Above: The view from the footbridge upriver towards the Los Feliz bridge, early Autumn 2007. That’s Griffith Park’s burnt hills in the background. Photo by Stacy Kranitz.
Below: The same view, on Friday, January 25, 2008. Photo by JB.
The Cypress Park Neighborhood Council is holding a special meeting regarding the Meeting of Styles mural controversy Friday, January 11 at 7:00 PM at the Cypress Park Community Center (929 Cypress Ave, 90065, between Maceo and Thorpe, near the library).
Arroyo Seco Mural Feud
Nipples are out, as the county declares an “emergency” — and blames Friends of the L.A. River
By MATTHEW FLEISCHER
Wednesday, January 9, 2008 – 10:58 am
STANDING ON A BRIDGE overlooking the confluence of the Arroyo Seco and Los Angeles rivers, Friends of the Los Angeles River founder Lewis MacAdams stares at the cement-walled streams and indulges in a moment of nostalgia. “This was the birthplace of FoLAR,” he says of the desolate area. “I came down here one day and saw how blighted and disgusting it was and just thought, ‘I have to do something about this.’ ”
Twenty-two years after MacAdams founded FoLAR, however, the stretch of river that inspired him has landed his group in a bizarre battle with County Supervisor Gloria Molina, leaving the nonprofit organization potentially liable for thousands of dollars in cleanup costs.
It all stems from last September’s well-attended international graffiti event, “Meeting of Styles,” co-sponsored by FoLAR and Crewest Gallery, operated by graffiti artist Man One. Thousands of people gathered to watch more than 100 graffiti artists from around the world create a giant mural along the intersection of the two flood-control channels.
Colorful and eclectic, the mural was seen as a vast improvement over the barren, gray void of cement it covered. But while written about glowingly in the press and the blogosphere, the mural inspired the wrath of Molina.
On December 18 the County Board of Supervisors, led by Molina, passed an “emergency measure” ordering FoLAR to whitewash the mural, or pay the bill if the Department of Public Works has to paint it over for them. Molina spokeswoman Roxane Márquez went so far as to call the mural “a public nuisance and a safety hazard,” justifying the board’s invocation of an “emergency.”
Molina will not comment to L.A. Weekly on the nature of the supposed emergency, but was quoted in the L.A. Times last November bashing FoLAR as having “violated their own mission,” and declaring, “with friends like this, who needs enemies?”
Molina’s harsh words have baffled the river organization, which generally gets kudos for its attempts to beautify the flood-control channel, one of the most barren and infamous spectacles in Los Angeles.
“She’s on the warpath,” says MacAdams of Molina. “She’s really trying to bring us down over this.”
Though MacAdams doesn’t fully understand Molina’s rage, he has his suspicions. Surveying the Arroyo Seco section of the channel, he points to a large, purple-haired wood nymph spray-painted on the south side of the floodwall and notes her bare, green chest.
“Those are the tits in question,” he says, shaking his head.
Could the Arroyo Seco mural fuss really be over a pair of green breasts?
Last year, FoLAR petitioned the City Council to allow a mural to be painted along the Los Angeles River floodwalls near the César Chavez bridge. The council approved the proposed mural — of utopian visions of the Los Angeles River. A lack of funds shelved the project, however.
With the utopian mural on hiatus, Man One and “Meeting of Styles,” whom MacAdams had earlier recruited to help with the César Chavez project, needed a new location for their own event. FoLAR offered its support, and it was agreed that the Arroyo Seco would be the perfect spot. “Why not paint someplace like that?” asks MacAdams. “It’s a completely degraded area.”
The county, which has jurisdiction over the Arroyo Seco, granted Man One the permit for his event, but after the mural was finished, it became clear that the county regretted its decision.
On the morning of October 18, FoLAR received a call from the office of Gloria Molina stating that the supervisor and several members of her staff were coming to FoLAR’s office in a few hours. When she arrived, Molina was livid and less than subtle about her distaste for the mural’s content. According to MacAdams and other FoLAR members who were present, Molina burst into their office and demanded: “Why don’t you put a pair of tits on your FoLAR T-shirts?” — a presumed reference to the topless green wood nymph.
