Molina’s mural mess

“Cultivate Love” by Mear One and other paintings at Meeting of Styles, pre-whitewash (photo from Friends of the LA River [FoLAR])

“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:

1. Longtime L.A. graf artist Man One, who owns and operates Crewest Gallery, partnered with the well-established and well-regarded non-profit L.A. River advocacy organization Friends of the L.A. River (FoLAR) and others to present “Meeting of Styles: L.A.,” a two-day event on Sept. 21-22, 2007 featuring an all-day mass mural painting in the Hahumunga/Arroyo Seco section of the L.A. River in the Lincoln Heights/Highland Park neighborhood.

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):

“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.
– 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!”

2. “Meeting of Styles” was fully permitted and sanctioned by the appropriate government agencies, officers and elected representatives. The permit for the mural was granted to Man One.

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]


3. On Oct 18, L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina and several members of her staff met with Friends of the Los Angeles River co-founder Lewis MacAdams and others at the FoLAR office in a meeting hastily ordered by Molina that morning.

“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]

4. According to an eyewitness, on Monday morning October 29, a large portion of the mural was whitewashed by crews using at least two orange trucks and professional buffing equipment. [JB, Jan 3, 2008] Part of the whitewashing was on Mear One‘s “Cultivate Love,” a piece that Molina had apparently objected to.

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:

5. Molina denies ordering the whitewashing; Reyes says that City crews did not do it. But Man One says it was clearly a pro job.

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]

6. On Nov 12, L.A. Times journalist Steve Hymon reported in his weekly column that “Supervisor Gloria Molina caught wind of the event after the fact and hit the roof. She didn’t like the content of some of the murals — one showed a topless woman — and worried that the murals would attract graffiti.” The only topless female is a green elf/alien being/goddess. And, regardless, the event was fully permitted and licensed.

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.”

7. On Nov. 17, Crewest hosted “RESISTANCE & RESPECT: A FORUM ON THE HISTORY OF L.A. MURALISM & GRAFF ART, 1932-2007”

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.”

8. On Dec. 18, without any notice, Molina got the County to carry an emergency motion ordering FoLAR to whitewash the entire mural, without any further discussion or public debate on the matter. FoLAR is shocked; Man One says this is ‘dictatorship.’

Text of motion.

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]

9. On Dec. 24, viewfromaloft reported that Molina-threatening graffiti had gone up on portions of the mural, leading to questioning of Man One by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

Man One at the site of “Meeting of Styles:LA” that had portions painted over. (from viewfromaloft, Nov 7)

Full post at viewfromaloft (Dec 24)

6 responses to “Molina’s mural mess

  1. Thank you for the summary. In looking around the neighborhood, I noticed that there is no housing nearby. However, there is a loft conversion under construction, Fuller Lofts. About the only place you could get a good view of the murals without actually going into the river would be from Fuller Lofts. So I’m wondering whether some realtor thought it made the neighborhood look bad-Ha! as if it looks so great now! But I’ve noticed they’ve been getting rid of the homeless too, and they buff some of the walls just about every day-as if that does much good!

  2. Thanks for this summary. I was there as a photographer and participant, and the event was beautiful. I’m happy that MEAR ONE ended up making screen prints of his Cultivate Love image, because I was able to snag one and save the beautiful message.

    I am now a PhD student in sociology at UCLA, and I might end up doing an academic research project on the interplay of culture, politics, personal taste, spite and greed. If you read this and have something to say, please email me at


  3. Pingback: Saber Blog » Whitewashing the L.A. River

  4. Pingback: The white washing of the LA river…. :| « Gogger's Blog

  5. Pingback: Saber Blog » NEWS: Los Angeles’ War On Public Art

  6. Pingback: Saber Blog » Art Is Not A Crime…End the Mural Moratorium

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s