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Comnunity murals : the people's art / 
f ND2608 ,B36 J?8_4 __ _ 18216 



Barnett, Alan U. 
NEW COLLEGE OF CALIFORNIA (SF) 



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ND Barnettff Alan W. 

2608 Coamunlty murals : the people's art / 

B36 Alan W. Barnett. — Philadelphia : Art 

1884 Alliance Press ; Now York : Cornwall 

Books* cl984. 

516 p., [24] p. o± plates : 111. 
( some col. I ; 32 cm. 

Bibliography: p. 497-503. 

Includes Index. 

«S417 Ballen $60.00. 

ISBN 0-87982-030-6 



1. Street art — United States. 2. 
Mural painting and decoration — 20th 
century — United States. I. Title 



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The Art Alliance Press Award: 
Community Murals: The People's Art (Alan W. Barnett) 



COMMUNITY 
MURALS 



THE PEOPLES 
ART 



Alan W. Burnett 



Philadelphia: The Art Alliance Press 
New York and London: Cornwall Books 



1984 by Associated University Presses, Inc. 



Associated University Presses, Inc. 

Cornwall Books 

440 Forsgate Drive 

Cranbury, New Jersey 08512 

Associated University Presses Ltd 

Cornwall Books 

25 Sicilian Avenue 

London WClA 2QH, England 



Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data 

Barnett, Alan W 
Community Murals. 

Bibliography: p. 

Includes index. 

1. Street art — United States. 2. Mural 
painting and decoration — 20th century — United 
States. I. Title. 

ND2608.B3 751.7'3'0973 79-21552 
ISBN 0-87982-030-6 (Art Alliance Press) 
ISBN 0-8453-4731-4 (Cornwall Books) 



Despite the similarity in titles, this book 
is not affiliated with or sponsored by 
Community Murals magazine. 



Printed in the United States of America 



CONTENTS 



Preface 7 

Acknowledgments 9 

Introduction 1 1 

Part I: History 

1 Prehistory 23 

2 Invention (1967-69/70) 48 

3 Development (1969/70-72) 78 

4 Scale (1973-75) 133 

5 Problems and Promise (1976-80) 240 

Part II: Means 

6 Process 351 

7 Aesthetics and Style 382 

8 Organization, Funding, and Control 408 

Part III: The Wider Perspective 

9 The Contemporary Crisis 445 
10 People's Art 464 

Appendix: Connecting with People's Muralists 

Abroad 473 

Glossary 496 

Bibliography 497 

Mural Workshops, Resource Centers, and 

Contacts Active in 1980 504 

Index 506 



, 5 



PREFACE 



This book is about the first fourteen years of the 
current community-based mural movement. It is an at- 
tempt at its history and an effort to learn from the 
muralists' bid to restore art and its making to the com- 
mon life. 

The number of murals that have been done in these 
years is enormous. It has been estimated that by 1979 in 
Los Angeles alone there were over one thousand. While 
the murals have been painted mainly in major cities 
across the country, they have increasingly appeared in 
the suburbs, small towns, and countryside. Therefore, I 
have had to make a selection and have concentrated on 
those in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, Los 
Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, Denver, Santa 
Fe, Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Balti- 
more, and Washington. A few other areas are touched 
on, but many are neglected, not because of any lack of 
interest, but to be able to go into some depth in repre- 
sentative localities. Nor have I sought to give a definitive 
historical account of murals in any one area. This and 
their careful documentation need to be done by local 
people. 

The history of the murals is marked by a sudden and 
continuing release of creativity that, from a perspective 
still close at hand, exhibits shape and direction. There 
has been a clear sequence of purposes, themes, and 
styles. Increasingly varied groups of people have found 
in this wall art a means of meeting their needs. Innova- 
tive ways of working, organizing, and funding have 
emerged. Although artists and communities have dealt 
with local issues and worked out particular methods of 
painting and organizing, their larger concerns have been 
similar across the country, which makes it possible to 
distinguish stages of a nationwide development. I have 



generalized these to four periods, each about three years 
in length. This, like all periodization, has about it some 
arbitrariness determined by the convenience of exposi- 
tion; but it is not possible to conceal the untidiness of 
reality. 

As the reader will quickly discover, this is not only an 
effort at reporting; it is also advocacy. While my par- 
tisanship extends to the socially conscious muralists, they 
are not to be lumped together indiscriminately; there is a 
considerable variety in their concerns and proposals. In 
trying to put into words what it seems to me they have 
been reaching toward in their images and by their work 
with communities, I have sometimes gone beyond what 
they have explicitly spoken about. And, while trying to 
present their intentions accurately, I have not hesitated 
to add my interpretation. However, I have tried to make 
the difference clear. This book is addressed to the 
muralists as well as the general reader. The thinking of 
particular painters has been identified as such. When my 
restatements of it are accompanied by notes, this in- 
dicates of course that I have depended on printed ac- 
counts of their words. Where there are no notes, I am 
reporting the ideas, if not the exact words, of muralists 
that I have talked with. I must take responsibility there- 
fore for whatever inaccuracies occur. Most of the photos 
have been taken by me; where those shot by others have 
been used, this is indicated. 

Several books on the community murals have already 
appeared. Some of these are primarily pictorial works 
like the first publication about them. Cry for Justice, 
which was released in 1972 by the Amalgamated Meat 
Cutters and Butcher Workmen in Chicago, a union that 
has also sponsored an impressive mural at its South Side 
local by William Walker. This book was followed in 1973 



8 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

by another album, Die bemalte Stadt (The Painted City), by 
Horst Schmidt-Brummer and Feelie Lee, which was 
pubHshed in West Germany. Robert Sommers Street Art 
(1975) offers another collection of photos introduced by a 
brief essay. The most recent picture book on U.S. and 
Canadian murals is Big Art, done by David Greenberg, 
Kathryn Smith, and Stuart Teacher of Environmental 
Communications in 1977. In 1979 Graham Cooper and 
Doug Sargent produced an extensive volume of photos of 
current British work, Painting the Town. The only com- 
prehensive how-to-do-it handbook is the Mural Manual 
(1973), prepared by Mark Rogovin, Marie Burton, and 
Holly Highfill and edited by Tim Drescher, which is 
valuable also as a detailed account of the social process 
involved. 

The growing interest in community murals is indi- 
cated by Wandmalereien in West Berlin & West Deutschland 
published by Karin Kramer Verlag in 1979, UArt Public, 
a collection of essays and photos of work in the U.S. and 
the Eastern Hemisphere done by Jacques Damase and 
Francoise Chatel in 1981, and Horst Schmidt-Brummer's 
Wandmalerei zwischen Reklamekunst , Phantasie and Protest of 
1982. Volker Barthelmeh's Street Murals that also ap- 
peared in 1982 is a handsome album of work on both 



sides of the Atlantic. 

Of great importance is Toward a People's Art (1976), 
written by two active muralists, Eva Cockcroft and John 
Weber, and a professor of sociology, James Cockcroft. 
Their book also includes chapters by other muralists 
from varied locations around the country. The value of 
the whole book is its presentation of the reflections of 
painters about their experience. I have had the good 
fortune of having talked extensively with the two artist- 
authors since 1974. Occasionally 1 make reference to 
their text, but in most cases my mention of their ideas is 
based on these conversations. Apart from discussing art 
that they have not visited or was not yet done when they 
wrote, my approach differs from theirs by analyzing in 
detail particular works in terms of their form, meaning, 
and style. I also go into more detail with regard to the 
social and historical context of this art and seek to 
identify an aesthetic theory implicit in it. In particular I 
try to carry forward the concept of a "people's art" to the 
contribution the murals make to the development of the 
culture, work, and technology appropriate to a demo- 
cratic society, for it seems to me that the murals' broadest 
significance is the light they throw on the reintegration of 
art, the ordinary occupations, and community life. 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 



This book could only have come into being with the 
help of a great many people. Most obviously there are the 
painters and their communities who have created the 
murals. I have tried to talk with as many of them as 
possible and have always found them eager to share 
information. Frequently they offered the hospitality of 
their homes. Documenters, arts management, and 
community-center staff have also assisted me. Those 
who have been particularly helpful include, in addition 
to Weber and Cockcroft, .Monique Goss, James Voshell, 
Bob Hieronimus, Don Kaiser, Clarence Wood, Arnold 
Belkin, Susan Caruso-Green, Alan Okada, Tomie Arai, 
Alfredo Hernandez, Kathy Gupta, Lucy Mahler, Kris- 
tan Wainwright, Dana Chandler, Gary Rickson, Bill 
Walker, Eugene Eda, Caryl Yasko, Mark Rogovin, Bar- 
bara Russum, Mario Castillo, Astrid Fuller, Mario 
Galan, Don Mcllvaine, Mitchell Caton, John Rosenthal, 
Samuel Leyba, Jose and Malaquias Montoya, Esteban 
Villa, Richard Favela, Armando Cid, Victor Ochoa, 
Salvador Torres, Guillermo Aranda, Judy Baca, John 
Outterbridge, Roderick Sykes, Alonzo Davis, Charles 
Felix, Robert Chavez, Joe Gonzalez, Shifra Goldman, 
David Kahn, Seymore Rosen, David Bradford, Osha 
Neumann, O'Brian Thiele, Ray Patlan, Robert Sommer, 
Dewey Grumpier, Bob Gayton, Mike Rios, Consuelo 
Mendez, Patricia Rodriguez, Graciela Carrillo, Chuy 
Campusano, Jane Norling, Arch Williams, Miranda 
Bergman, Jim Dong, Hilaire Dufresne, Jim Buffalow, 
Mike Nolan, John Kreidler, Arthur .Monroe, Peter 
Coyote, Curtis and Royal Barnes, Roberto .Maestas, Raul 
Salinas, Joyce Reyes, Isaac Shamsud-Din, and Jack 
Eyerly. 

Those who gave special help to my research through 
the West and South in 1980 were Ernesto Palomino, 



Armando Vallejo, Manuel Unzueta, Zarco Guerrero, 
Gilberto Guzman, Linda Lomahoftewa, Stan Steiner, 
Francisca Herrera, Fernando Penaloza, Mago Orona, 
Jesse Trevino, Anastasio Torres, Jr., Carlos Lowry, 
Sister Tess Brown, Leo Carillo, Leo Tanguma, Carroll 
Simms, John Biggers, Bruce Brice, Richard Thomas, 
E. Jack Jordan, Steven Seaberg, Ralph Waldrop, Charles 
Davis, Manuel Martinez, and Pedro Romero. 

Rupert Garcia, who was one of the first to write about 
the origins of recent Raza murals and some of whose 
superb silk screens have served as the basis of one, is 
more than anyone responsible for introducing me to the 
idea of people's art. Rene Yafiez, cofounder of the 
Galena de la Raza in San Francisco and facilitator of 
many murals in the city, has over the years helped me 
understand the workings of a people's institution and has 
provided much practical assistance. 

Those abroad who have been generous with their help 
have included Jose Hernandez Delgadillo, Elizabeth 
Catlett Mora, Juan O'Gorman, and Pablo O'Higgins in 
Mexico, David Harding, Stephen Lobb, David Bin- 
nington, Desmond Rochfort, Brian Barnes, Alastair 
Warman, Graham Cooper, and Dr. H. J. Burns in Brit- 
ain, and Carel and Marianne Vermeer in the Nether- 
lands. 

Much of my sense of art and certainly my continuing 
excitement about it I owe to my teacher, Meyer Scha- 
piro. To San Jose State University and particularly Harri- 
son McCreath, the Humanities Department chairman, I 
am grateful for the two leaves that made possible the 
researching and writing of this book. 

Portions of my manuscript have been read by .Mark 
Rogovin, Victor Ochoa, Michael Schnorr, Susan Cer- 
vantes, and Stephen Lobb, each of whom has provided 



10 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

important suggestions. Tim Drescher, co-editor of what I must also thank Thomas Yoseloff, for the personal 

was then the National Murals Newsletter, has been over the interest he has taken in seeing my book through publica- 

changing versions of my book a number of times and has tion. And to Anne Hebenstreit, its editor, I am very 

offered invaluable criticism. The Newsletter has also been grateful for the care and respect with which she treated 

an important source of information and leads. This pe- the manuscript. 

r'\oA\c3[hec2imt xht Community Muralists' Magazine ior the My wife, Ruth, has been closely involved with the 

Spring, 1981, issue, and Co/ww«w>)» A/«rfl/f in the Fall of whole project since it began in 1974. She has accom- 

that year. It is abbreviated NMN in this book. panied me on most of my visits to muralists beyond the 

While I am much in the debt of these muralists and Bay Area and helped gather information and impres- 

writers about murals, I of course must take final respon- sions. She has typed innumerable drafts of the text and 

sibility for what appears here. has been its most severe critic. To our children, Anne, 

The difficult task of transforming color slides into Peter, and Daniel, I am indebted for their endurance and 

black-and-white prints has been accomplished with gen- expectation. My mother and father also have given me 

uine art by Gene Cohn and Tak Kuno. much that is in this book. 



INTRODUCTION 



The story is told of a young man who stood for a long 
time gazing at the portraits of the leaders and artists of 
Black people on the Wall of Respect in Chicago. When 
asked what he was doing, he replied, "I'm getting 
energy." This book is about why I think we all can. 

A movement of authentic people's art has sprung up 
throughout the country. Artists are collaborating with 
local residents to paint murals that assert the fundamen- 
tal concerns of community life. The movement de- 
veloped during the late sixties and early seventies mainly 
in the big-city ghettos and barrios throughout the nation 
where human creativeness struggled against racism and 
poverty. However, one of the earliest murals appeared in 
a small town amid farm-worker camps. Within a few 
years they spread to churches, trade-union halls, schools, 
and local public agencies, then to White working-class 
neighborhoods, prisons, localities with active counter- 
cultures, and on to college campuses, middle-class streets, 
and the suburbs. 

"Break the Grip of the Absentee Landlord," urges a 
three-story brick wall that shows a Black woman 
screaming as she and her flat go up in flames while giant 
slumlords looming over tenements firmly clutch their 
property. Meanwhile the jail-barlike fingers of one are 
pried open by a racially mixed group of tenants who have 
organized to defend their lives. The features of the actual 
wall are imaginatively taken advantage of by the design: 
the woman's hand claws the air in the space provided by 
the real chimney; one landlord's hand grips the un- 
painted brick; and real windows are made part of a 
painted building while the ins and outs of the actual wall 
are treated as the edges of imaginary ones. The mural is a 
drama of walls and hands. Painted in 1973, it is the work 
of Mark Rogovin, a White artist, and local Black young 



people on the West Side of Chicago, a city that claims 
over three hundred murals completed since 1967. 