Man One, who was at the meeting, says, “I asked them specifically what they found offensive, because if it was something specific we could consult the artist and have it touched up. But they just said ‘you know what’s offensive,’ and left it at that. There was no dialogue. They were there to flex some muscle, and show who’s boss.”
“When you have a permit to create a mural,” he explained later, “and then you have to remove it because someone in power doesn’t like it, without any dialogue, that’s censorship. That’s being a dictator.”
“THIS ISN’T ABOUT defining what’s art and what’s not,” insists Molina spokeswoman Márquez, who implied that the painting on the river wall could cause the same problems as tagging by gangs, saying, “This is a matter of public safety. We lost two constituents this year to graffiti-related violence.”
Asked why the permit for the mural was granted at all if such graffiti art — not gang tagging — can lead to violence, Márquez started talking about a different mural project altogether. Clearly confusing Man One’s Arroyo Seco mural with the utopian-themed mural proposed near the César Chavez bridge, Márquez erroneously stated, “The mural was supposed to be about visions of the Los Angeles River.”
Beyond her office’s confusion over which mural is which, Molina’s staff is now involved in a war of words over who is responsible for removing the additional graffiti that has sprung up. Molina’s staff says FoLAR should be responsible, and FoLAR has agreed — to an extent.
“We reached an agreement with them that we would remove the surrounding graffiti one time,” says FoLAR executive director Shelly Backlar.
“Quite the contrary,” counters Molina’s policy director, Gerry Hertzberg. “In my one telephone conversation with [MacAdams], I restated that as long as the mural provided a magnet to tagging and graffiti we expected them to do the graffiti removal.”
Though tagging around the mural was minimal early last fall, soon after Molina’s meeting with FoLAR in mid-October a large portion of the mural was mysteriously and professionally whitewashed; the message “Cultivate Love” was painted over, but the nymph with nipples was left undisturbed.
Molina denies she ordered the section removed. Department of Public Works officials insist they are not responsible. “If it was us, we would have finished the job,” says Public Works assistant deputy director Mark Pestrella. Whoever the culprit, the partial whitewash has created a blank slate for taggers, leading to an explosion of tagging — which the county is now holding FoLAR responsible for.
One such tag depicted a man sporting an uber-erection and saying, “We rock when we want, where we want.”
Another tag simply said, “Gloria Molina 187”; 187, for those who slept through the gangster-rap era, is police code for homicide. That particular tag brought police to the doorsteps of both FoLAR and Man One, and, rhetorically at least, helped bolster Molina’s otherwise tenuous association of the now-obscured mural with violence.
In reaction, shortly before New Year’s Eve, the Department of Public Works buffed over all the new, unauthorized graffiti. (Curiously, according to Pestrella, the 187 tag had already been removed — but again, not by the county, he insists.) Pestrella says he intends to bill FoLAR for the buff job — on orders from the Board of Supervisors. “We expect the bill to be upwards of $1,000,” he says.
That bill could be just the first of many for the nonprofit FoLAR.
With the county’s emergency deadline to remove the entire mural approaching in mid-March, FoLAR members don’t know how they’re going to handle a nasty feud with the county government that they did not invite, involving a county permit that was not granted to FoLAR but to the artist Man One. If more graffiti shows up, FoLAR could be billed by public works again — and again and again.
Backlar of FoLAR is perplexed that something as seemingly innocuous as a mural can be wasting so much time — both the county’s and her own. “Like there aren’t more important things to deal with,” she says. “You’ve got homeless people living in the river, for goodness’ sake.”
MacAdams, however, sees a larger point.
“We’re out ahead of the bureaucrats and it’s making them nervous. This event opened doors to whole new communities who had never been around the Los Angeles River.”
The coming months will reveal just how costly that introduction is going to be.
