Thursday, December 27, 2012

Oakland Community Art Coalition Scores Major Victory Against “Comprehensive Anti-Graffiti Ordinance”

Reprinted from the December 19, 2012 Oakland based Community Revitalization Project.

What’s in a name? For the Oakland Community Art Coalition, everything.  After issuing recommendations to Councilpersons Nancy Nadel and Libby Schaaf and speaking before the Public Works Committee on two occasions, advocating in favor of modifications to a proposed “Comprehensive Anti-Graffiti Ordinance,” the committee recommended adoption of several of the Coalition’s suggestions following a December 12 hearing. The recommendations included removing the word “graffiti” from the ordinance – a major point of contention for the Coalition, who argued that the word refers to a legitimate artistic aesthetic, and isn’t automatically synonymous with vandalism or defacement of property. Other committee recommendations included removing the City Administrator as sole determinator of Restorative Justice remedies, and, most importantly, a directive to city staff to work with community groups on the implementation plan.

On December 18, the full Council agreed to amend the Ordinance according to the Committee’s recommendations, with final modifications coming January 22. The public hearing was a bit of a mixed bag: there was plenty of doubletalk from Councilpeople and city staff, some of whom seemed to attempt to have it both ways: take a seemingly tough stance on crime, while simultaneously professing appreciation for aerosol art and expressing enthusiasm for community input and Restorative Justice measures.

Yet the Council couldn’t pretend that issues around implementation and enforcement didn’t exist.
Desley Brooks noted that tagging wasn’t named in the ordinance, prompting Nadel, who co-authored the ordinance, to admit, “we didn’t discuss tagging.”

Brooks added, “there is some value” to “graffiti”, to which Deputy City Attorney Richard Illgen said, “yes, I agree.”


Rebecca Kaplan noted that suggestions from community groups were incorporated into the ordinance, but asked, “will it only end up being property owners who get fined?”

Illgen sidestepped the question—a valid one, since as much as 50% of tag-blighting is on city or state-owned property—by noting provisions were added “to allow relief for property owners who have been hit multiple times.” What he didn’t say, however, is that that relief is contingent on the identification and apprehension of taggers and vandals – an offense which the Oakland Police Department has publicly stated it won’t investigate.Kaplan then noted the implementation plan “is beyond what’s in the text” of the ordinance—another way of saying that currently, there is no implementation plan. “Who’s responsible?” for enforcement, she wondered—a question for which city staff had no answer.

Outgoing Council member Ignacio de la Fuente expressed concern that “we are doing something here that will really penalize the property owner. How are we going to implement? There’s really no process for enforcement.” Schaaf called the ordinance the “first piece of a much larger effort,” noting there are “consequences IF graffiti writers are caught” (emphasis added), then adding, “we can do some positive programs.”

Following a motion by Nadel to add the word “tagging” to the definitions of offenses, and the adoption of the previously-proposed modifications—including the removal of the word “graffiti” from their “Comprehensive Anti-Graffiti Ordinance”—the Council voted to pass the ordinance.

However, the Council’s comments confirm what anyone who has thoroughly looked at the ordinance has already realized: that the measure is far from comprehensive, lacks a cohesive plan for implementation, and as it currently stands, will be a mechanism for fining property owners who are the hardest hit by tag-blighting vandals, while doing nothing to prevent defacement from occurring in the first place.

Those issues are a big reason why the Oakland Community Art Coalition—a group which includes members of the Community Rejuvenation Project, East Side Arts Alliance, Rock Paper Scissors Collective, the Estria Foundation, and I.C.U. –formed. While we remain skeptical about how enforcement will actually be implemented, we are encouraged by the stated intention of city staff and Council to work with community groups to create and enact the positive programs Schaaf referred to.

The OCAC will continue to push for the creation of a Mural Diversion Program, as part of the Restorative Justice measures referenced in the ordinance. We hope the city will see fit to fully adopt the recommendations we have outlined, which is the first step in rethinking abatement strategy to include beautification efforts which not only deter tagging and vandalism, but enhance the quality of life in blighted areas, instill a sense of community ownership, and promote youth development and artistic expression in a way that upholds creation, not destruction.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

CAM Updates and Changes


A note that I am merging a number of projects onto the Community Arts and Murals Blog. So far I've included 17 postings from the Collective Imprints project in Philadelphia. I think you will really enjoy the writing "It's Simple, MOVE" by Gina Renzi, director of the Rotunda, describing her experience in a workshop led by Artist Jodi Netzer. Writer Peter Richman writes his reflections of working on Collective Imprints in a masterful piece entitled "Catalysis".

Also added are the posts from a project at Wakefield Middle School in south Tucson.  The Wakefield mural is an especially important story given proposed school closures in Tucson, and the pressure for teachers and students to conform to an in increasingly constricted learning environment.

There are a number of complications in combining project blogs onto a single site, but the positives are that the many stories and projects will be combined and easy to find in one place.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Murals and Sustainable Design: New Contexts

A new How & Nosm mural in Rochester NY, part of their Wall Therapy program

When it comes to community identity, there is nothing like a mural to trigger dialogue. With the mural movement in full swing almost every large and medium city in our nation now has murals, and new mural organizations and initiatives are popping up everywhere.