A few miles away in an inner-city park in 1974, a 
Latino teenage gang was doing an unauthorized painting 
on the side of a field house that displayed a blue- 
uniformed figure offering drugs and a gun to the young. 
The painters were holding off placing a star on his chest 
until everything else was finished for fear that the police 
would have it painted out before the neighborhood could 
get a good look at it. Everyone who had grown up in that 
barrio knew that it represented what happens there, said 
Ray Patlan, then art director of a nearby community 
center whom the gang had consulted. But the public 
media were not available for this kind of indictment, and 
such charges would never make it to the courts in a city 
controlled by Mayor Daley's political machine. The 
mural was a public statement and a means of building 
opposition in the community. It was guerrilla art. While 
almost all of the murals that have been done in the 
current movement do have the permission of the owner 
of the wall, they frequently challenge the social and 
political establishment. 

Looking out on a large intersection in New York's 
Lower East Side, a forty-foot wall depicts Chinese- 
American teenagers walking through their neighbor- 
hood, gawking tourists, a waiting hooker, and scenes of 
gambling and murder. "Are these the only options open 
to us?" the mural seems to ask. The work was done by 
teenagers guided by a young artist, Alan Okada, of 
Cityarts Workshop in 1973.' 

A few blocks away a team of mainly young women 
was completing a two-story wall celebrating the work 
and struggles of women of all races in America. The Wall 
of Respect for Women displays among the roots and 



11 




Youth gang: Untitled, 1974, Dvorak Park, Pilsen, 
Chicago. 




Local youth directed by Alan Okada (Cityarts Workshop): 
Chinatown Today, 1973, New York. 



branches of a great tree the roles women have performed 
in this country from homemaking, sewing in sweatshops, 
seUing apples in the street, picketing, operating switch- 
boards, and clerking to the professional careers, at the 
crown of the tree, that young women were now seeking. 
Another Cityarts mural, it was done by both young 
women and men under the direction of Tomie Arai in 
1974. 

Further along East Broadway on the side of the 
Bialystoker House for elderly Jewish people, you can see 
images of the immigration to this country, the fight of the 
garment workers for the eight-hour day, faces behind 
Nazi barbed wire, a scene of the defense of Israel, and a 
woman offering the blessing over the sabbath wine and 
candles. These images emerge from behind a procession 
of young people and their elders that is accompanied by a 
small caption: "Our strength is our heritage, our heritage 
is our life." This is a 1973 work of Jewish teenagers with 
the assistance of Susan Caruso-Green of Cityarts. 

In Boston's Roxbury the street-side walls of the United 
Community Construction Workers, a Black union, were 
brought to life by murals in 1973. Above the words 
"Work to Unify African People" Nelson Stevens painted 
two monumental heads of workers who draw together in 
solidarity and seem to be looking into the future. Each 
face is made up of patches of color as if it were animated 
with ideas and energy. Further along the wall, above the 
affirmation that "Black People Are Black Wealth," Dana 
Chandler did an image of a worker with three faces 



Introduction I 1 3 

painted in the colors of the Black liberation flag — red, 
black, and green. One hand is a great mechanical shovel 
that scoops up the slums, while the fingers of the other 
have become a hammer, drill, wrench, saw, and chisel, 
as if the worker's tools have become appendages of him, 
rather than the other way around. At the side a caption 
reads: "Every corner of this world carries my imprint — 
The Black Worker." Inside there are more murals, in- 
cluding a jazz band painted at the rear of a stage in the 
meeting hall. 

Greater-than-life-sized portraits of Black heroes deco- 
rate the exterior walls of schools and recreation centers in 
the ghettos of West Philadelphia done by neighborhood 
kids with the help of the artists of the Philadelphia 
Museum of Art's Department of Urban Outreach. 

In the city of Washington, William Battle and Chico 
Hall painted in 1972 a frieze that wraps around the two 
street sides of Pride, Inc., a job-training center operated 
by Black people. Along one side in bold angular 
silhouettes are depicted the violence, drugs, and un- 
employment of ghetto life, culminating in a clearly 
marked "Wall of Oppression" with the added note, 
"Your Tax Dollars at Work." Along the other the caption 
reads, "The World Belongs to Those Who Prepare for 
It," and the silhouettes show Black people at study and in 
the professions. The idea is as simple as that of a morality 
play, which is frequently the case with murals, but it is 
rendered with a style and force that are also widespread. 

The walls embracing three sides of a minipark in San 




Local youth directed by Susan Caruso-Green (Cityarts): 
Jewish Ethnic Mural, 1973, Bialystoker House, Lower 
East Side, New York. 




Dana Chandler: The Black Worker (partial view), 
1973, United Community Construction Workers Labor 
Temple, Roxbury, Boston. 




Fincher Jackson, Alfonso Mason, Angela McGee, Ber- 
nard Young, and young people, coordinated by Clarence 
Wood (Department of Urban Outreach, Philadelphia 
Museum of Art): Untitled, 1973, Greenway Recreation 
Center, Philadelphia. 



Francisco's Mission District celebrate in vibrant colors 
the traditions of the Latino community. On one done in 
1974 by Mike Rios, Tony Machado, and Richard 
Montez, children and their parents are shown playing 
and working among the foliagelike scales of the serpent 
god of life and culture, Quetzalcoatl. Nearby are other 
scenes of jungle paradises and Latinos striving for better 
lives in the modern city. Beneath these images children 
swing from the playground equipment, and their elders 
relax on benches, occasionally looking up to take in a 
painting. Down a few streets, on the wall of the 
Neighborhood Legal Assistance office, Rios with both 
humor and bitterness depicted in 1972 IcKal residents as 
moles — undergrounders — coming from a factory, cruis- 
ing the barrio, and hauled off to court and Jail. One in a 
beret and spectacles packs a portfolio marked "Art" 
under his arm and seems to be smiling at the other 
panels. 

The walls of the pavilion on the beach at Venice, 
California, that provides shelter for picnickers are cov- 
ered by paintings depicting local pleasures along the 
canals and arcades today and decades ago. The work, 
coordinated by Judy Baca, was done in 1973 by two 
hundred local residents — children, parents, and grand- 
parents, some of whom are artists — who live in this 
community where the counterculture mixes amicably 
with the straight. 

The variety of these murals is remarkable. Some are 
decorative abstractions, but the greatest number have 
social content — celebrations of the community and its 
heritage, affirmations that it is working people who have 
built civilization, or efforts to speak out on local issues 




William Battle assisted by Chico Hall and community 
artists: Pride Inc. (partial view) , 1972, Washington. 



Pride Inc. (partial view). 




that often have national and international implications. 
The expressive means they employ extend from portraits 
to an elaborate use of ethnic and historical motifs. They 
use realism and surrealism, comic-strip design, and a 
breadth of visionary, occult, and religious symbols. 
Some incorporate graffiti. The forms and styles of pho- 
tography, posters, advertising, TV, avant-garde paint- 
ing, and earlier murals are ransacked. But the commu- 
nity painters have adapted these materials and ideas to 
the concerns of local residents and have developed 
unique processes of working together. The quality of the 
painting is sometimes high from the point of view of 
mainstream art; sometimes it may seem at first glance 
awkward. But even when the rendering is crude, these 
paintings exhibit a seriousness of purpose and frequently 
a power of insight and imagination that is impressive. 
The murals as a whole compel us to reexamine our 
concepts of quality and professionalism. 

What is of profound importance about these murals is 
that they represent a fundamental change in the relation 
of culture to ordinary people. Instead of having "fine art" 



denied them by a cultivated elite or imposed on them by 
well-meaning educators, instead of being swamped by 
the public relations of the establishment and the com- 
mercial art of advertisers, neighborhood people are de- 
veloping a community-based culture that gives them the 
means to represent their existence as they know it, and, if 
they so decide, to act to change it. These murals are 
freeing ordinary people from ways of seeing that are not 
their own and helping them take control of their percep- 
tions, which is necessary to their taking charge of their 
own lives. 

This painting is in fact the most democratic art 
America has produced. It has become customary to refer 
to it as an art of, by, and for the people. "The people" is a 
troublesome term. To some it may seem jingoistic and 
embarrassingly naive. It clearly needs to be examined. 
For the time being, what is intended is common people, 
those who neither claim nor enjoy any special privilege. 
Also, what is meant is these people, not as isolated 
individuals, but in their cooperative activities, as they 
identify with organizations, communities, trade unions. 




Michael Rios, Anthony Machado, and Richard Montez: 
MCO Mural, 7972, Neighborhood Legal Assistance 
office, (Mission Coalition Organization), San Francisco. 



Two hundred local people coordinated by Judy Baca: 
Venice Pavilion Murals, 1974, Venice, California. 
Scene shows Equal Rights Amendment workshop among 
the murals. 




Introduction I 1 7 



ethnic groups, or humanity as a whole. The murals speak 
of people's concerns in their language. This art is for 
them — to serve them as they deliberately choose to be 
served. And it is^jy them: they actively participate in the 
production of each work, not only by selecting the artist 
and approving his composition, but frequently by being 
directly involved in developing the theme and design and 
then carrying them out on a neighborhood wall. The 
artist either is from the community or knows its issues 
well because he or she has worked with local people over 
an extended period. The artists may be professionals or 
amateurs. The murals reveal the extraordinary number 
of people with artistic skills or interests that live in every 
neighborhood. There are additional forms of involve- 
ment. Local shop owners, organizations, and residents 
often contribute funds or materials, or they may store 
supplies overnight. As the scaffolding goes up and the 
mural begins to take shape, passersby are drawn into 
discussions with the artist and his local assistants. Some- 
times changes in the design result; sometimes a spectator 
will join them in painting. The work site on the street 
becomes an ongoing town meeting that culminates in a 
dedication to which the whole neighborhood and public 
officials are invited. Afterward it may become a gather- 
ing place for rallies and music. As the images sink into 
local consciousness, they cannot but affect people's sense 
of themselves and their purposes. 

The ultimate test of community support is whether the 
murals are defaced, since most of them are outdoors. 
Seldom do you find graffiti scrawled on them, and 
sometimes neighborhood children, as if they were 
museum guards, warn visitors not to get too close. 
Arnold Belkin tells how a street gang in the section of 
Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen where he was painting a 
playground mural drove off a gang from another street 
when it attempted to attack the work with spray paint. 
The most important achievement is that local people 
regard the paintings as theirs. 

The significance of the murals lies first of all in what 
they have done for the people of the neighborhoods, 
union locals, schools, and social-service centers where 
they have been painted. But their importance lies also in 
the far-reaching example they and their communities 
have set for the rest of us. The murals are in fact mirrors 
that show us what we are, what we could be, and how. 
They have indicted the racism, sexism, and economic 
exploitation of our society and helped bring people to- 
gether to overcome them. Furthermore, the murals have 
begun to reconnect art, ordinary work, and community. 

Probably in no other society have the serious arts been 
so completely separated from the common life and occu- 
pations as in our own.^ Apart from the film, visual 
culture of any depth has shrunk to the fine arts, which 
have been relegated to the sidelines of society's produc- 
tion as luxury goods and educated entertainment. On the 
other hand, never before have humans been subjected to 
so many visual messages as by advertising and styling. 



but their aim is seducing rather than empowering people. 
Still, the idea of serious artistry has a hold on the way 
people think about their own work. Terms associated 
with art more than any other vocation are frequently 
used to describe deft and meaningful workmanship and 
the satisfactions of producing it. In popular estimation a 
mechanic may be an artist with engines, a social worker 
an artist with people. People say they want to be "crea- 
tive" in their callings, and that lure is often held out by 
employers seeking bright young recruits. The arts pro- 
vide the measure of performance because they appear to 
preserve chances for loving skill, personal control and 
expression, growth, and usefulness that people want in 
their work. But one of the striking features of the com- 
ments of a broad range of individuals about their occupa- 
tions is their applying these terms primarily to what they 
miss. This is abundantly documented by the interviews 
that Studs Terkel records in Working.^ This is the case 
not only for blue-collar workers and office personnel, but 
also for professionals. And this is particularly telling 
because "professionalism" is connected by many with the 
proficiency of art. Terkel's informants bear witness to 
what is widely observed, and in response our society 
appears to have made the fine arts its last refuge of 
creativity. They attract workers seeking to employ their 
intelligence and dexterity, and draw audiences hoping 
for stimulation that their occupations do not provide. But 
at the same time the current practice of the fine arts has 
narrowed their relevance to the common life. The in- 
volvement of middle-class people in the arts and crafts 
during the sixties and seventies bears witness to the 
poverty of their daily work. Because ceramics, weaving, 
jewelry-making, and painting cannot meet basic 
economic needs and must be relegated to leisure by most 
who enjoy them, they serve at best as compensations. 
Those who pursue them professionally find themselves 
making luxury goods. In advanced industrial society, 
individual skill and expression are beyond what ordinary 
people can afford. 

The reintegrating of work, art, and community life has 
been called for by many of the new muralists. Dana 
Chandler, one of the painters of the United Community 
Construction Workers mural in Roxbury, has said that 
the model of present Black American artists should be 
the African craftsman, who serves also as "repository of 
medical and spiritual information for the whole tribe." 
Pointing to the bowls and effigies that the craftsman 
makes that are essential to the existence of his commu- 
nity. Chandler observes: 

He is just as concerned with the esthetics of an object 
as any Western artist, but his concern goes deeper. 
How do I make this functional? How do I show 
reverence for the gods? Where in the households does 
this fit in? Who will wear it? What will it conjure up?* 

Chandler in fact is describing the way that most 



18 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

objects of human fabrication have served practical and 
spiritual functions together at least since the time when 
hunters painted deer and bison on the walls of caves. 

Even after the passing of magic, which linked art and 
technology, art continued to empower people by 
expressing their ideas and values in the visible forms of 
things. Until hardly more than a century ago, the term 
embraced the workmanship of all products and services. 
This included both the fine arts of the privileged and the 
popular and practical arts of ordinary mortals. The latter 
included modestly priced graphics, so-called folk and 
primitive painting and carving, along with vernacular 
architecture, utensils, and garments, but also the cathe- 
drals built and sculpted by common craftsmen for the 
whole society. Art was the shaping and making of a 
human world. "Art" implied technical skill, inventive- 
ness, utility, and the setting forth of its makers' and 
community's meanings. The practical and the imagina- 
tive were in contact. Art provided the methods of 
formulating perceptions and transmitting ideas to guide 
action. It offered the means by which a community 
celebrated its observances and maintained its heritage 
and identity. Art was not a special class of objects. 
All products and services exhibited a greater or lesser 
artistry if they were useful and their visible form ex- 
pressed values that heightened the experience of their 
making and use. Art thereby generated fresh energy for 
living. Under these circumstances a worker could live 
not only by his work but also for it.^ A Samoan chieftain 
once told Margaret Mead, "In Samoa we have no art; we 
try to do everything well." 