MOTION BY SUPERVISOR GLORIA MOLINA
December 18, 2007
In September of this year, the Department of Public Works granted a permit for the placement of mural artwork in the Flood Control District’s right-of-way along the Arroyo Seco at its confluence with the Los Angeles River. This mural artwork was authorized at the behest of the Friends of the Los Angeles River. Parts of the mural artwork may have been placed outside the area for which the permit was granted. Additionally, portions of the mural artwork were defaced with graffiti and other graphic elements which are contrary to the public health and welfare, and offensive to many. Additionally, this area of the Flood Control District right-of-way was defaced with a great deal of additional graffiti. As we all know, graffiti is detrimental to the communities in which it is located, and it can lead to violence and even to the death of innocent persons.
The Friends of the Los Angeles River had indicated that it was taking steps to address this problem, but over the past several days, regrettably, it has become clear that the Friends are unwilling or unable to address these issues. The Department of Public Works has indicated that it recommends a 90-day notice under the California Art Preservation Act be provided to the mural artwork’s artists, declaring Public Works’ intention to remove the mural artwork should the mural artwork’s artists fail to remove it themselves or to pay for its removal.
I, THEREFORE, MOVE that the Board authorize the Director of Public Works to provide the 90-day notice to the artists of the mural artwork, declaring Public Works’ intention to remove the mural artwork in the event that the mural artwork’s artists fail to remove it themselves.
I, FURTHER, MOVE that the Board find that the need to take action on this item arose since the printing of the posted agenda and that the Director of Public Works be authorized to submit a bill for the costs of removal of the mural artwork to the Friends of the Los Angeles River, since it is equitable that the Friends be responsible for the costs of such removal.
I, FURTHER, MOVE that the Director of Public Works be directed to take action to remove the graffiti that has been placed in this area of the Flood Control District right-of-way.
I, FURTHER, MOVE, that the Director of Public Works be directed to remove any graffiti or other unpermitted work that has been placed in this area of the Flood Control District right-of-way.
“Cultivate Love” artist Mear (photo from FoLAR)
Above: Meeting of Styles, photographed by Mark Mauer for LAWeekly; more photos here.)
Above: County Supervisor Gloria Molina in front of a mural, from her own website.
Informed discussion is the only discussion that matters.
With that in mind, and as this story has been going since October 30, with a number of twists and reversals, I thought now might be a good time to summarize—or at least put in some chronological order, in one place—what we know so far about the Molina mural mess.
Here’s what I’ve gathered so far:
The press release read, in part: “Over 100 artists from Los Angeles will be joined by visiting artists from San Diego, the Bay Area, and as far away as Sweden and Germany to spray paint a 10,000 square foot section of the L.A. River concrete waterway at the Arroyo Seco Confluence in Highland Park.
“The Arroyo Seco Confluence has historical significance for many L.A. writers who used to [do graffiti art] on those walls back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The walls are hundreds of feet long and over 12 feet high on one side and almost 20 on the other. Never done with permission before, this event will be historic.
“The location is San Fernando Road, just South of North Figueroa Street – right around the corner from Home Depot in Highland Park. Although there is no exact address, the closest business address would be 451 n San Fernando Road, Los Angeles, CA 90031
“This event is part of a larger global event, The International Meeting of Styles (MOS) that began in Wiesbaden, Germany in 2002. The network of graffiti artists and aficionados come together in unity inspired by their passion for graffiti art. MOS aims to create a forum for the international art community to communicate, assemble, and exchange ideas, works, and skills.
“In the spirit of cooperation and promotion, MOS has launched over sixty events in sixteen countries across Europe and North America since 2006. These events have sponsored hundreds of graffiti artists from all over the world and have attracted more than 60,000 spectators, providing a focal point for urban street culture and graffiti art to reach the larger community.