From San Luis Obipso to Boston  and Rochester, NY these new murals, and aesthetics, are forcing city councils and residents to struggle with complex issues.

These issues range from first amendment and property rights to sign codes and developing a process to approve designs. These are healthy conversations that promote civic participation and engagement in the arts. Who are we as a people? What images define us? What makes a mural offensive to someone? In July for example a David Choe  mural in Hawai’i was painted over hours after it was finished. Little did local residents know this might have been a once in a lifetime opportunity to be stewards to one of the most important and talented artists of our generation. 

Artist David Choe in his studio. Image: Ramin Talaie/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A new ROA mural in Rochester, NY has perked controversy as well. Synthesis Collaborative who hosted the well know artist and many others in a program called Wall Therapy.  The organizers write:

“Essentially, what we are doing is a community-level intervention in the form of mural art in the public space.  The walls are our vehicle for inspiring and rehabilitating our community.  We are intervening visually to address a fundamental collective need of our citizenry, the need for inspiration.  In addition and quite literally, the walls on which our “therapists” will paint are being resurfaced and rehabilitated…given new life and energy.”
ROA in Rochester with Wall Therapy
Photo: Stephen S. Reardon

Cities that have established mural arts and public arts programs have to contend with these issues and have managed to organize and rally support when controversy arises. With public art it almost always does, and sometimes this is better than being ignored. I think it’s fair to say that most people hope their art inspires, unify and promote all things good. However many well intentioned muralists with no community design and feedback process are running into challenges, especially if they are parachuting in with little knowledge for the places they are working.

My question is what is the responsibility of the artist for contributing to and offering meaning to these conversations – or is it our job to paint and move on?  What is the responsibility of the host agency? Is the responsibility of the host to employ an additional step to site preparation and planning, specifically a Community Arts Integration (CAI) plan? I’ve been watching as this process has taken root since I first started writing about the concept several years ago. In implementing a CAI plan artists and hosts are provided with a wealth of information and strong context for the project.

The idea that artists are critical to the sustainable design and holistic development of our infrastructure is an idea whose time has come. It’s great to see groups like Wall Therapy making the leap towards the inevitable changes we, as a species are engaged in. 


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Living Our Dreams Creating Our Future

"Living Our Dreams Creating Our Future" ©2011 Nile Livingston
 By Nile Livingston

This summer volunteers and members of the North Philadelphia neighborhoods came together to paint a mural at the Cecil B Moore Recreation Center Playground at 22nd and Lehigh Avenue. This grass roots project began with my childhood friend, Teyona Jackson, who met a group of girls called the P.I.N.K Ladies at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where she gave educational tours. The P.I.N.K Ladies invited her to their Recreation Center where she felt inspired by the positive energy involved in the youth mentorship program. Interested in pursuing Arts Management, Jackson used this opportunity to engage her skill set. She sent proposals and pull together sponsors of supplies and invited me on the team as Lead Artist.

 This is a prime community mural project: ideas for the design generated from the youth at the Rec Center, community paint days involving the youth, staff, family and others, and a beautiful mural for the neighborhood to see. This is really one to be proud of!”  - Mary Newson
Seeking to build trust and respect with the residents of the area we focused on the use of educational workshops, meetings at the community center, and social networking along with cooperative learning to ensure participation toward this mural’s success. The community’s ideas stimulated discussion and interaction among the neighborhood and a consensus was reached about the mural’s theme. Working with the guidelines to incorporate singer and song writer Jill Scott in the mural who grew up around this area and taped her music video ‘A Long Walk’ in this playground, along with some of the children’s recreational activities at the playground the mural design was brought to life. The images depict active children having fun and feeling safe. I wish to provide the possibility for more people to have pride toward their public art and I appreciate everyone that came out to help build this mural. The wide range of stories, emotions and walks of life I observed converging at the recreation center playground will now have more to admire about their environment. This work of art draws attention to universal human commonalities and helps make sense of our motives and how we relate to each other. 

“Man o man o man, very impressive; An ambitious project” - Parris Stancell 
I became a part of the mural project because I wanted to use this opportunity to learn more by becoming involved in teaching. The key to my philosophy is that we can all use critical thinking to connect and help each other create something larger than ourselves. Reflecting upon my academic career it is clear that many of my mentors have helped develop my ability to create, utilize resources, and articulate ideas. Aspiring toward self improvement, I believe that a good teacher is a good student. My goal for this mural project is to inspire others as my mentors did for me.
“Murals can change neighborhoods and lives -- press on ladies!” - Mary Angela Bock 
Over the course of 14 weeks our education team brought on friends Don Christian Jones, Eve Hall, Kanids Hutcherson, and Lanita Sims as assistant artist and dedicated supporters. This system of students teaching the younger ones was encouraging for us to be able to innovate a way for us to utilize our skills in an uplifting way. With high standards for visual clarity the team mixed a variety of vibrant paint colors and researched efficient use of materials to proceed with mural making. 
Love seeing all the photos and progression of the mural - amazing!!!! Looks like fun too!” - Moira Groves Schwartz