In various eras and societies, it is true, the arts of the 
privileged differed from the popular and practical arts of 
daily life. But during the Renaissance and Baroque eras 
the appropriation of vast wealth by the new imperial 
courts and emerging merchant class produced a self- 
conscious cultivation of luxury goods and leisure that 
since then increasingly has separated the fine arts from 
the practical. In the centuries that followed, indus- 
trialization and merchandising brought a vast array of 
commodities of varying need and meaningfulness within 
the reach first of the middle and then of the working 
classes, both of which were induced to adopt the patterns 
of consumption of their "betters." There is a direct line 
from the ostentatious nouveau riche objets d'art of the 
High Renaissance to their more tawdry imitations by the 
Victorians and then Woolworth's.® The designs of the 
elitist fine arts were "applied" to the styling of mass- 
produced consumer goods, and the visual arts in general 
were turned to manipulating fashion and advertising. All 
of this was accompanied by the reducing of artisan 
craftsmanship to a regimented division of labor. The 
actual producers and most purchasers were cut off from 
the skilled use of their hands, serious expression, and 
control over production. As to the fine arts themselves 
during the early era of industrialism, they became locked 



into an academicism to reassure and entertain the new 
employers and professionals. 

In response, during the nineteenth century indepen- 
dent spirits, initially from the artisan and middle classes, 
became artists to preserve their control over their voca- 
tions. Some sought to protect their creativity by detach- 
ing art from what seemed to them irremediable public 
concerns. Others undertook to bring it back into the 
common life by socially conscious expression. These 
divisions between the functions of art and between art 
and ordinary labor have often been attributed to the new 
technology. But the causes lie rather with what purposes 
and whose benefit the new machinery served and hence 
how it was designed and managed. Moreover, the new 
class structure brought with it social conformities from 
which many artists sought freedom as they did from 
academicism. They fell in with the other uprooted whom 
the new society set adrift and together created two 
centuries of bohemias and countercultures. This too has 
cut art off from the common life. 

While attempts to restore the connections of art and 
daily existence have been a continuing aim of socially 
conscious artists since the last century, the efforts that 
most completely involve common people in the making 
of their own art, not as recreation but as urgent work, 
have now been begun by those whom our culture and 
technology have served least — the residents of the inner 
city and farm labor camps. Denied access to the public 
media and arts to express their view of the world and 
their grievances, they have had to improvise their own 
instruments of communication by a unique collaboration 
of the trained and untrained. Their murals are a technol- 
ogy of information and education, but they are also art, 
for local people have brought to them a sense of culture 
and its importance to the common life that has long been 
absent from the mainstream. 

Rejecting the notion that artists are a special breed, 
most of the community muralists think of themselves as 
simply performing some of the necessary work of soci- 
ety. .Muralist Mark Rogovin has observed that he and his 
colleagues by painting in the streets demonstrate to 
passersby that there is nothing mysterious about the 
artist's skills and that art, while certainly involving im- 
agination, is a form of ordered and careful work. Some of 
the professional muralists, wanting to identify with all 
who labor, have revived an old idea and speak of them- 
selves as "cultural workers."^ At the same time they are 
showing that ordinary work can and should be 
"cultural" — that is, that it should express the values and 
insights of its producers. This has been aptly put by 
Rene Yaiiez, who coordinated murals in the Mission 
District of San Francisco for years. He has said that "if 
something has good craftsmanship and a little soul, it 
shows. I believe that anything that is done well and with 
love, honesty, and skill is art."* The muralists, contrary 
to most contemporary artists, are showing that art in the 



present age can serve the most serious practical uses. 
They are also demonstrating that ordinary work can be 
creative as well as cooperative and that it can respond 
directly to the needs that users identify. The muralists 
are offering examples of the reintegration of art and work 
as a single process by which a community maintains its 
Ufe. 

This union is more fundamental than current estab- 
lishment efforts to popularize the passive consumption of 
the arts by an expansion of museums, the mounting of 
exhibition spectaculars, and the spread of monumental 
downtown sculpture and paintings in corporate offices. 
While increasing amounts of private and public money 
are going to the arts today, the greatest part is for 
compensations for the decline of creativity in daily work 
and life, and is thus perpetuating it. 

This institutional diffusion of high culture has been 
part of the many-sided urban and industrial development 
that was undertaken by American society after World 
War II with a view to making it possible, so it was said, 
for everyone to share in the growth of the economy and 
the amenities it was expected to provide. Under the 
planning of the major corporations and government, 
aging urban areas were rooted out, industry was moved 
to the outskirts and modernized, and cities became the 
administrative and service nuclei of their regions with 
new tinted-glass high rises and convention, entertain- 
ment, and cultural facilities laced with multilane free- 
ways. Meanwhile, the promise that urban renewal would 
bring opportunities to all Americans was not borne out. 
Minority working-class people who had migrated to the 
industrial cities of the North during the war and in suc- 
ceeding decades were screened out of the scarcer, more 
skilled jobs for which they could not get education, at the 
same time as they were squeezed into ghettos and 
warehoused in public housing. It was in large part the 
failure of the strategies of centralized, paternalist de- 
velopment to solve the problems of poverty and 
racism — in fact, its exacerbating of them^ — that provoked 
the urban unrest of the sixties and seventies. 

Out of this crisis emerged an alternative approach to 
development, one that the deprived invented themselves. 
It often began with protest demonstrations — an elemen- 
tary union of art, work, and community. Local people 
soon extended this initiative to providing directly for 
their needs. Having begun by depending on their many 
feet, they turned to their hands, their ingenuity, and the 
culture that united them. In contrast to the top-down 
development methods of the establishment, theirs were 
community-based, counting on the cooperation of local 
residents. Among their first necessities was the develop- 
ment of their own communications media. They went on 
to create educational, health, and social services as well as 
labor unions. They rehabilitated their housing by their 
own skills and "sweat equity." These efforts at coopera- 
tive self-help were seen by some as a "cultural revolu- 



Introduction I 19 

tion," not only becau.se people were organizing around a 
common heritage, but also because the community effort 
gave them a chance to begin doing personally and socially 
creative work.** These new undertakings, including the 
murals, can be regarded as forms of "appropriate 
technology," a term first used with reference to the 
development methods that people in the recently decol- 
onized nations adopted to meet their needs in a manner 
that permitted their balanced growth. Rather than invit- 
ing massive foreign investment and capital-intensive 
technology in order to catch up, which often had cata- 
strophic effects on the majority, they sought means to 
their development that they could control and that re- 
sponded to their cultural and social as well as their 
economic requirements. Third World people abroad and 
those of the inner city and farm labor camps in this 
country have struggled against similar economic forces 
and evolved comparable methods of grass-roots organiz- 
ing and labor-intensive services that cultivate skills and 
creativity. Because people were personally involved in 
carrying out their own development, they sought to 
respond to their complex needs in integrated ways and 
invented technologies like the murals, which reunited 
work, art, and community. Hence, the murals and par- 
ticularly the process of their production are important as 
an example of a style of development and ordinary w ork 
that is appropriate to all human beings. 

Although the muralists and their communities have 
sought to build local self-reliance as in most forms of 
appropriate technology, securing funds has been prob- 
lematic. They have often succeeded in raising money 
locally, but this has seldom been enough. For it has been 
not only unemployment and neglect but also the drain on 
the resources and wealth of these communities by the 
outside economy that have impoverished them. The 
experience of the muralists in seeking public and corpo- 
rate funding throws light on the larger issues of local 
self-determination. 

The mural movement differs from previous modern 
styles, which have usually been short-lived, in that it is 
bound up with the converging of profound social 
forces — the yearning of artists for roots, of working 
people for means of expression, of communities for con- 
trol over their own existence. Professional artists are 
turning from private careers in the art market to the 
community and are rediscovering that art offers the 
fullest chances for creativity when it is most seriously 
engaged in common life. The survival and success of the 
mural movement in fact depends on the revival of local 
life and the movement for genuine, not token, commu- 
nity self-determination. The struggle is against the aliena- 
tion of personal careerism, against the reduction of 
culture to commodities and manipulation, against work 
without imagination and art without practical utility; it is 
against the domination of the cultural and social dimen- 
sions of life by the privileged. 



20 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

The murals represent an important achievement in 
building a democratic culture and technology. Success 
for them and for the other efforts at humane modes of 
production and life is at best far off. The forces ranged 
against them are immense. But the murals arc at the 
cutting edge, and the energy for a people's art grows as it 
comes to be understood. 

NOTES 

1 . The caption over the painting is an advertisement for the 
owner of the building, "The New Sunlight Public Company." 

2. John Dewey, commenting on American society in the 
thirties, makes a similar observation about the need to restore 
continuity between everyday life and the arts. Art as Experience 
(New York: Capricorn Books/ Putnam's, 1958), p. 3 ff. 

3. Studs Terkei, Working (New York: Avon, 1972). 

4. Quoted by Elsa Honig Pine in The Afro-American Artist 
(New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973), p. 204, from 
catalog for "Three Graphic Artists," Los Angeles County 
.Museum of Art, January- .March, 1 97 1 . 

5. Cf. Lewis Mumford, Art and Technics (New York: Col- 
umbia, 1952), p. 62. 

6. This could be clearly seen in the "Splendor of Dresden" 
exhibit that traveled the museum circuit in 1978 and '79. Cf. 



Lewis .Mumford, Technics and Civilization (New York: Har- 
binger, 1963), pp. 96-106. 

7 . The term cultural worker was widely used by the socially 
conscious artists of the 1930s. Cf. David Shapiro: Social 
Realism: Art as a Weapon (New York: Ungar, 1973), p. 23. 

8. Quoted by Deborah Rudo and Scott Riklin, "Galeria 
Suffers $ Woes," Arts Biweekly (San Francisco), July 15, 1977, 
p. 6. 

9. The term cultural revolution dates from at least the 1930s, 
when, for instance, Holger Cahill, director of the Federal Art 
Project, and poet Archibald MacLcish used it with reference 
to the success of the FAP in bringing American artists and 
audiences "face to face." Quoted in Art for the Millions, ed. 
Francis V. O'Connor (Greenwich: New York Graphic Soci- 
ety, 1973), p. 39. The term was widely used again during the 
sixties by .Malcolm X and supporters of ethnic nationalism, 
which will be discussed later. 

It was also adopted in the seventies for a different but related 
usage by writers on appropriate technology: cf. Nicholas 
Jequier, Appropriate Technology: Problems and Promises (Stanford, 
Calif.: Volunteers in Asia, 1977), p. 14. For other material on 
appropriate technology, cf. Ken Darrow and Rick Pam, Ap- 
propriate Technology Sourcebook (Stanford, Calif.: Volunteers in 
Asia, 1976), and E. F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful (New 
York: Perennial Library, 1975), pp. 174-205. 



PART I 
HISTORY 




Ben Shahn: The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti, 
tempera design, 1932 (mosaic mural, Syracuse Univer- 
sity, 1967). (Photo Kennedy Galleries) 



PREHISTORY 



CONFLICT IN LIFE AND THE ARTS 

The situation of art in the United States that the first 
makers of people's murals confronted in 1967 was rent by 
conflict that was social as well as cultural. These divi- 
sions were reflected by the different kinds of murals that 
were already being produced. If "murals" are understood 
in the broad sense as any form of large-scale articulate 
wall painting, mounted in public places, indoors or out, 
for viewing by large numbers of people at one time, then 
there were a wide variety to be seen, and they exhibited 
the same differences to be found in the whole field of the 
visual arts. 

Social Murals during the Quarter Century before the 
New Movement 

The New Deal art programs that supported socially 
conscious murals through the Depression came to an end 
along with unemployment lines during World War II. 
Some muralists like Ben Shahn found positions doing 
posters and other art connected with the defense effort. 
The last important mural of the federal programs was 
Anton Refregier's sequence of twenty-nine panels on 
the history of California in the Rincon Annex Post Office 
in San Francisco, which was commissioned before the 
war but could nqt be executed until afterward and then 
was almost destroyed upon its completion in 1948 be- 
cause it championed the labor movement. Right-wing 
groups and congressmen had attempted to surpress de- 
pictions of working people's history during the thirties, 
and a new wave of cultural repression set in with the 



Cold War. From then until 1968, government patronage 
of murals that depicted the struggles of labor and 
minorities or opposition to the arms race was unthink- 
able. Indeed, any depiction of these themes in public 
places was almost impossible. 

Many artists who had done social murals during the 
thirties or worked in New Deal art programs became 
disillusioned by the labyrinth of politics and turned to 
intensely personal creation. Among these Jackson Pol- 
lock, Arshile Gorky, Adolph Gottlieb, Philip Guston, 
and Willem de Kooning under the rubric of Abstract 
Expressionism produced private calligraphy and symbols 
often on a scale comparable to the earlier mural art. 
During the fifties Pop artists inflated comic strips and 
product labels to monumental size to tease the consumer 
culture, and by the mid-sixties a few members of the 
avant-garde were beginning to do mural-scale social 
commentary. Robert Rauschenberg sandwiched media 
images of urban violence, space-walkers, and John Ken- 
nedy among Rubens nudes. There was also Larry Riv- 
ers's enormous 1965 assemblage. History of the Russian 
Revolution: From Marx to Mayakovsky. But all of this was 
museum art, designed for a select audience of intellectu- 
als and the college-educated. 

During the postwar years a few older artists like Shahn 
who had done murals during the thirties and were still 
committed to social art had to work mostly on a smaller 
scale, either in easel art or in forms that could reach a 
wider public, such as posters and book illustration. 
Nevertheless, Shahn did find patrons prepared to com- 
mission public walls, mainly colleges and Jewish congre- 
gations, and in these he maintained his humanistic and 



23 



24 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

sometimes political voice. Harvard University provided 
him with a residency and a series of lectures in 1956 
during which he spoke out on the necessity of social 
dissent in art and its function of creating community. 
Shahn's concern for racial justice appeared in a mosaic 
depicting the blow ing of the New Year ram's horn above 
faces of all colors, a work completed in 1959 at Congre- 
gation Oheb Shalom in Nashville. Another of his 
mosaics, executed in 1962 at LeMoyne College, a Black 
school in Memphis, shows a man, part Black, part 
White, transmitting his vision of the cosmos into art and 
science. A few synagogues in the North offered addi- 
tional patronage, and a final large mosaic at Peabody 
College in Nashville w as completed just after his death in 
1969. But his most socially outspoken mural since the 
New Deal w as The Passion ofSacco and Vanzetti, mounted 
at Syracuse University in 1967. It was a rendering of a 
1932 gouache design that had caused considerable con- 
troversy when it was exhibited at the .Museum of .Modern 
Art. Although its execution in mosaic thirty-five years 
later occurred at the same time as the beginning of the 
community-based mural movement, their connection 
was indirect. It was not to the newly dedicated Syracuse 
work but to the social murals done during the thirties, 
especially Shahn's, that some of the new muralists looked 
for validation of their aims. 