“MOS:LA will bring together many of the top writers and crews from the L.A. area and beyond. Here is a list of crew and artist participants (subject to change):
MAN ONE, VYAL, SACRED, WERC, CROL, SHERM, YORES, PUPPET, ASYLM, SWANK, PANIC, EYEONE, MODEM, PRECISE, ACME, MANDOE, NEO, PROSE, WRAM, ASTEK, EKURA, BASH, BISER, DEEN, KEY, KEEPS, ZUCO, METHOD, DSRUP, NOEK, CACHE, COKA, PRANKS, FASHION, PIN, CRAE, ANE, DECODE, LENK, REXOR,VERT-ONE, DOME 87, PHIB, PRYER, THANKS, RVEE, RUEBS, ROTEN, UKAI, SPIRO/STIGMA, FIE, MEGS, KALM, ALOY, DES, ZERK, WORSE, LOYER, NEED, DERSE, VOX, BESK, CEZR, MAKE, DEF, RELIC, TELER, HEAVEN, CALE, CRETE 85, KEO, OWEN, SCUD, ANGER, AXIS, NATOE, POSH, AURA, SPLIT, ATLAS, ALTER, SINER, CRE8, MIDZT, DUCE, MOZZER, REVOK, SABER, TYKE, PUSH, EKLIPSE, RETNA, KRUSH, RISKY, OG ABEL, ZOUEH, FEARO, KOFIE, NUKE, CHEE, ITALO, RASO, THANKS, PLEK, SWAB, KAPOW, OMEGA, THUS, RVEE, PAKA, DASH2000, ESK31, OZIE, USE, SER, CAP, BEATL, BADCOKE, PLETIK, SPURN, ARCO, ESQUE, RUET, SIZE, PALE, RELAX, CAB, UNIT, SKYPAGER, AERO, PERSUE, DEMON, ZORE, and others…
“The MOS-LA event is a top notch mural event. We are seeking only the best artists around. Although the LA River is huge, we are limited by the wall space we have for this years event. Most artists and crews were individually invited to participate. Priority is given to crews of artists and selected out of towners.
“Rules for Participants…
– All artists will be required to fill out a liability waiver and will be given an artists badge after having done so.
-All participating crews and artists will have a pre-designated space but will be on first come first serve basis until we run out of wall space.
-Artists must bring all necessary materials and equipment for painting their pieces. Including, all paints (aerosol and buff), ladders, scaffolds, etc.
-There is a theme! We would like for all the crew productions being produced to have some kind of reference to the LA River and its wildlife. Characters of river animals (frogs, dragonflies, rats, cats, etc.) are highly encouraged to help tie together all the productions.
-NO ALCOHOL, WEAPONS, OR ATTITUDES WILL BE ALLOWED!
– This is a community event and the public at large will be invited, including families and public officials. Security will be provided, but please help us all make this a safe and positive event so that we can make this an annual event!
Let’s show the world what L.A. writers can do in UNITY!”
FoLAR, which interacts frequently with members of all levels of government as a matter of business, was instrumental in this permit-gathering process. FoLAR’s only formal involvement with the Hahamugna/Arroyo Seco mural site was donating $300 for pizza and drinks for an opening of L.A. River art at Crewest’s gallery.
Man One’s Crewest group was responsible for organizing the muralist line-up and the event itself.
The event was rained out on first try; the painting went up the following weekend, Sept 29-30. Here are photos from the L.A. Weekly’s coverage of the event. Here are more photos of the event from FoLAR’s website.
KPFK reported that it was “the largest production ever seen in Los Angeles – and some one thousand people headed down to the River to witness it.” [KPFK, Oct 30]
“While permits were issued, County officials say it wasn’t enough. Within a week of the completed project, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina demanded a meeting with organizers. FoLAR and Crewest were reprimanded for not following procedures, not providing plans, and officials consider part of the content of the series of murals as ‘unacceptable.’ At that same meeting, Molina demanded the work removed. Organizers defended the project, stating that all known ways to secure permission from various agencies were followed.” [viewfromaloft, Nov 7]
“The supervisor was furious, Man One said, and she loudly demanded that Friends of the L.A. River paint over the murals because some contained what she called sexist images and others ridiculed police. Man One and another person at the meeting said Molina added that the permitted murals would generate illegal graffiti and violence among competing taggers. ‘She views all graffiti art as graffiti, as vandalism. And that was evident. She didn’t care about, she didn’t care about a mural that said “Cultivate Love,” she didn’t care about a mural that was talking about the creatures of the river; to her it’s all the same.’ … Man One said none of the works depicted police in a negative light.” [KPCC, Nov. 2]
“A small portion of the wall space that was painted was not permitted, and FOLAR agreed that that portion could be painted over.” [KPFK, Oct 30]
Here is video from Man One’s blog showing where the artwork had been buffed out.
