Sunday, August 1, 2010

ARRA Era Murals Part 2

The era of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) murals is here, now. This is part two of the story of mural-jobs created with ARRA funding and the impact these projects are having. It is important to note that the creation of arts related jobs also means jobs for numerous other people associated with the creation of these projects, ranging from landscape designers, builders and cement technicians to engineers.

Santa Cruz, CA

The City of Santa Cruz has long understood the value of building cultural capital. They have created 15 murals so far through their redevelopment Mural Matching Grant program . It’s an intelligent move as they point out:

“Murals contribute to the overall success of the Redevelopment Project Areas through the creation of historical identification, district identification and unification as well as generally enhancing commercial areas and creating a “sense of place.” Exterior wall murals provide the added incentive to property owners of reduced graffiti as “taggers” tend to bypass walls on which murals have been painted and contribute to a graffiti free Santa Cruz.”

I found several examples of murals in Santa Cruz that capture the spirit of the day, a sense of excitement about a positive future that is lurking in the zeitgeist. Systems Mural Project is the brainchild of muralist Brian Barneclo and illustrates a holistic approach to mural making.

Brian writes:

“Systems Mural Project will explore the concept of interconnectivity via a 600 foot panoramic mural painted by San Francisco artist Brian Barneclo. Systems are found in nature (the water cycle) and also created by man (the government). What have we learned about sustainable systems? What works and what doesn’t? Should we revisit ancient technologies? Is the Industrial Age over? It is through this conversation that we gain an understanding of perhaps the most complicated systems of all, our systems of belief.”


The Mid-America Arts Alliance (MAAA) has teamed up with the Kansas Arts Commission and the Oklahoma Arts Council to fund two murals led by artist David Lowenstein. Murals are being created in each state. As with many of the ARRA era murals this project is as much about process as the creation of a beautiful final product that engages community. Included are job training, community and civic engagement and giving voice to disconnected people.

These projects will both be happening in 2010 and will give residents direct hands–on experience in the research, design, and execution of major public artworks for their communities. There will be a video documenting the projects, and you can follow progress on the project blog:


The City of Philadelphia continues to be a leader nationally in the area of mural and art jobs creation. They launched a Creative Industry Workforce Grants Program with a half million dollars in year 1. Organizations are creating low cost artists work space, community centers and more.

San Francisco

Digging a little deeper one can find examples of murals as part of an overall development project that will translate into employment for several arts conservationists working in concert with experts in other fields. The City of San Francisco Department of Public Health AIDS Office was awarded 9.5 million dollars over the next 5 years to expand much needed services. They will also bring their facilities up to a LEED silver rating, saving them in utility bills over the long term. Their site at 25 Van Ness Avenue was formally a Masonic Temple built in 1911 and designed by Walter Bliss.

The Ripple Effect

There are several other examples I came across that don’t fall directly under the category of ARRA funds being used to create mural jobs. Each of these agencies did receive ARRA directly from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Street SmARTS’s

I was not able to verify if ARRA funds were directly used to fund this program. The San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) did receive funds via the NEA in the area of literature. I find it relevant in that jobs were created through cross agency collaboration, and are employing sustainable design concepts.

Another job creation through the arts program is in San Francisco. The San Francisco Arts Commission in collaboration with the Department of Public Works realized they were spending millions on graffiti clean up and the problem was only getting worse.

The solution was to match up artists with business owners to create murals. They had the wisdom and vision to create a program that reduces crime, creates jobs, beautifies the city, provides career development and advancement for artists while building cultural capital overall. 2010 is the pilot year, with 17 murals being produced.

New York

Groundswell Community Mural Project is based in Brooklyn, NY. They received direct ARRA funding through the NEA in the area of arts education. Among their many community based cultural development initiatives are the Summer Leadership Institute (SLI). This summer job creation program for 85 youth is broken into six groups who team up with lead artists and community organizations to develop job skills and create a work of public art.

Image: 2008 “New York City is a Rollercoaster”Acrylic on Cement, 600 Sq. Ft on multiple walls.

One common trend among cities using ARRA funds to create arts related jobs is a willingness to collaborate among city agencies. Leadership is key. The projects described here could be duplicated in any city. The best of these projects seek to seed new creative industry – providing one time start up funds that will lead to long-term job growth. One thing is for sure, more and more municipalities are using the arts in their overall job development strategies. These programs produce jobs that have multiple impacts on the quality of our lives and belief in realizing our dreams and collective aspirations for a sustainable, safe and peaceful future.