But there was a more direct bridge between the social 
murals of the New Deal era and the people's art that 
began in the late sixties. It had its origins among Black 
artists and especially those who found support in the 
colleges of the South. Pride in their African heritage first 
appeared in the art of the Negro Renaissance that began 
in Harlem in the twenties. Aaron Douglas's 1934 murals 
at Fisk University in Nashville and at the Countee CuUen 
Branch of the New York Public Library combined the 
angular silhouettes of African sculpture and an Art Deco 
suaveness. Charles Alston did two large panels titled 
Magic and Medicine at the Harlem Hospital under the 
Federal Art Project. At Talladega College in Alabama, 
then an all-Black institution. Hale Woodruff in 1939 told 
the story of the Amistad mutiny and the founding of the 
college by the descendants of the abolitionists who took 
up the legal defense of the ship's slaves. While Woodruff 
utilized the styles of the .Mexican muralists and Thomas 
Hart Benton here, in 1952 at Atlanta University, also a 
Black school then, he utilized African imagery for a 
mural sequence in the library. Woodruff and Alston had 
already, in 1949, done a pair of murals on Black history 
in California for a Los Angeles life insurance firm. 

But the most prolific seedbed of murals of Black 
consciousness was Hampton Institute. There Viktor 
Lowenfeld came in 1940. He was a Viennese Jew who 
had been trained as an artist and became interested in art 
as a means of working with the handicapjjed, which led 
him to psychology and study with Freud. Escaping 
Hitler, he came to England with the help of Herbert 
Read, one of the chief proponents of a democratic cul- 



ture. After teaching a year at Harvard, he decided to 
work with Black students and joined the faculty at 
Hampton to teach psychology. When he found that no 
art was taught there, he offered a course against the 
advice of the administration, which believed that no one 
would be interested. Of the school's 800 students, 750 
tried to enroll. The course continued to be immensely 
popular because Lowenfeld presented art as a means of 
self-awareness through consciousness of one's own 
people and their roots. John Biggers, who was to carry on 
Lowenfeld's teaching, says that there already was a Black 
awareness that he and his fellow students brought to 
Lowenfeld's classes, but that it needed drawing out. 
Lowenfeld was an admirer of the way the Mexican 
muralists were achieving this and encouraged his stu- 
dents to do collectively painted murals. Another student, 
Carroll Simms, who was to go on to teach sculpture and 
ceramics and who has done a few murals, says of Low- 
enfeld that he taught art as "something to live by, the 
means toward a social and ethical consciousness." Into 
this atmosphere Charles White came in 1943, invited to 
do what became his best-known mural. The Contribution 
of the Negro to American Democracy. Among the students 
who did walls at Hampton was Samella Lewis, who later 
painted murals with William Walker at the Columbus 
(Ohio) Gallery School of Arts in 1947 and 1948. Lewis 
was to go on to a career as both a painter and a scholar of 
Black art, while Walker was to coordinate the first widely 
recognized mural of the new community-based move- 
ment in 1967, which differed from its predecessors in 
being done outdoors in the ghetto. 

In 1949 John Biggers became chairman of the Art 
Department at Texas State University for Negroes (later 
Texas Southern University) and transmitted Lowenfeld's 
approach to his students in Houston. There all were 
required to do a mural in the corridors of a classroom 
building that also housed the university's administration. 
These murals, therefore, were not mere exercises; they 
were public art that had to have some impact on the 
hundreds of students and staff that daily passed by them. 
In thirty years, three floors of the large structure were 
nearly filled with this art. Some seventy murals could be 
seen there in 1980. Works that were regarded by the art 
faculty to be of less abiding interest were painted over by 
new ones. The quantity and force of the works can only 
be compared to those in the auditorium and along three 
tiers of the patio of the National Preparatory School in 
Mexico City where Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros, and the 
others who created the Mexican mural movement began 
in 1922. All the Houston murals express some seriously 
perceived version of the Black experience. Biggers sees a 
development from early concerns about social justice 
through militancy and a growing appreciation of the 
African heritage to what he regards as a subtlety and 
maturity that combine lyricism with activism. A number 
of students went on to do murals in the community, 
mostly in Houston, and in 1972, as the school was 



Abraham Washington: "Cast Down Your Buckets 
Where You Are" — Booker T. Washington, 1952, Han- 
nah Hall, Texas Southern University, Houston. 




Leo Tanguma and barrio young people: The Rebirth of 
Our NationaHty (partial view), 1972, Houston. 



John Biggers: Local 872 longshoremen, 1956, Inter- 
national Longshoremen's Association Local 872, Houston. 



Xifmrnur. 







L^il nf^ 




'^Zv T, jis- 


i^f^^ 


^,i^^^^^paHu^^HP^^HHM^S 


m^ 



26 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

becoming integrated, one of them, Leo Tanguma, a 
Chicano, was allowed to satisfy the degree requirement 
with a 260-foot work, The Rebirth of Our Nationality, 
which he painted with the assistance of 150 barrio young 
people on the side of a factory. Biggers himself has 
painted murals at the university throughout his tenure. 
As early as 1953 he did The Contribution of Negro Women to 
American Life and Education at a Houston YVVCA and 
three years later a work depicting longshoremen behind 
the platform of their local's hall. In succeeding years he 
painted murals for a home for aged Black people, a 
library, and other public places. In 1980 he and Tan- 
guma were developing a program in which TSU students 
would be able to do murals as part of the curriculum in 
public housing projects. 

Thus, during the quarter century that preceded the 
birth of the community mural movement, government 
was no longer commissioning public art that expressed 
the social discontents and aspirations of ordinary people; 
self-appointed defenders of the public safety, sometimes 
officials, tried to suppress such art; and the art establish- 
ment dismissed it as unsophisticated. But a few colleges, 
especially Black institutions, were providing almost the 
only patronage for it. Some of the artists who were to 
offer leadership for community murals received training 
in these schools. How many is not yet clear; and this is a 
subject that will require research. At the very least, their 
work and the example of the murals of the Negro Renais- 
sance and New Deal provided inspiration. Also during 
the sixties artists who were to play important roles in the 
new movement, Mark Rogovin, Manuel Martinez, Ray 
Patlan, and Arnold Belkin, were gaining experience in 
Mexico, as we shall see later. 

Billboards 

Taking as "murals" all large-scale images on public 
walls, our survey must include billboards as the domi- 
nant category in the late sixties, when community artists 
were about to invent a new form. Most billboards were 
commercial, but periodically they were devoted to selling 
political candidates. These were usually enormous 
works, and by their sheer number they engulfed the 
visible environment with their irrepressible messages 
whether in the city or countryside. Along with ads in 
newspapers, magazines, and TV, billboards contributed 
to the heaviest barrage of art and its messages that human 
beings had ever been subjected to. With their single 
message of "Buy," these media taken together were 
instrumental in maintaining a society that found more of 
its satisfactions in consuming than in producing and kept 
the two sharply apart. What the billboards offered was 
an impersonal corporate promise of new taste thrills, 
"getting away," sex appeal, health, wealth, success, and 
the envy of your friends as a result of purchasing prod- 
ucts of uncertain substantiality that you often did not 
know you needed before. This became so widely ac- 



knowledged during the sixties that campaigns were led 
with some success by the environmentally minded and 
were joined by a president's wife. Lady Bird Johnson, to 
relieve the visual pollution. 

Popular Shop Murals 

Less common, and bearing a close connection to the 
community murals that were to appear, was another 
form of wall painting that also made an invitation to 
customers but was much more than that. Sometimes 
these were unframed views like the one with which 
Alfredo Matamores filled an outside wall of the Casa 
Carnitas Restaurant in Los Angeles in 1967. Although 
the perspective was a little uncertain, it gave the illusion 
of a Mexican village street, with a restaurant of the same 
name at the side, paint peeling from its wall, a young 
woman at the door, and a volcano in the distance. A great 
number of these murals were to be found in the barrios of 
East Los Angeles, where two hundred thousand 
Chicanes lived. The Tico Tico Restaurant at the corner 
of Brooklyn and Soto showed on its outside a scene of 
campesino street musicians performing against a wall with 
painted cracks and red tile roofing. There was also the 
tiny Chiquita Flower Shop on Whittier Boulevard with 
painted blossoms and leaves as big as its door. These 
paintings had authenticity because they were part of the 
life of the local barrio and were a product of its traditions. 
For more than a century such murals were a common 
embellishment of all sorts of shops in Mexico. The best 
known, and those that have given their name to this 
whole body of art, were in the old pulquerias, saloons 
were pulque — unrefined tequila — was consumed. Diego 
Rivera has observed, "There was not a single tavern, 
eating house, dairy, wine shop, public bath, hotel, 
circus or chapel to any saint whatsoever, which had not 
been covered with paintings by painters from the 
people. . . ."^ This popular painting by artisans and 
self-taught artists had roots in the art of pre-Cortez indios, 
for Mexicans have always sought to communicate with 
each other, the gods, or God by filling their walls with 
imagery.^ Pulqueria art was brought across the border 
and survived in restaurants and shops wherever barrios 
were settled in this country. These murals recalled an 
ancient heritage and personal memories of the homeland 
just because they relied on reworked imagery. They 
communicated a view of human relations and customary 
activities that the Anglo melting plot threatened to dis- 
solve. As later Chicano muralists would say of their 
painting, /»«/^«erw art perpetuated ethnic identity. 

In the seventies Chicano cafes and food shops were to 
carry militant symbols like the angry faces, Calaveras 
(skulls), gallows, and Mexican flag on the outside of the 
Family Place opposite Lincoln High School in "East 
Los." And some of the most refined of the new murals 
were to be explicit extensions of the popular art of 
Mexican and Chicano cafes. For example, Para el Mercado 




PCST/IJPiINT 



Alfredo Matamoros: Casa Camitas Restaurant, 1967, 
repainted 1974, Los Angeles. 



Tico Tico Restaurant (photographed in 1974), East Los 
Angeles. 



,car'nitas.manscob| 

Mexico C 




28 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Chiquita I'loivers (photographed in 1974), Last Los 
Angeles. 



Family Place (photographed in 1974), East Los Angeles. 




(To the Market), a vibrant panorama of fishing, food 
gathering, and marketing in blazing colors, was painted 
alongside Paco Taco's drive-in in San Francisco's Mission 
District by Consuelo Mendez and Graciela Cerrillo 
members of Los Mujeres Muralistas (The Women 
Muralists) in 1974. Such community murals have revived 
the traditional pulqueria art, and in some, such as Para el 
Mercado, it is only the up-to-date style that is different. In 
others new themes are dealt with, but both the new and 
the old shop art are rooted in the intimate life of the 
community.^ 

Black people also have embellished the street fronts of 
their grocery stores and fish markets, their sandwich 
shops and barbecues, with images of their life. This was 
usually done by local sign painters and amateurs in both 
the South and the North and probably, went back a 
century to the time when Blacks began owning their own 
establishments. A recent example in Oakland is a simple 
but moving scene of a cotton field and woman picker 
painted on the fence alongside the Universal Pit. Nearby 
the storefront of a discount grocery selling damaged 
goods displays sketches of local people, including West 
Indians, and their food. In the early seventies in Boston's 
Roxbury a sign with a huge cone of black frozen custard 
showed the impact of the new ethnic awareness of local 
people. And professional muralists later recovered this 
shop-art in Watts. There Pappy's Bar-B-Q had been a 
neighborhood gathering spot for years. The hamburger 
was real hamburger, says John Outterbridge, director of 
the nearby Watts Towers Art Center, and when the 
price rose to eighty-five cents elsewhere, Pappy kept his 
at thirty-five. The coffee was warmed up when regulars 
were seen approaching, and because the shop could seat 
only four at a time, people stood in line. Pappy was a 
"giver," Outterbridge says. He was also preacher at the 
white frame church in the same block. When he died, the 
shop closed briefly, but then members of the congrega- 
tion reopened it. In the meantime kids took to throwing 
stones at the walls, so the people at the Art Center were 
asked to do something about it. They decided to envelop 
it in murals, and in 1979 Richard Wyatt, Jr., did a big 
frieze across the front, and Elliot Pinkney filled the side 
with over-life-size faces of folks enjoying Pappy's fare. 
The images recall the whole tradition of black shop art 
and the advertisements of minstrel shows. These paint- 
ings were more than commercial signs; they were a 
celebration of Pappy, a community institution, and a 
way of life. 

Related examples of popular art were to be found 
during the sixties inside and outside of Italian and 
Spanish restaurants with their scenes of Vesuvius and 
the bullring. When these establishments were not em- 
bedded in their ethnic community, the art tended to be 
commercially picturesque and quaint, not part of an 
ongoing way of life. One example is the Gourmet Wine 
Cellar and Sidewalk Cafe in Westwood Village, the 
well-to-do neighborhood of UCLA. Its three stories were 



Prehistory I 29 

painted to give the illusion of an old bodega with a huge 
wine press, guests seated on a balcony, and walls over- 
grown with ivy. This was rendered in a professional 
manner, and it reminds you that Los Angeles has niore 
painters of stage sets than any other city in the world. 

Early Puerto Rican Street Murals 

The shop murals of Chicanos, Blacks, and other ethnic 
groups have affinities with the street art of Puerto Ricans, 
who in this country painted the outside of their tene- 
ments rather than stores with images of their homeland 
and way of life. Alfredo Hernandez, a veteran commu- 
nity muralist of Cityarts Workshop, recalls that in the 
Puerto Rico of the fifties wall paintings were widespread, 
some with indio motifs. He also remembers murals dur- 
ing that decade in the areas of New York where Puer- 
toriquenos had been settling since their major migration 
had begun in the early forties. Some of these early 
paintings and others like them were to be seen in the 
early seventies on the Lower East Side where scenes of 
conga drummers and festivities were painted on brick 
walls for street fairs. Up in Spanish Harlem the store- 
front windows of the Loiza Aldea Social Club were 
boarded over and painted with another conga player 
beneath a palm tree. Next door the sooty Renaissance- 
style portal of an apartment house was freshly decorated 
with pastel floral patterns, and the wall beyond displayed 
a large, brightly colored map of Puerto Rico and a gold 
carp as large as the island. To this was added the symbol 
of San Juan that recurs through these neighborhoods — 
the projecting turret of Morro Castle. Even more com- 
mon on New York brick were the flags of Puerto Rico 
painted out of patriotic and nationalist feelings. 



Academic Murals 

Besides the shop murals works of a different tradition 
of Mexican wall art were to be seen in the streets of East 
Los Angeles just before and as the new community 
murals were painted. They contributed to the general 
atmosphere of ethnic art that nourished early Chicano 
murals as well as to their actual imagery and style. 
The Pan-American Bank mounted five mosaic panels exe- 
cuted by Jose Reyes Meza of Mexico in 1966 on its 
facade. They are typical of the decline that murals there 
had fallen into during the sixties, having lost the vigor of 
Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros, and becoming facile and 
heraldic. The figures, handled in an Art Deco manner, 
are modeled by shadow to make them resemble pre- 
Columbian reliefs. In one a loin-clothed indio and an 
armored Spaniard kill each other. The vehemence with 
which they run each other through with their weapons as 
flames curl around them might be exciting, but it misses 
a social message that would not have escaped Meza's 
predecessors or the later Chicano muralists. The tradi- 



30 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Universal Pit (photographed in 1979), Oakland. 



tion of the murals of the Mexican Revolution had become 
academic. 