Installing parachute cloth with community power.
Projecting digital figures onto scaled parachute cloth we developed a paint-by-numbers aesthetics in hopes of combing all proficiency levels and increase observations from collaborative learning as various volunteers were be able to tackle more complex problems. We overcame the obstacle of acquiring insurance and funding for scaffolding. Realizing the lack of time and financial resources our prevail was to carefully use tall ladders to help prime and paste the mural onto the 21ft tall by 73ft wide wall. Now that the mural is at its completion I’m excited that they style of the mural is unique compared to murals around Philadelphia. I am inspired at what a small group of dedicated individuals can accomplish.

“I would like to thank all of the Artists and Volunteers who helped create our Master Piece. Thank You so much for dedicating so much of your time, energy and efforts in to this project.” - Nakia Campbell 
After the summer of 2011 many of our team members have branched out across the world to continue their education or return to employment; however we all continue to build new connections in our communities. I am engaged in a film about preparations transgendered folks take as they growing older and I am dedicate more time toward personal art projects which documents a series of character encounters, such as the ‘Church Ladies’ or my current project; ‘People Selling Things On The Side Of The Road’.

Teyona Jackson, Project Coordinator.

Artists Biography

Nile Livingston is an emerging African American contemporary artist working in drawing, web-art, and installations. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1988 Livingston received her B.F.A. in Studio Art, at Kutztown University where she focused on sculpture and large metal fabrications. Her mother; an educator, and father; a draftsman, encouraged both of their children to explore various forms of expression such as music, writing and dance.

Always doodling and experimenting with computers, it was not until attending the Creative and Performing Arts High School that Livingston found satisfaction through the visual arts. She began creating art as a way of recording her life, similar to a public diary entry. Livingston became involved in community organizations such as the Mural Arts Program. Art courses at surrounding universities in Philadelphia introduced her to computer graphics and videography. Fascinated by the limitless mediums, she found that each combination provided evidence for narrative art works that address social, environmental, and technological changes.

Livingston continues to juxtapose found materials with intentions of articulating her current experiences as it relates to the world at large. She displays her works to be understood in new contexts and to spark conversations about our overall human condition. Her work is accessible to all people, found on walls of public buildings as well as showcases of interactive new-media-art distributed through the internet. The subjects of her work are as broad as the materials in which she uses to expresses them. Livingston is actively toiling at new creations. “There is so much in our community, society, and civilization to see and learn about, and for that my passions are extremely charged and my art is the by-product of human consciousness.” -

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

West Phoenix Murals of Unity and Diversity

Amidst the backdrop of anti-immigrant legislation, attempts to curb Ethnic Studies  and stunning foreclosure rates a group of Maryvale Neighborhood youth are creating some of the most politically charged murals in Arizona. “Coach” Paco Villagrana has been an inspirational leader of the projects, and is encouraging more murals. He has earned the respect of many people bringing together youth and elders to use the arts as a form of service and beautification while making a statement. 

"Breakfast With Obama. President Obama with Coach Paco"
These murals came about through traditional grassroots democratic means. Neighbors came together to talk. They recruited local artists, voted on the design content, and started painting. Without the support of formal arts institutions or organizations they set about creating murals up to 400 feet long.  In fact cultural institutions have all but ignored this, and most other neighborhood based cultural efforts in the area  deeming them of low artistic merit, and therefore unworthy of support. 

 2011"Gracias to those that never give up, honor our firefighters" 
Without the recognition of these institutions, and the resources they bring, many new immigrants remain neither in the center nor margins of our cultural fabric. The mural became a place to have a voice. It is in these places that true democracy takes place, where conversations about what to put in a mural, or what lot needs cleaning up can become a social networking opportunity. This is what building community looks like.
"Mural of Unity"
When the final Mural of Unity was unveiled it featured many civil-rights leaders, both locally such as Isabel Garcia and well known historical figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Robert Kennedy and President Obama.

Invoking such civil rights leaders drew an abundance of controversy. Some neighbors called the murals an eyesore, graffiti or “too much like a ghetto”. A week after the passage of SB 1070 The Mural of Unity was whitewashed. Not long after Coach Paco and neighbors returned, to create The Mural of Diversity. There was a desire among some of the artists and youth to paint unbridled images of a pregnant woman being handcuffed by soldiers. The final mural was toned down a bit, perhaps reflecting the intensity of the neighborhood conflict.

"2011 - Education Not Deportation"
Crime rates in the are have fallen in the past 12 years as immigrant populations increase. Immigrants bring with them the American dream, family and ethics of civic participation and hard work. As more service-based projects are planned the neighborhood is overcoming tensions by working together and getting to know each others stories. With this spirit more murals will undoubtedly appear in the streets of Maryvale. 

"Getting Ready to Paint"