Here is a photograph of some of the whitewash on Mear One’s “Cultivate Love” piece:
From Man One’s Crewest Gallery News blog, Oct. 30: “Someone has decided to go down there and vandalize the mural by buffing out about 300 feet of the artwork. No one has claimed responsibility or admitted to giving the order to buff. It’s obvious that it was done ‘professionally’ and not by a couple of guys with rollers. Whoever did this had to have driven down to the river fully equipped with spray guns, a compressor, and several 5 gallon buckets full of dull grey paint. Although they didn’t finish the job, they were able to destroy enough of it to make you sick to your stomach.”
“A letter from the Department of Public Works was sent to FoLAR stating that they were not responsible for the whitewash and the offices of the County Supervisor stated to VFaL that the Molina did not order anyone to eradicate portions of the works.” [viewfromaloft, Nov 7]
“Molina’s office has said that she didn’t order the whitewashing, and it now remains a mystery who whitewashed the river.” [KPFK, Oct 30]
“L.A. City councilman Ed Reyes denied that city crews painted over the murals. He lent his support when organizers proposed the mural project. Upon further questioning Reyes conceded he shares Molina’s view about the downside of legal graffiti: ‘What was permitted, was permitted, that was a fact. But what tended to happen was you had a whole other by-product of other type of graffiti that came along with it.'” [KPCC, Nov. 2]
More from viewfromaloft:
“Graffiti-as-art supporters [say] that the removal of sites like the Belmont Tunnel and The Venice Graffiti Pit have influenced the current rise of illegal tagging. ‘You have to admit, the increase began when these resources were lost,’ said Debra Padilla of the Social Public Art and Resource Center (SPARC). ‘The L.A. River was always seen as an alternative site for artists.’
“Shelly Backlar, Executive Director of FoLAR, agrees, ‘We wanted demonstrate the optional uses of the River as place for public art space,’ she said to VFaL. ‘We planned to leave some art work that would provoke ideas of what could happen, and create an atmosphere.’
“The art project was a contingency plan for a larger scale event that was slated to be at the Cesar Chavez Bridge and Los Angeles River. Support for that supported was a motion by 14th District Councilman Jose Huizar and seconded by 1st District Councilman Ed Reyes. It has since been shelved by FoLAR and Crewest to gain funding support, and it still planned to be held a year from now.
“While the fear that accepting graffiti art opens the door for tagging will be an ongoing debate, organizers who were successful to find ways to work with agencies at a professional level are finding there is no official protocol for projects like ‘Meeting of Styles:LA.’ Lewis MacAdams, founder of FoLAR stated, ‘There was no subversive attempt with this project,’ and adds that for him, the project validated graffitti as an art form. He adds ‘A whole group of artists have been criminalized.’
“As for who ever ordered the whitewash, they share one thing in common with illegal taggers—a desire for anonymity.” [viewfromaloft, Nov 7]
There was a painting by L.A. graf artist Mear One of a woman in a tight fitting dress, planting a giant flower, saying “Cultivate Love.”
Hymon’s report continued:
“’We’ve always looked to them as partners in beautifying and greening the river, but with friends like this, who needs enemies,’” Molina said Friday [Nov. 9] of the group’s mural project. “I think they have really violated their own mission.’
Hymon noted that he “visited the site with Councilman Ed Reyes last week. Reyes, the chairman of the council’s river restoration committee, hiked up his pants and waded in his dress shoes into the shallow water to look at the murals. Reyes, who was told of the event ahead of time, said he sides with Molina.”
Press release: “Los Angeles has been a hot bed of resistance mural art making since 1932 when visiting Mexican painter/muralist Davíd Alvaro Siqueiros painted two masterpieces here – El Mitin Callejero at Chouinard’s Art Institute and the prototype of Chicano muralism América Tropical at Olvera Street. The latter mural outraged the L.A. City Council to the point of having it whitewashed because of its highly charged subversive content.
“Recently, several new Graff art murals were suddenly removed from the Arroyo Seco Wash. After 75 years the controversy rages on over what can and cannot be painted on L.A.’s walls.