A few years later the East Los Angeles Doctors' Hos- 
pital commissioned four mosaic panels from John Bene 
under the auspices of Goez Gallery, which was to be- 
come one of the principal coordinators of Chicano murals 
in the area. Here the work employed a European Man- 
nerist style. There are elegantly straining indios sym- 
bolizing the bringing of maiz, fire, water, and medical 

Karen Dixon: Mr. Dixon's Farmers Market (photo- 
graphed in 1979), Oakland. 



knowledge to mankind. Their bodies are elongated and 
shaded; their faces are Spanish. Most important, neither 
the Meza nor the Bene murals addressed the problems 
that confronted barrio people. They were essentially 
ornamental. Nevertheless, both these mural sequences, 
probably the first to appear in an area that was soon to 
witness a flowering of popular work, provided frequently 
seen examples of the mural tradition. Similar academic 
stylization was to reappear in the community murals that 




FREIGHT 

DAMAG E D 

FOOD 



HR. DIXON'S FARfAERSmRe 

fSfe , ^^ 





Shop sign showing the influence of Black Pride movement 
(photographed in 1974), Roxbury, Boston. 



Elliot Pinkney (left) and Richard Wyatt, Jr. (right): 
Pappy's Bar-B-Q, 1979, Watts, Los Angeles. 




32 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Fiesta mural (photographed in 1974), Puerto Rican 
section. Lower East Side, New York. 



Wall art (photographed in 1974), Spanish Harlem, New 
York. 




Goez artists painted and others that came under their 
influence, but the gallery provided important support for 
more indigenous murals in East Lxis. 

New Realist Murals 

A body of public wall art that remained essentially a 
commercial or personal form of painting was developing 
at the same time as community murals and was to 
become associated with the New Realism of the sixties 
and seventies. It has a variety of roots, which include the 



scenes of ethnic restaurants. Related to these is the 
expanse of folksy Americana begun by Les Grimes, an 
Austrian immigrant who became a Hollywood sign 
painter. Hired in 1957 to decorate the exterior walls of 
the Farmer John Brand meat processing plant at the 
Clougherty Packing Company in Los Angeles,^ Grimes 
worked for eleven years covering the big walls with 
bucolic scenes of pigs disporting themselves in verdant 
meadows, on the roofs of barnyard sheds and boxcars, 
and climbing in and out of windows. The whimsical 
painting was dubbed "Hog Heaven" apropos of the 




Jose Reyes Meza: Pan-American Bank Murals, 1966, 
East Los Angeles. 



John Bene: Doctors' Hospital Murals, 1968-69, East 
Los Angeles. 




•'5^3^ 




rM 



inr^i 



. ?"^l 



Ifeu 



Les Grimes and A mo Jordan: Hog Heaven, 1957-79, 
Farmer John Brand meat processing plant, Clougherty 
Packing Company, Vernon, Los Angeles. 



i^^^ 



Terry Schoonhoven, Vic Henderson, and others (Los 
Angeles Fine Arts Squad): Brooks St. Painting, 1969, 
Venice. 




butchering going on inside the packing house. In 1968 
Grimes fell to his death from a scaffold, and Arno Jordan 
continued the work and repainted faded portions. When 
one looks at these scenes with their big clouds on the low 
buildings against the Los Angeles sky, it is easy to take 
the painted meadows for real. As advertisement for 
bacon and sausage these walls are eminently successful, 
for they are known all over Los Angeles. 

When Terry Schoonhoven, Vic Henderson, Jim Fra- 
zin, and Leonard Koren formed the Los Angeles Fine 
Arts Squad in 1969, what they did was to transform this 
advertising whimsy into "fine art," although their name 
was intended ironically. Schoonhoven says that they left 
their private studio because they wanted to be a part of 
the action going on in the streets at the time. Their first 
work was an image on the building where Henderson 
maintained his studio in the Venice section of Los 
Angeles. The mural mirrors the building opf)osite and 
plays high jinks with the viewer as to which is real. They 
had originally intended to include a police car in the 
street, Schoonhoven and Henderson recall. Looking 
backward from their realistic murals of disaster that were 
to follow, you can suspect that already they wanted to 
tease anxiety. The Fine Arts Squad's work was a witty 
version of the Photo- or New Realism that at the same 
time was capturing the imagination of other artists 
around the country, but was practiced in their studios, 
and was seeking walls in museums, corporate offices, or 
very commodious living rooms. The uniqueness of the 
Squad was to carry that art into the streets. Like other 
Photo-Realists, the Squad was a group of the avant-garde 
that had pushed experimentalism full circle and back into 
the world of literal visibility, seeking to fascinate the 
viewer with patterns or distortions that a slide transpar- 
ency might create or by rendering in crisp forms the 
banality of shop windows or the detail of reflections from 
a highly waxed automobile fender. At the very least and 
often at the most these were displays of craftsmanship. 
But they might be turned to social commentary, as the 
Fine Arts Squad did in some of its work, although its 
ironies were often only chic. 

The street action that the Fine Arts Squad wanted to 
become a part of was not the demonstrations of Blacks 
and Chicanes or of peace marchers, but the antiestab- 
lishment activity of one section of the counterculture. In 
particular the Squad, like other artists who had made 
Venice a center of the avant-garde on the West Coast, 
was rebelling against the monopoly of the art market that 
the dealers of La Cienega Avenue, Los Angeles's "gallery 
row," had sewed up. During the sixties the commerical 
galleries had profited handsomely with their stable of 
carefully selected artists whom they had invested in and 
promoted. Although experimental art was booming and 
more private collectors and corporations were buying, 
the dealers were not going to risk backing untried tal- 
ents.* As the opportunities for exhibition declined for 
the majority of young artists, they began to root about 



Prehistory / 35 

for some other way to get public exposure. They turned 
to their own turf, the Ocean Park section of Santa 
Monica, in the later sixties and continued throughout the 
next decade to paint their and their neighbors' modest 
cottages and garage doors with over-life-sized images of 
their heroes and friends. The first says Art .Mortimer, 
one of the artists, was Wayne Holwick's Bob Dylan, 
done in 1966 or 1967. This was followed in 1969 by 
Groupie, a skillfully painted sketch in black of a young 
woman who looked like Liz laylor. Most of the portraits 
were executed in the high-contrast New Realist style that 
followed billboard illustration and graphic renditions of 
photos that dropped out middle tones, leaving hard edges 
between the shadow and highlights. The effect was bold 
and had the high visibility desirable for murals. The 
strong contrasts intensified the three-dimensionality of 
the faces but also made interesting two-dimensional pat- 
terns. By the seventies the style was to be widely used by 
community muralists, and Mortimer in 1979 was still 
doing these portraits, replacing an earlier work with the 
face of the young woman w hom he shortly thereafter 
married. These Venice murals were the informed work 
of craftsmen w ho knew their trade and did not need to 
take much time over work that served as advertisements 
of their talents and gave character to a house front. Like 
the Fine Arts Squad's landscapes, these portraits did 
succeed in bringing art into the streets and neighbor- 
hoods, but it w as essentially an enlarging of the personal 
studio work that the artists had done before. The 
portraits were of isolated individuals and, while mag- 
nifying the faces of residents, they did not suggest any 
collective or genuine community activity. Some of these 
artists did find large commissions, and their works got 
bigger and bigger. 

Supergraphics 

The impulse of artists to reach a public and particu- 
larly a large popular audience was being felt in the East at 
the same time. In April 1969, Polish-born "Tania" 
painted one of the first supergraphics in Brooklyn, and 
Allan D'Arcangelo did one in June in lower Manhattan.^ 
In November, D'Arcangelo and Jason Crum followed 
with another close by on East Ninth Street. Crum had 
come from the Los Angeles area, and years earlier he had 
studied with Jose Clemente Orozco in Guadalajara. But 
there was nothing of Orozco's direct social involvement 
to be seen in supergraphics. In general they were 
blown-up versions of flat abstract Op Art, which created 
attractive illusions and reversible images that brightened 
sooty urban walls. Most were painted in blighted areas, 
many in the Lower East Side. It was not unusual for one 
to be eleven stories high. They were usually designed by 
artists and executed by commercial sign painters who 
worked from swing stages. This separation of the de- 
signer of art from its executor, a gap reflected also by 
commercial artists, was already well established in in- 




Tania (City Walls): Untitled, 1970, Greenwich Village, 
New York. 



Prehistory / 37 



dustry by dividing research and development staffs from 
production workers. It reflects more generally the 
separating of theory and creativity from technological 
and manual work, a division based on privilege that has 
long been characteristic of Western culture. 

In 1970 a number of these makers of supergraphics 
went into business together in New York as City Walls 
Inc. Its artists have included Crum, Tania, Mel 
Pekarsky, Robert Wiegand, Todd Williams, Knox Mar- 
tin, and Richard Anuszkiewicz. As of 1978 they not only 
had carried out more than fifty commissions in the New 
York area but had done consulting in almost every state 
and in a number of cities abroad.* They were practicing 
what came to be called "public art," a term widely used 
not only by City Walls but also by community muralists 
to refer to any works, usually monumental in scale, that 
were for display not in museums but in other places 
frequented by large numbers of people. It included as 
well big sculpture, often abstract, in outdoor plazas. 

It is striking to hear Crum speak of City Walls' use of 
public art to overcome the estrangement that most artists 
feel today: 

Public art established beauty and a sense of one 
person reaching out to touch another, as part of the 
experience of city life. Wall paintings provide a forum 
for the city's artists and establish a hne of communica- 
tion between the artist and the community. It elimi- 
nates the alienation of artists from the mainstream of 
public life.' 

There is pathos in Crum's description. Although City 
Walls brought artists into the mainstream, it is not clear 
that this made them any less alienated than the designers 
of billboards. Public exhibition, though long yearned for 
by artists, seems hardly enough to transform in any 
fundamental way the relation of the artist and life. As big 
and impersonal as his and his colleagues' supergraphics 
were, Crum appeared to understand them as efforts at 
intimate contact with other people — the recurring aim of 
the alienated artist for over a century. It may be, how- 
ever, that it was the very method of communication that 
muffled the speakers. There is a sharp difference be- 
tween an artist speaking at people and speaking with 
them. For these works were not statements the artists 
developed in collaboration with ordinary people; they 
were not part of a dialogue that the community carried 
on with itself. They were imposed without asking, like 
billboards, on everyone. 

Crum regarded his murals as environmental art: 

My wall paintings are in response to the setting. By 
finding integral proportion, set to evocative color re- 
lationships, the painting^becomes an integrated part of 
the colloquial scene. The image is universal. The 
viewer's response is participatory. He is part of the 
statement. 

The wall becomes a part of the community. It 




Jason Crum: Tammuz (City Walls), 1969, Lower East 
Side, New York. 



changes with the light, the weather, the season, and 
the community is part of the painting. ... It becomes 
a part of the lives of the community, a human fact in a 
brutal city.'" 

There is something ominous about the way Crum con- 
ceived of the "participation" of the viewer as being 
absorbed by a process that the artist has supervised. 
Moreover, he saw his paintings as efforts to change the 
sensory, not the social environment. The beholder's 
passive enjoyment of the play of color, shape, light, and 
shade was certainly not to be despised. But, like much 
abstract art, it provided only visual excitement, without 
offering guidance as to how the observer could transmit 
that stimulation into dealing with his own serious con- 
cerns. Hence, it served at best as a kind of entertainment 



38 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

to distract him from the brutahty of the city rather than 
helping him come to grips w ith it. It is for this reason 
that many makers of people's murals were to regard 
supergraphics as a cosmetic papering over of deep-seated 
urban problems that cry out to be expressed and solved. 
Community muralists were to criticize these decorations 
as a squandering of talent and money, for City Walls and 
like enterprises came to be generously funded by the 
National Endowment for the Arts, municipal au- 
thorities, and private business. This support no doubt 
was due to the efforts of supergraphics to "beautify" 
urban blight in a noncontroversial way. One well-known 
community muralist does not hesitate to speak of these 
works as "shitty walls." 

On the other hand, Crum's words and the increasing 
efforts of the avant-garde during the sixties and seventies 
to find an audience of common people is significant, for 
these artists have often defensively regarded the public at 
large with contempt and pursued a hermetic art for the 
initiated. But it is important to distinguish between an 
effort to build a larger passive audience and market, and 
an attempt to become part of a community that has some 
input into what it sees. 

Graffiti 

Another type of art done directly on public walls that 
was well established when community murals first ap- 
pears was graffiti, or placas as Chicanos call them. They 
vegetated over all surfaces within reach of a spray can or 
magic marker in the inner cities, downtowns, subways, 
and buses of America. In contrast to supergraphics, they 
are a popular art made by teenagers and are almost 
universally deplored by respectable people; they are also 
unlawful. What differentiates graffiti from murals in 
terms of figuration is that graffiti usually are limited to 
the initials of the writer, sometimes his first name or 
nickname, a declaration of love or hate, or an insult, 
epithet, or political demand. Frequently graffiti are done 
by a gang artist, and his initials may appear with those of 
the gang, or its full name may be given. The calligraphy 
is sometimes ingenious, often beautiful." Graffiti are 
often acts of youthful bravado, accomplished with style, 
sometimes in impossible-to-get-to places, sometimes 
with tragic consequences. 

Although there is an obvious difference between ini- 
tials and recognizable scenes, what graffiti and commu- 
nity murals have in common is more important than 
what separates them. Both are not only protests; they are 
also affirmations of the identity of people. As one well- 
known muralist puts it, graffiti say: "Fuck you; here I 
am." While some graffiti assert the sheer existence of 
their creators, others mark out the territory of a gang or 
its invasion into another turf. "When you don't own 
anything, it's natural to claim walls first by placas, then 
by murals," says Judy Baca, founder of City wide Murals 
in Los Angeles. Graffiti, like the murals that often follow 



them, celebrate the only community their makers know; 
in the case of graffiti, it is the gang itself. "You have to be 
a member of a gang to survive in the barrios," Baca says. 
"As a teenager you often join the same gang your father 
and grandfather were members of." The graffiti artist of 
a gang is usually a highly respected member of its leader- 
ship, just as muralists win stature in their neighborhoods. 

Graffiti and often murals are an insurgence against a 
society that does not know what to do with the energies 
of its young, especially those of the inner city, providing 
them with few tasks or jobs by which they can develop 
their skills and self-respect, while schools track ethnic 
youth for dead-end futures. The walls that permit 
hawking only by paying advertisers bespeak society's 
values. Moreover, billboards and commercial signs create 
a much greater visual cacophony than the makers of 
graffiti could ever hope to achieve. Graffiti and murals 
are types of struggle art by which people seek to survive 
as human in an increasingly dehumanized world. 

