; and now they are essentially illegal in Los Angeles.

Baca warned that the ban on signs did not hurt the commercial advertisers, only the murals, "You dont see billboards being removed. Murals are coming down and billboards are going up. All it did was succeed in destroying public art," said Baca.

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One solution, according to the Planning Department, would be to implement a program like that of Portland. The city's Regional Arts & Cultures Council has a specific committee comprised of artists, arts advocates and professionals who review submitted murals to the Public Art Mural Program. Once accepted the mural receives funding but also becomes a part of the City’s public art collection.

The Planning Department suggests the City make a 51 percent contribution toward the cost of installing public art murals. The process suggested would allow private property to essentially make a donation to the City. The property owner and the City would sign a contract for maintenance, which would allow for a community process. This would also allow the Department of Cultural Affairs to assist with discernment necessary for public art.

Citing concerns with how such a program would play out in the budget and other long-term specifics, councilmembers requested staff bring forth more information in a future meeting.

Previously: L.A. Leaders Begin to Address Famous but Depleting Mural Collection Across City