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Outrage In The Arts District Over Mural's Whitewashing

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Cream of the Crop, pre whitewashing. (Photo by Daron via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Cream of the Crop, the mural pictured above, had become a symbol for the Arts District's Renaissance. First completed back in 2011, by a team of German and Australian artists, Cream of the Crop offered Angelenos a colorful signifier that the neighborhood occupied while viewing it was, indeed, somehow more avant-garde than the blander parts of the city they had come from.

It was certainly a gorgeous mural. However the past tense with which I am referring to it betrays its fate. Workers whitewashed the mural on April 16th, much to the disbelief of the tweeting and instagraming crowd of onlookers, according to L.A. Downtown News.

As you might expect, lots of people are unhappy about this, arguing that the mural's whitewashing is a negation of the Arts District's alleged kitsch.

"I was mostly shocked because I, and evidently many people, had no clue it was coming," said Melissa Richardson-Banks, an Arts District resident, to L.A. Downtown News. "This was an instance where someone thought that communicating with the neighborhood was not necessary or needed."

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The issue, though, is that the owners of the building the mural was painted on—the L.A. city Fire and Police Pension fund—say they did give all the proper notification necessary before whitewashing the mural. L.A. City law requires a building's owner give the artists 90 days notice of an impending erasure, provisions that were followed in this particular instance. The public, however, was blindsided.

But part of the drama leading to Cream of the Crop's erasure was its propensity to be featured in filmed works, introducing the added layer of licensing rights. Supposedly the artists asked for $15,000 to grant the rights for including the mural in a Mini-Cooper commercial. This may potentially have lead to a messy three-way conflict: the artists, who wanted to get paid for commercial use of their work; the building's owners, who wanted to get paid for filming rights on their property; and FilmLA producers who wanted to keep costs to a minimum.

An email obtained by Downtown News, written by the secretary of the Los Angeles Downtown Arts District Space Jonathan Jerald, hints that the asks for royalties may have lead to the mural's demise.

"We will, with the support of city officials and FilmLA, ask the property owners to paint out your murals, which otherwise would have survived at least a few more years," Jerald said in an email to the artists.

Jerald, who's responsible for brokering agreements between FilmLA and mural artists for licensing rights, said to Downtown L.A news that "the idea that I asked to have the murals painted out because it threatened our film revenues is absurd... There have been maybe two shoots in the last couple of years that wanted to include the building.”

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Sure, okay.

Regardless of what actually happened to Cream of the Crop, the whitewashed wall will not remain a whitewashed wall for very long. As Ray Ciranna, the general manager of L.A. Fire and Police Pensions, explained, "I want to focus on moving forward... I have no intention of leaving a boring beige wall."

Again, sure. But perhaps this all could have been done before before the mural was whitewashed.