When a group of muralists was about to begin prepar- 
ing a wall in the heart of the street culture in Berkeley in 
1976, they distributed to passersby leaflets explaining 
that they were going to paint A People's History of Tele- 
graph Avenue, beginning with the Free Speech Movement 
of 1964. On the handout, the painters "apologize to the 
creators of the graffiti we will have to cover, and hope 
they will understand and appreciate our efforts." Ac- 
knowledging that "graffiti artists pit their spray cans 
against the sophisticated power of commercial hype," the 
painters conclude, "we feel murals escalate the strug- 
gle. ..." 

The distance in figuration from graffiti to murals is a 
gradual transition from bare initials through increasingly 
elaborated lettering to symbols — like hearts, stars, and 
peace signs — to representational parts of the human 
body — fists, heads, genitals — or other objects of interest 
like cars, and finally to detailed scenes, which themselves 
range from symbolic to narrative. This sequence from 
abstract initials to images corresponds to the actual suc- 
cession of markings that often appear on the same wall. 
What begins as graffiti frequently concludes as a mural. ''^ 
This is also a progression from a single person making art 
for himself to work on behalf of a gang and finally to the 
collectively created mural of a community. 

If murals are sometimes used to cover and discourage 
graffiti, they have been generally respected by graffitists 
at least on their own turf. Some muralists like Willie 
Herron of East Los Angeles have provided space in their 
work and invited neighborhood kids to add their placas. 

In East Los Angeles at the Ramona Gardens public 
housing development, which has murals on the end walls 
of the apartment houses, Chicano children got together, 
probably with an older person helping them, to do a 
collective graffiti project. They squared off eighteen-inch 
areas on a retaining wall that runs along the lawn and 
painted their "logos." The same feeling for art that 
appears in the murals had infected the kids. Their placas, 




Children of Lowell Elementary School directed by Victor 
Ochoa: Graffiti mural, 1974, Chicano Park, San Diego. 



Armando Cabrera and Bobby Gonzales assisted by the Big 
Hazard Gang: Flying Cross mural; graffiti added by 
others, 1973, Ramona Gardens, East Los Angeles. 








40 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

which show a wide range of individual expression, be- 
came an organized composition attractive to our pattern- 
seeking eyes. A wall was no longer a battlefield of the 
competitive efforts of scores of kids, efforts similar to 
those of adults throughout society. Young people had 
discovered a cooperative mode of expression. Similarly 
organized graffiti have been done elsewhere around the 
country, for instance on a seven-foot-high white stone 
belt around a school in the North End of Boston, a lively 
Italian district. Some people who understand the needs 
that graffiti meet believe that when the logos of gangs and 
individual kids are organized they lose their significance 
and force. This depends on whether the teenagers have 
full say in the composition. If organized graffiti give them 
the chance to pool their energies and express their unity, 
then this art may become something more than an adult- 
supervised cool-out. As graffitists want to project mes- 
sages that are more complex and socially conscious and 
they get community support, they begin doing murals. 

In East Los Angeles Chicano artists have done graffiti 
murals with spray cans that bring together cultural and 
personal symbols — for instance, the eagle of Aztlan, 
sacred hearts, eyes, lips, initials, and names. One such 
work, Un Corazon por la Gente (A Heart for the People), 
by Frank Romero at a busy East Los corner was spon- 
sored by the county's Inner City Mural Program in 1974. 
Romero is a member of Los Four, a locally well-known 
group of artists who have also done portable murals in a 
style of vibrating back-and-forth spraying with imagery 
including calaveras, cars, and grotesque masks. These 
have been taken seriously by some parts of the art world 
and were exhibited in such institutions as the Oakland 
Museum in 1974. 

Graffiti represented the most widespread form of 
community-based social art being done on walls when 
the first people's murals appeared. Their community was 
either the gang itself or its turf over which contending 
gangs fought. That they were often the expression of 
gang violence or isolated efforts of personal expression 
indicates the social and cultural deprivation of the middle 
sixties. By then they began to be joined by graffiti 
expressing the anger of Black and Brown people against 
racism and a newfound pride. And as America's in- 
volvement in Indochina deepened there appeared peace 
symbols and antiwar messages, inscribed by people of all 
races and conditions, which expressed a wider sense of 
community. 



Conflicts in Art and Society 

The range of public wall painting just as the new 
community-based murals began to appear reflected the 
same conflicts that divided the visual arts in general. 
Billboards, the popular ethnic imagery of restaurants and 
shops, academic reworkings of Mexican murals. New 
Realist big walls, supergraphics, graffiti, and the few 



genuine social murals exhibited strong contrasts of pur- 
pose and process, which were matched by the contrast- 
ing functions of product design, advertising, the old 
academicism, the new avant-garde, and the suppressed 
socially conscious art. There was, on the one hand, an art 
that was subject to corporations, art dealers, and 
museum boards and directors and, on the other, art 
responsive to the needs and desires of ordinary people. 
Styling, packaging, and promotion demeaned imagina- 
tion as the fine-arts market manipulated talent. High 
culture came increasingly to be subject to the same 
processes of production and control as the mass culture of 
consumer goods and the entertainment industry. While 
resenting the humiliation of having their individuality 
reduced to commodities handled by dealers, painters 
nevertheless sought to break into the charmed circle of 
the art market. Believing that they were seeking unique 
self-expression, they bound themselves to the market's 
requirement of novelty to keep demand alive and prices 
rising. 

If artists in general had difficulty in getting their work 
exhibited by dealers, the position of minority artists was 
more acute. They experienced even greater discrimina- 
tion in the more constricted fine-arts market than their 
brothers and sisters did in ordinary employment. In 
addition, minority artists during the late sixties were 
increasing their protests at the failure of publicly funded 
museums to exhibit the art of their heritage or its current 
expressions. Many Black and Latino artists were re- 
thinking the purposes of their own art and the functions 
of the museum, and some opened collective workshops 
and exhibition spaces. Among these were the community- 
based Organization of Black American Culture in 
Chicago, set up in 1967, which was to sponsor the 
first of the new murals, and the moi;e market-oriented 
Goez and Mechicano Galleries that opened in Los 
Angeles in 1969. Mechicano began as a showcase for 
Chicano artists on "gallery row" and only later became a 
community arts and mural workshop, while Goez, which 
began as an outlet for local artists and craftsmen, also 
sponsored murals in the early seventies. The Galeria de 
la Raza in San Francisco, which was to become a center 
for community murals as well as a place to show contem- 
porary Chicano art, was organized in 1969 but stems 
from a storefront art center that Rene Yanez, one of its 
founders, had operated successfully in Oakland. The 
Galeria still shows current work but does not sell it. 

The little social art being done by professionals during 
the fifties and sixties continued to risk charges of disloy- 
alty and a widespread art-world prejudice that regarded 
the treatment of social issues as naive. But there still 
remained a few older artists who continued the social 
criticism they had begun in the thirties, such as Jack 
Levine, Jacob Lawrence and Charles White, and a hardly 
younger generation that included Edward Kienholz, 
Jacob Landau, and Duane Hanson. They remained 
lonely voices until the whole art scene was violently 
shaken during the sixties. 



Meanwhile, mainstream fine arts were dominated by 
the avant-garde's formal innovations and exploration of 
private consciousness. Even what was critical of Ameri- 
can culture in Pop Art's spoofs was readily co-opted as 
chic. With the ascendancy of the avant-garde, the fine 
arts had been gradually narrowed to their minimal 
function — sensory, emotional, and intellectual stimula- 
tion. "Art appreciation" that was claimed to be "disin- 
terested" had become the approved response to visual 
culture because the public, it was said, wanted diversion 
and establishment art professionals believed that the 
highest human faculties could only be fruitfully 
employed when they were detached from all practical, 
ethnical, religious, or social aims. All such purposes 
seemed to them either discredited or impossible dreams 
in the modern world. While most advanced artists were 
critical of contemf)orary society, they had been disil- 
lusioned by the reformist and revolutionary efforts of 
recent history. If people could not gain mastery over the 
larger events of their time, they might, it seemed, achieve 
control within a work of art and enjoy there a coherence 
and beauty unavailable elsewhere. Thus, art tended to 
become exclusively absorbed with the savoring of new 
experience by artist and audience. It was this that made 
for the increasing patronage of the avant-garde since the 
twenties and particularly since World War II by affluent 
individuals and families, then large corporations, and 
finally museums and government. Such art provided 
cultivated entertainment; far from challenging the status 
quo, it strengthened the establishment's claims of sup- 
porting individual enterprise and humanism. Fine art, it 
was said, existed for its own sake — that is, the distraction 
of its makers and viewers from the stubborn problems of 
human existence, which in fact were now building into 
crises outside studios and galleries. 



Prehistory I 4 1 

These sophisticated amusements that the fine arts 
offered ran parallel to the equally passive consuming of 
classical and popular music, TV, spectator sports, and 
the compulsive shopping of mass culture. Hobbies and 
recreation offered only limited chances for personal in- 
itiative. Both high and popular culture provided people 
with some of the vitality that was missing from their 
daily routine, but neither offered guidance or energy to 
help them take possession of their lives. 

Thus, the fundamental cultural conflict that people's 
muralists confronted w hen they took to the walls was the 
separation of authentic art from the life and work of 
ordinary people. What was missing was not only an art 
that dealt with the serious concerns of people and 
through which they could take an active part in public 
communication. Also required were chances for expres- 
sion and creativity in their ordinary labor so that it too 
could have the character of meaningful craftsmanship. 
Then they would not need to seek compensations else- 
where. 

The most flagrant deprivation of jseople's ability to act 
and create to meet their needs was among the minorities 
in the inner cities and the farm-worker camps across the 
nation and among the impoverished whites of Ap- 
palachia. For these people there was little opportunity for 
skill or expression when in fact employment of any kind 
was hard to come by and, when available, it was usually 
of a menial sort with small chance for advancement. 
Moreover, the squalor of the ghetto and barrio hardly 
allowed for satisfaction of the senses or imagination. 
There was precious little art in slum dwellers' lives 



Frank Romero: Un Carazon por la Gente, 1974, East 
Los Angeles. 




42 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

except what they made for themselves — jazz, salsa, and 
graffiti. Nor was the press, TV, or radio available to 
them to communicate their views of their condition to the 
public at large or to reach one another so as to organize 
for change. 

The framework of American society and culture at 
midcentury had in it stresses that threatened to bring it 
down or to transform it into something adequate to its 
idealism. But the principal force for change was the 
refusal of increasing numbers of people to submit to a 
racism that crippled their chances to grow and create. 

ROOTS IN THE STREETS 

Demonstrations 

The movement of community-based murals was part 
of the upsurge of popular and socially oriented culture 
that began in the late fifties and early sixties to confront 
the nationwide crisis of growing authoritarianism and 
alienation. The initial thrust came with the revival of the 
struggle of Black people for civil rights and social justice, 
symbolized by Rosa Park's refusal to sit in the rear of a 
Montgomery bus in 1955. This came a year after the 
Supreme Court decision that found school segregation 
unconstitutional and so-called separate but equal 
facilities inherently unequal. 

The civil-rights movement, which had to be carried on 
as a series of local battles fought by community people, 
even when help came from outside and it assumed na- 
tional proportions, adopted tactics that were also cultural 
forms, because they were intended to communicate a 
public message. Black and then Brown people used the 
only medium they had — their own bodies and voices. 
They not only occupied the front seats of buses but sat in 
at lunch counters, picketed, and marched. They were 
beaten, arrested, and sometimes killed. They were soon 
joined by White sympathizers, especially college stu- 
dents.'^ These demonstrations became the first and 
dominant art form of a new culture. It was an art in so far 
as it was a form of communication that sought to project 
a moral appeal that could be augmented to a demand; it 
required planning, coordination, and the discipline of all 
participants. It was, moreover, an art which required not 
professional artists but as many concerned people as 
could be assembled. People developed skills in organiz- 
ing, marshaling, press relations, nonviolent tactics, and 
the making of posters and props. It was an art of collec- 
tive participation that suddenly altered the relation of 
people to culture, for it brought millions of people into 
the street during two decades. Previously they had been 
the passive audience of news, advertising, and enter- 
tainments. Now they were active creators of a culture 
that was not only a mode of communicating to others but 
was a new way of their being together. The public 
demonstration is the most direct form of people's art and 
became the model of subsequent types. Rallies, picket- 
ings, sit-ins, and marches were not new, but they now 
involved such numbers of participants that there oc- 



curred a fundamental break with the prevailing passivity 
that current forms of culture imposed on people. 
Moreover, since demonstrations urged their public to 
join with them, they sought to break through the separa- 
tion between artist and audience. 

In a few brief years a fundamental change in the 
nature of art began to occur, and this change was not 
brought about mainly by artists, but by people who 
were often "uncultured" and had no idea that they 
were making art, in part because they were not making, 
they were doing art. The demonstration is not even 
theater as we have become accustomed to think of it, 
for the rally or march is not a representation of any- 
thing.'^ The demonstration reintegrates art and life. 
It is simply a very emphatic way of speaking with other 
people using the closest mode of expression at hand — 
your own person. After art had become increasingly 
disinterested, detached from overt conduct in modern 
times, it suddenly became action again. Putting one's 
body on the line is the most elementary form of engaged 
art. Particularly putting it on the line with other people is 
the prototype of social art, as it is also a way of enacting 
community. In opposition to the prevailing forms of 
alienation, commitment and participation became the 
hallmarks of the new politics, the new modes of associa- 
tion, and the social art of this era; and the public demon- 
stration was their most fundamental and dramatic form. 
The demonstration was the rediscovered watershed of 
art. It brought people together to act creatively and to 
change the conditions of their lives. This makes it under- 
standable why the public demonstration provided the 
principal imagery of community murals. And murals 
converted a form of demonstration, the public process of 
their making, into statements that lasted. 

The demonstration, of course, marked not only a 
fundamental change in people's relation to art but also in 
their relation to politics. In both they ceased being the 
manipulated and became active initiators. Art became 
the expression of their politics, which became the enact- 
ing of moral and social convictions. People began making 
public art when they began grass-roots organizing. In the 
course of creating the socially conscious art that was to 
follow — posters, murals, music, and drama — it would be 
realized that such art required popular activism to sustain 
and complete it. 

The minorities as well as middle-class Whites resorted 
to the demonstration largely because of their lack of 
access to high technology's media of communication and 
persuasion. And they made of it a technology that inte- 
grated art, productive action, and community. Depend- 
ing more on numbers of people who could organize 
themselves than on any elaborate equipment and input of 
funds, it was labor-intensive. Initiative usually came 
from the untrained in such matters, from people who 
experienced serious need and had to act. They had to 
pool their resources and talents, learn methods of mutual 
aid and confrontation, and learn how to defend them- 
selves in the streets and the courts. The demonstration 




Prehistory / 43 



Miranda Bergman, Selma Brown, Thomas Kunz, Jane 
I Norling, Peggy Tucker, and Arch Williams (Haight 
^ Ashbury Muralists): Rainbow People (detail), 1972, 
^ repainted 1974, San Francisco. This work, like the next, 
illustrates the connection between murals and demonstra- 
tions. 