“A forum has been organized to address these and other issues facing traditional muralists and the emerging Graff art generation. Hopefully the presentations and dialogue will generate unity and respect between the two schools inspiring them to continue contributing to the form’s stormy and illustrious 75 year legacy.
“RESISTANCE & RESPECT will be presented by Crewest, Arts 4 City Youth, Olmeca, and Rage.One.
“The forum will present an historical overview on the history of Los Angeles muralism and Graff Art from 1932 to the present starting with the screening of the 1971 PBS documentary of Siqueiros’ 1932 mural América Tropical by Jesús Salvador Treviño.
“Following the screening a presentation on early and current traditional muralism will be given by the East Los Streetscapers mural collective co-founder, painter, Wayne Alaníz Healy and muralists/painters Yreina Cervantez, Alma Lopez, and Noni Olabisi.
“Painter and pioneer Graff artist Chaz Bojórquez will give an historical overview of Graff art. Definitions of vandalism, tagging, graffiti, and Graff art will be explored by Chaz and a panel of Graff artists including Chaka, Nuke, and Zender. Olmeca, Oscar Magallanes, and Rage.One will present how Graff art is being used as a form of resistance by socio-political movements as a tool to communicate their struggle.
“An open discussion will follow for all presenters focused on the current issues they face: Tagging of classic murals, the recent removal of the Arroyo Seco Wash murals, and city and county permit policies.
“The forum will be moderated by Man One, Graff artist and owner of Crewest Gallery.
“Following the forum there will be a concert/performance by Arts 4 City Youth presenting original works (music, dance, theater, spoken word, and Graff art) based on art as activism directed by A4CY founder and event co-organizer Rubén ‘Funkahuatl’ Guevara.”
On Dec 21, the LAWeekly’s website published a report by Matthew Fleisher entitled “Gloria Molina Orders Meeting of Styles Mural Whitewashed — And plans to bill FoLAR for removal of art.”
Fleisher reported that on Dec 18, “Los Angeles Country Supervisor Gloria Molina introduced an emergency measure to the County Board of Supervisors that would force Friends of the Los Angeles River to whitewash the remains of the mural from the renowned international graffiti festival Meeting of Styles from the flood walls. The motion was quickly seconded by Supervisor Don Knabe, who called the mural ‘outrageous,’ and was then carried without further discussion or public debate” even though “County records indicate that organizers secured all necessary permits for the mural, and that the event was fully licensed by the County.
“…FoLAR now has 90 days to remove the mural or be forced to foot the bill when the Department of Public Works does it for them. No further public hearings are scheduled on the matter…
“[N]ews of the emergency measure came as a complete shock to FoLAR members, who were under the impression they had come to an understanding with Molina’s people. ‘We reached an agreement with Gerry Herzberg (Molina’s Policy and Political Director) that we would remove additional graffiti that had sprung up around the mural one time,’ says MacAdams. ‘Then, suddenly, they wanted us to remove it in perpetuity. Now, without even putting it on the agenda, so we could show up to defend ourselves and generate some public debate, they expect us to get rid of the mural itself. It’s insane.’
“Molina spokeswoman Roxane Marquez calls the mural a “public nuisance and a potential safety hazard,” citing the death of two constituents in graffiti-related violence earlier in the year. She justifies Molina’s decision to introduce the mural’s removal as an emergency measure by saying the county is ‘trying to save lives.'”
Man One is quoted by Fleisher: “When you have a permit to create a mural, and then you have to remove it because someone in power doesn’t like it, without any dialogue, that’s censorship. That’s a dictatorship.”
Lewis MacAdams of FoLAR says: “We’re in the process of getting bids on our original agreement with the county, which was that we’d paint out the graffiti around the mural that its presence supposedly inspired. It was the mutually agreed upon—by her own staff and County Public Works and FoLAR—parameters and procedures for accomplishing this that Mrs. Molina ignored in her emergency declaration. As to painting out the mural, we’ve received no formal letter from the Supervisor yet stating her demands.” [email to Nature Trumps, Dec 31]