Miranda Bergman, Jane Norling, Vicky Hamlin, Thomas 
Kunz, Peggy Tucker, and Arch Williams (Haight Ash- 
bury Muralists): Our History Is No Mystery (detail), 
1976, San Francisco. 




44 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

united production and expression, and because these 
were guided by serious ethical considerations it was an 
exemplary form of appropriate technology. It is im- 
portant to make this identification because the demon- 
stration became a model of collective and engaged art as 
well as work that is richly expressive. In this respect it 
laid the groundwork for the community murals that were 
to grow from it. This connection also relates the demon- 
stration to the wide range of processes that were being 
developed particularly by Third World people abroad in 
an effort to develop their productivity under their own 
control, in line with their means and in a manner consis- 
tent with their culture. 



Community Participation 

The demonstration was not only an instrument for 
changing society — it was that change. For in it people 
were working together in a new way in which they could 
share in deciding what was to be done and how. It was a 
mode of face-to-face acting that did not require the 
pitting of people against each other, but sought to bring 
opponents over and to open them and oneself to new 
possibilities. The single demonstration was usually in- 
sufficient in itself and required follow-up, repetition, and 
hence sustained organizing. Demonstrations reawakened 
ordinary people's awareness that, if there were to be 
serious change, they would have to make it themselves 
and together. Increasingly, they insisted on participating 
directly in the public decisions that affected their lives 
and in operating the services they required, rather than 
being the clients of a welfarism that was inadequate and 
humiliated them. It was the on-going functions of com- 
munity that they sought to develop. Thus, the demon- 
stration had transformed art into political action out of 
which there grew the possibility of community. And if 
community were to remain vital, it would have to main- 
tain its creators' artful involvement. 

The connection between the demonstration and com- 
munity organizing is clear in the efforts of the National 
Farm Workers Association that was initiated by Cesar 
Chavez in Fresno and Delano in 1962. The daily picket- 
ings in the vineyards that began three years later and the 
larger marches renewed the experience of community 
among migrant workers who had been uprooted from 
their communal villages in Mexico. There were also 
many of Filipino descent among them who shared a 
similar cultural background. These were not only efforts 
at labor organizing; they were attempts to recover ties 
that had been lost and to make them relevant to new 
needs. This was most dramatic in the twenty-five-day, 
three-hundred-mile march of the grape strikers and their 
families from Delano to the state capital in Sacramento 
during the Easter season of 1966. They conceived of it as 
a religious as well as a social action, and made this clear in 
the Plan de Delano that they signed: 



This Pilgrimage is a witness to the suffering we have 
seen for generations. The Penance we accept sym- 
bolizes the suffering we shall have in order to bring 
justice to these same towns, to this same valley. This is 
the beginning of a social movement in fact and not in 
pronouncements.'* 

Although they marched with the banner of the Virgin of 
Guadalupe, the patroness of Mexico, they appealed to 
farm workers across the country, most of them members 
of varied minorities, to unite to bargain collectively and 
create a "new social order" in which their dignity as 
working people would be respected. They had been 
trying since 1962 to create self-help enterprises in the 
Central Valley and hoped eventually to own their own 
land. Starting with a group insurance plan, they went on 
to a credit union, a clinic, a newspaper, the Teatro 
Campesino, and soon murals. As Chavez has said, "We 
want a social revolution. We want to change the condi- 
tions of human life. . . . We are trying to create a 
community."'^ 

The farm workers' achievements were among the first 
comprehensive efforts of working people in recent times 
to create or gain control of their facilities and institutions 
and to shape them to meet their economic, social, and 
cultural needs. Comparable undertakings by inner-city 
and rural Blacks were occurring at the same time and 
later working- and middle-class Whites were to pursue 
parallel courses. It was socially conscious, largely White 
college students who composed in 1962 The Port Huron 
Statement, the classic presentation of the principles that 
they shared with the farmworkers and the neighborhoods 
that were struggling for community control and later 
painted murals to support their efforts.'^ The document 
set forth with some eloquence the ideas of collective 
self-determination, participatory democracy, and self- 
reliance in operating community institutions that were 
also held by the Black and Brown Power and Native 
American movements. The same ideas animated tenants' 
unions, welfare-rights groups, neighborhood arts pro- 
grams, and the users of social services in general who 
organized to control and operate them. Meanwhile work- 
ers and communities were forming producers' as well as 
consumer's cooperatives. The idea of participation was 
key to the White middle-class contribution to the antiwar 
movement, alternative-schools, ecology, and consumer- 
protection efforts. It was basic to the women's rights and 
sexual-freedom movements. Self-determination was 
central to college students' demand for a role in the 
governance of their institutions, and their social vision 
involved them in service to nearby minority and 
working-class communities. 

One of the first efforts of students and faculty to 
formalize these activities was undertaken by San Fran- 
cisco State College in 1967 with a Community Service 
Institute, the off-campus Julian Theater, and the start 
they gave to the city's Neighborhood Arts Program, 



which four years later was to become the prime sponsor 
of local murals. This activism also included work toward 
Black and Third World studies departments, but, when 
it was stymied by the administration in 1968, a student 
and faculty strike followed in which unions and large 
numbers of community people participated. These 
achievements and frustrations were matched all over the 
nation. 

Murals from Posters 

This socially involved activity on campuses, in the 
inner city, and in rural areas created an upsurge of 
engaged art. An essential part of the demonstrations were 
the posters, which were usually homemade works of art 
carried by their creators during a march and tacked up 
around the neighborhood and at schools and colleges. 
This form of struggle art showed imagination and 
humor, which owed something to the popularity of 
psychedelic posters of the mid-sixties. Another source 
were the posters and flags of the farm workers which had 
appeared in 1966. Visual images and symbols increas- 
ingly displaced the words that formerly dominated picket 
signs. Among the first important political graphic artists 
of the younger generation was Emory Douglas, who 
began doing powerful posters for the Black Panthers in 
Oakland in 1967. These were reproduced by offset, were 
widely distributed, and frequently appeared in the un- 
derground press. The graphics associated with the cul- 
tural nationalism of ethnic groups and the antiwar 
movement appeared at the same moment as the first 
murals. In fact, the Wall of Respect created in Chicago in 
1967 was compositionally a montage of posters — 
portraits of Black heroes — some done in the style of 
graphics rather than easel painting. William Walker, the 
coordinator of the artists who worked on it, and Eugene 
Eda continued the poster style in their Wall of Dignity in 
Detroit in 1968 and Walker in his Peace and Salvation, 
Wall of Understanding in 1970, where the marching figures 
at the bottom look like the work of Emory Douglas. On it 
simulated posters are painted, and one was added as late 
as 1974 showing a number of familiar White faces with 
the caption "Watergate." The mural was thus not re- 
garded as a finished work of art, completed once and for 
all. It was a living commentary on the changing scene, 
and the idea of an art form that could be kept up-to-date 
was contributed by posters. 

Malaquias Montoya, an Oakland graphic artist who 
was to do some of the first murals in the Bay Area, sees 
the poster as their forerunner. Montoya had taken part in 
the renaissance of Chicano poster art in 1968 and 1969 
doing silk screens for local events ranging from political 
demonstrations and benefits to neighborhood dances. He 
tells also of doing posters that did not announce events 
but attempted by imagery and quotations from Raza 
poets to project a sense of cultural identity. He would 
staple them to telephone poles and street walls, and they 



Prehistory I 45 

functioned like the murals that he was to begin doing in 
1969. The first he painted depicted Latinos liberating 
themselves on a sixteen-foot-square portable canvas, 
which was one of a set that included two other murals, 
one by another Latino, the other by a Black artist, for the 
interior of the East Oakland Development Center.'* The 
following year he did another portable mural and an 
impassioned indictment of the U.S. crucifixion of the 
Third World on the back of a ten-by-twelve foot oilcloth 
that was exhibited at a protest art exhibit at the Univer- 
sity of California at Berkeley at the time of the strike 
against the invasion of Cambodia and the killing of 
students at Kent State. Erom these he went on to paint 
directly on walls doing what was probably the first mural 
of the new movement in San Jose in 1972, a large work 
across the facade of the Community Legal Service office 
that borrowed from the New Democracy of Siqueiros and 
called for local struggle. While the making of popular 
social posters waned after the withdrawal of U.S. forces 
from Indochina in 1973 and the big rallies that had 
generated the art, their effect on murals continued, as we 
shall see. 

The people's murals that began appearing in 1967 
arose out of a matrix of activism that produced posters, 
demonstrations, educational innovations, vocational ex- 
periments, community-initiated services, civil-rights and 
antiwar agitation, and a communitarian kind of farm- 
worker organizing. These varied phenomena have fre- 
quently been tailed "the Movement," sometimes a "cul- 
tural revolution." If culture is understood in the broad 
sense of a meaningful way of life, that is, a body of 
behavior and technology connected by common values 
and a coherent way of perceiving the world, then, in- 
deed, a cultural revolution was in the making. For the 
adherence to conventional pieties, modes of work, and 
human relationships was being challenged. There was a 
crisis in belief and commitment that was provoked by 
deferrals of social justice that could no longer be main- 
tained, an overseas war that divided citizens at home, and 
a society whose customary roles seemed inauthentic to 
even many who enjoyed its privileges. This revolution 
was cultural in so far as it was motivated by a conscious 
revision of values and ways of seeing oneself, other 
people, and their possibilities in cooperative undertak- 
ings. But what was revolutionary was that these 
perspectives, that were not at all new, were implemented 
by widespread and concerted practical activity. Ordinary 
people undertook to change the quality of their everyday 
lives by deliberate doing and making. And they increas- 
ingly realized that, if American society were to be 
genuinely democratic and humane, they had to come to 
grips with the unequal distribution of power in its in- 
stitutions. It is to the specific conditions of that revolu- 
tion that we must turn to understand how the murals 
emerged and functioned. 



Malaquias Montoya: banner mural, 1970, Berkeley. 




NOTES 

1. The information on Hampton Institute and Texas 
Southern University is based on my conversations with John 
Biggers, chairman of the Art Department at the latter; Carroll 
Simms, a member of the faculty; Samella Lewis of Scripps 
College; and accounts by Biggers and Simms recorded by John 
Weems in Black Art in Houston (College Station: Texas A & M 
University Press, 1978). 

2. Quoted by Antonio Rodriguez, A History of Mexican 
Mural Painting (New York: Putnam, 1969), p. 133. Although 
most examples of this art have disappeared in Mexico, one of 
the best places to see it is the Mercado Abelardo Rodriguez in 
Mexico City. There it can be viewed next to the postrevolution- 
ary murals of the 1930s that derived from it. 

3. Ibid., p. 128. 

4. Cf. Rupert Garcia, "The Legacy and Significance of 
'Pulqueria Art,' " El Tecolote (San Francisco) .March 1977. 

5. Henry G. Gardiner, "Painted Exterior Walls of Southern 
California," C«rra«<, June-July, 1975, p. 19. 

6. Ibid., p. 17 f. 

7. Ibid., p. 20. 

8. "Art Group Dresses Up Urban Areas," Independent Jour- 
nal (Sin Rafael, Calif.), August 9, 1978. 



9. Quoted by Gardiner, p. 21 from City Walls Graphics 
Collection brochure. -• 

10. Ibid. 

1 1. The lettering in New York sometimes is reminiscent of 
psychedelic posters of the mid-sixties and the Art Nouveau 
from which they borrowed. In East Los Angeles block capitals 
and stick figures that look like Celtic runes are common. 
Manuel Parsons, a former Brown Beret who grew up there and 
is recognized by barrio people as an expert onplacas, believes 
that some local styles were influenced by Hebrew lettering on 
the old synagogues in this area where Jewish people once lived. 

12. Muralist Salvador "Queso" Torres has kept a photo- 
graphic record of this transition on the pylons of the Coronado 
Bridge in San Diego. Cf. Beth Coffelt, "No Man's Land: A 
Transformation," 5a» Diego (magazine) December 1973. 

13. The first lunch-counter sit-ins by Black students to end 
segregation occurred at Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960, 
and they were matched by the picketing of Woolworth's in the 
North. But racism was not the only issue that produced 
demonstrations. In 1959 and 1960 students picketed at Berke- 
ley to end compulsory ROTC, and in 1960 Bay Area students 
marched against the execution of Caryl Chessman and 
a hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 
San Francisco. In 1961 Black and White Freedom Riders 



organized by the Congress of Racial Equality began riding 
buses into the South to test the segregation of interstate 
carriers. That year also the Student Non- Violent Coordinating 
Committee initiated its voter registration drive in Mississippi, 
and while incurring violent reactions, they spawned parallel 
efforts. Also in 1961 students on several campuses demon- 
strated for a restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba 
which the United States had broken off. In 1962 the Student 
Peace Union sponsored a demonstration in Washington during 
which five thousand students tried to talk with administration 
officials. The following year a quarter of a million marched on 
the capital and heard Martin Luther King, Jr., speak of their 
dream from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Also in 1963 
Harlem families initiated one of the first rent strikes as a means 
of forcing landlords to correct tenements' hazards. In 1964 
sit-ins forced the granting of student free-speech demands at 
Berkeley. These were some of the early instances and varied 
issues of an art of collective participation. 

14. Cf. Lee Baxandall, "Spectacles and Scenarios: A 
Dramaturgy of Radical Activity," in Radical Perspectives in the 
Arts, ed. Baxandall (Baltimore: Pelican, 1972), p. 371 ff. 

15. Reprinted in Armando B. Rendon, ed., Chicano Mani- 
festo (New York: Collier, 1971), p. 328. 

16. Quoted by Stan Steiner, La Raza, The Mexican Americans 
(New York: Harper and Row, 1970), p. 293. 

17. The Port Huron Statement, drafted by Tom Hay den at a 
conference of the Students for Democratic Society in 1962, set 
forth a f)olitics and way of being in the world that cut across 
liberal and radical programs and gave definition to a growing 
popular consciousness that connected individualism and com- 
munity. In a key section it said: 



Prehistory I 47 

As A social system we seek the establishment of a democracy of 
individual participation, governed by two central aims: that 
the individual share in these social decisions determining the 
quality and direction of his life; that society be organized to 
encourage independence in men and provide the media for 
their common participation. 

In a participatory democracy, the political life would be 
based in several root principles: 

that decision-making of basic social consequence be carried 
on by public groupings; 

that politics be seen positively, as the art of collectively 
creating an acceptable pattern of social relations; 
that politics has the function of bringing people out of 
isolation and into community, thus being a necessary, 
though not sufficient, means of finding meaning in personal 
life. . . . 

The economic sphere should have as its basis the principles: 
that work should involve incentives worthier than money or 
survival. It should be educative, not stultifying; creative, not 
mechanical; self-directed, not manipulated, encouraging in- 
dependence, a respect for others, a sense of dignity and a 
willingness to accept social responsibility. . . . 
that the economic experience is so personally decisive that 
the individual must share in its full determination; 
that the economy itself is of such social importance that its 
major resources and means of production should be open to 
democratic participation and subject to democratic social 
regulation. 



18. For description, sec p. 62. The other portable mural 
.Vlontoya worked on in 1970 was at the Latin- American Li- 
brary in Oakland where he collaborated with Manuel 
Hernandez- Trujillo and others. 



INVENTION (1961-69110) 



The Cultural Revolution of Ethnic Power 

The current mural movement grew out of the upheav- 
als of the fifties and sixties and particularly the efforts of 
Third World people to employ the resources of culture 
for their liberation. These struggles were not only to 
secure civil rights and social justice, for which art was 
used to help people organize. They were also struggles 
against culture itself, against the images that the White 
majority had imposed on Black, Brown, and Asian 
Americans. These stereotypes had been used to 
rationalize discrimination in White minds, but, more 
important, they had eroded the self-esteem of ethnic 
people and their resistance to exploitation. People of 
color had been increasingly cut off from their own lan- 
guage and customs and the knowledge of the achieve- 
ments of their heritage. Millions of enslaved Blacks were 
the first to experience this rupture. The defeat of Mexico 
in 1848 meant that the Spanish-speaking residents of the 
Southwest and ail those who immigrated later were to 
have their language and culture suppressed, in spite of 
the promises of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. The 
Asians who were brought to America to work in the 
mines and on the railroads during the second half of the 
nineteenth century had also to depend on their own 
resources to preserve their language and heritage. The 
experience of Puerto Ricans, Filipinos, Poles, Jews, and 
other non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants was similar. The 
public school system and ballot did not acknowledge the 
existence of "foreign" cultures. These ethnic groups had 



to submit to the ideology of the melting pot that was used 
to justify the assimilation of immigrants into the domi- 
nant English-speaking culture to provide large numbers 
of tractable, cheap, unskilled workers for industrial ex- 
pansion. 

Black Power and Pride 

The first ethnic group to turn to murals to affirm their 
collective identity and their determination to save and 
develop their communities were probably Black people 
of the inner city. This occurred as a result of a major 
change of direction by the movement for civil rights and 
social justice. The prevailing drive for integration that 
had been pressed by Black leaders and White liberals had 
in fact failed to improve the conditions of Blacks in any 
substantial ways during the decade that followed the 
Supreme Court decision of 1954 that found school segre- 
gation unconstitutional. Expectations had been raised by 
the civil-rights movement and government legislation — 
the War on Poverty in 1964 and the Voting Rights 
Law in 1965 — but the condition of the majority of 
Black people had deteriorated. The Kerner Commission 
report observed that, although the nonviolent direct ac- 
tion of demonstrations and sit-ins had produced scattered 
improvements, "separate and inferior schools, slum 
housing, and police hostility proved invulnerable to di- 
rect attack."' One result was the rioting that started in 
Watts in 1965 and spread to Chicago, Cleveland, Har- 
lem, Detroit, Newark, Washington, and other cities. At 



48 



Invention (1967-69/70) I 49 



the same time some Black leaders came to believe that 
what was oppressing their people was an economic 
power structure that espoused liberal rhetoric but re- 
quired racism to sustain itself or at least was unprepared 
to make the sacrifices that were necessary for real change. 
Blacks had begun to wonder whether liberal integration 
policies were not in fact self-defeating. 

A new mood of Black self-reliance and pride had been 
emerging during the early sixties that was articulated 
notably by .Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael.^ It 
challenged the melting-pot ideology — a point of view, it 
was realized, that implied that there was nothing of value 
in the Black culture to preserve. .Moreover, it was feared 
that the assimilation of Blacks into the White majority 
would isolate Black people from each other and make 
them more vulnerable to racism and exploitation. Blacks 
had increasingly been taking over leadership roles from 
liberal Whites in the civil-rights movement in the early 
sixties, and in the following years they began pressing for 
Black residents to control their own communities and 
win their fair share of the nation's goods and services by 
building political power and local autonomy. These ideas 
and experiences coalesced in the concept of Black 
Power — that is. Black self-determination based on the 
collective strength of Black people. The concept led to a 
variety of strategies. To some it implied voter- 
registration drives and independent political action out- 
side the established parties until a substantial base was 
built for alliances with non-Black groups. To others it 
meant Black-owned business serving Blacks, ghetto- 
owned co-operatives, and community control of public 
schools, the police, and other social services. It meant 
also the armed self-defense of Black neighborhoods, to a 
few retaliatory violence, and, to still others. Black 
separatism.* The only way for Black people to survive, it 
seemed to the advocates of Black Power, was for them to 
recognize and commit themselves to their unique identity 
that was as much a matter of soul as of skin. This was a 
profoundly felt sense of Blackness that connected them as 
soul brothers and sisters. It was also a special kind of 
creativity that had produced a rich culture in the near 
and distant past. And that culture, particularly its music, 
but its visual arts as well, was regarded as a bond 
between Blacks and a source that could help them build 
their self-esteem. It was not only their cultural heritage 
but also the current success of liberation movements 
against European colonialism that moved them to take 
pride in themselves as Afro-Americans. 

There arose demands for the introduction of Black 
studies in school and college curricula and for the reex- 
amination of Black history in this country and abroad. 
"Afros" began to supplant hair straighteners and skin 
bleaches. Dashikis replaced shirts and ties. Black artists 
set up storefront workshops and galleries in the ghetto 
and murals began to appear on inner-city walls. 

As early as 1964 Malcolm X had designated "cultural 
revolution" as one of the purposes of the Organization of 



Afro-American Unity, which he founded when he left 
the Nation of Islam: 

A race of people is like an individual man; until it 
uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, 
expresses its own culture, affirms its own selfhood, it 
can never fulfill itself. 

Our history and our culture were completely de- 
stroyed when we were forcibly brought to America in 
chains. And now it is important for us to know that 
our history did not begin with slavery. We came from 
Africa, a great continent, wherein live a proud and 
varied people, a land which is the new world and was 
the cradle of civilization. Our culture and our history 
are as old as man himself and yet we know almost 
nothing about it. 

This is no accident. It is no accident that such a high 
state of culture existed in Africa and you and I know 
nothing about it. Why, the man knew that as long as 
you and I thought we were somebody, he could never 
treat us like we were nobody. . . . And once he had 
stripped us of our language, stripped us of our history, 
stripped us of all cultural knowledge, and brought us 
down to the level of an animal — he then began to treat 
us like an animal, selling us from one plantation to 
another, selling us from one owner to another, breed- 
ing us like you breed cattle. . . . 

We must recapture our heritage and our identity if 
we are ever to liberate ourselves from the bonds of 
white supremacy. We must launch a cultural revolu- 
tion to unbrainwash an entire people.* 

Malcolm went on to anticipate the direction the mural 
movement was to take: 

Our cultural revolution must be the means of 
bringing us closer to our African brothers and sisters. It 
must begin in the community and be based on com- 
munity participation. Afro-Americans will be free to 
create only when they can depend on the Afro- 
American community for support, and Afro-American 
artists must realize that they depend on the Afro- 
American community for inspiration. . . . 

Armed with the knowledge of our past, we can with 
confidence charter [sic] the course for our future. Cul- 
ture is an indispensable weapon in the freedom strug- 
gle. We must take hold of it and forge the future with 
the past.^ 

In the light of this, Malcolm proposed the establishment 
of a cultural center in Harlem that would conduct work- 
shops for people of all ages in all the arts as well as Black 
history. He not only described what was to become the 
function of murals in Black and other ethnic com- 
munities, he anticipated their imagery. He emphasized 
the importance of selecting "heroes about which black 
people ought to be taught."* 

Malcolm repeatedly spoke of the high culture of earlier 
African civilizations, particularly those of West Africa 
and Egypt, which he regarded as a Black society. He 



50 / COMMUNITY MURALS 



spoke with great pride of the artifacts discovered in 
Africa and displayed at New York's Museum of Modern 
Art: 

Gold work of such fine tolerance and workmanship 
that it has no rival. Ancient objects produced by black 
hands . . . refined by those blacks hands with results 
that no human hand today can equal. ^ 

But Malcolm was not the only advocate of the revival 
of Black culture based on community participation. In 
1967 Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton 
v\ rote that 

throughout this country, vast segments of the black 
communities are beginning to recognize the need to 
assert their ow n definitions, to reclaim their history, 
their culture; to create their own sense of community 
and togetherness.** 

The racial and cultural personality of the black 
community must be preserved and that community 
must win its freedom while preserving its cultural 
integrity. Integrity includes a pride — in the sense of 
self-acceptance, not chauvinism — in being black, in 
the historical attainment and contributions of black 
people.** 

During the middle sixties a Black arts movement had 
been developing which was the "aesthetic and spiritual 
sister of the Black Power concept."'" Larry Neal, 
coeditor with Imarma Ameer Baraka (LeRoi Jones) of the 
anthology of Afro-American w riting Black Fire (1969) and 
himself a poet and critic, described the movement as a 
"cultural revolution," as Malcolm had before the Chinese 
used the term." Neal saw the Black arts movement as 
absorbed with the struggles of Black communities for 
.self-determination and addressed primarily to Black 
people rather than a White middle-class audience. It was 
a means for Blacks to define the world according to their 
own ethical and aesthetic values. 

Early Black Murals 

The titles of the early Black murals reflected the pride 
the new Black orientation attempted to instill. The Wall 
of Respect done in Chicago in 1967 is widely regarded as 
the first work of the community-based mural movement, 
and it was followed by Walls of Dignity, Pride, and 
Fruth around the country. The Wall of Respect was 
originally the idea of William Walker. He had grown up 
in Birmingham, served in the Air Force, and studied art 
at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio. He 
worked as a sign painter and had done indoor murals, as 
we saw, in the fifties. David Bradford, who was also to 
work on the Wall of Respect, remembers that there were 
hanging in his mother's home in Chicago canvases of 
Walker on Caribbean subjects with long-necked women. 
Walker says of his early days as a professional: 



It was in .Memphis that I first became aw are of the 
fact that Black people had no appreciation for art or 
artists — they were too busy just struggling to survive. 
I then decided that a Black artist must dedicate his 
work to his people. At the same time, he must retain 
his relevance and integrity as an artist. 

In questioning myself as to how I could best give my 
art to Black people, I came to the realization that art 
must belong to ALL people. That is w hen I first began 
to think of public art. '^ 

Walker had known the Black community around 
Forty-third and Langley on the South Side of Chicago 
for twelve years when he brought the idea of public art 
and a mural to the Organization for Black American 
Culture and the Forty-third Street Association. They 
agreed to go ahead and that the subject should be Black 
heroes. 7 hus the project was a collaboration of cultural 
and community groups. OBAC (O-ba-see in Yoruba, a 
Nigerian language, means "chieftain") had itself been 
organized earlier that year and was doing workshops 
with community people in the visual, literary, and per- 
forming arts. In its statement of purposes it asserted: 

Because the Black Artist and the creative portrayal of 
the Black Experience have been consciously excluded 
from the total spectrum of American arts, we want to 
provide a new context for the Black Artist in which he 
can work out his problems and pursue his aims un- 
hampered by the prejudices and dictates of the 
"mamstream."'^ 

The Wall of Respect did just that. 

Space for the mural was provided by the walls and 
boarded-up windows of a building that stood in the heart 
of a ghetto that was condemned for urban renew al and 
torn by frustration and crime. But Forty-third and 
Langley had been a lively commercial and residential 
area. OBAC poets had read their work at the corner 
tavern. There was a still-open storefront church in the 
block. The artists went tcf the wall in hope of saving their 
neighborhood and indeed delayed its destruction for four 
years. The time was the height of the riots and racial 
tension around the country. The preceding July disor- 
ders in Chicago had resulted in the deaths of three Blacks 
and the arrest of 533 people before 4,200 National 
Guardsmen brought a temporary end to such out- 
breaks.'* The mural told a different story. The caption 
on the corner oriel window announced: "This wall was 
created to honor our Black heroes and to beautify our 
community." "Beautify" implied more than the physical 
attractiveness the mural would bring to the neighbor- 
hood. It meant that the wall was painted to raise the 
awareness in local people of their "soul," creativity, and 
power, a consciousness that was expressed by the then- 
new affirmation "Black is beautiful." Twenty-one paint- 
ers, photographers, and writers, most of them from 
OBAC, participated. They divided the surface into sec- 



Twenty-one Black artists: Wall of Respect (partial 
view), 1967-69, destroyed 1971 , Chicago. (© Public Art 
Workshop) 



Invention (1967-69/70) I 51 





Eugene Eda, Mirna Weaver, Eliot Hunter, Jejf Donald- 
son, and William Walker: Wall of Respect (partial 
view). (© Public Art Workshop) 



52 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

tions related to the architecture, following the plan of 
Sylvia Abernathy, a student at the Illinois Institute of 
Technology.'^ They did portraits of leaders Frederick 
Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. 
Du Bois, Malcolm X. Stokely (>armichael, and H. Rap 
Brown in one area; of Muhammad Ali, Wilt Chamber- 
lain, and others in a section devoted to athletes; of 
musicians Charlie "Bird" Parker, John Coltrane, and 
Thelonious Monk and singer Nina Simone in a third; and 
of poets Ameer Baraka Jones and Gwendolyn Brooks and 
yet other Black artists and leaders. Each of the sections 
was done by different painters. In the religious section 
Walker depicted a march headed by Black Muslim leader 
Elijah Muhammad, titled "The Messenger," which he 
later painted over with Nat Turner preaching to a 
crowd.'* Eugene Eda, an art teacher in a public school, 
painted a monumental fist with portraits of Malcolm, 
Stokely, and "Rap" Brown around it. Eda recalls that 
local people and gangs opposed the inclusion of King's 
jxjrtrait at first, but it was added later. Besides paintings 
there were also enlarged photos pasted up and poems 
inscribed on the wall. The Wall of Respect established two 
genres of painting that were to be widely followed — 
portraits of past and present ethnic heroes and symbolic 
or narrative scenes of climactic events in ethnic history. 
Almost all of the art work was done at the site. It was 
an ongoing joint effort of artists whom residents could 
watch and talk with as they painted. The artists them- 
selves worked and reworked their images. It was much 
more than a playful avant-garde "happening." It was an 
instrument for the survival of people and their commu- 
nity and was done under threat of defacement and vio- 
lence, but local gangs and a congressman lent their 
support.'^ The art and activism that went into it did not 
come to an end when the painting was completed. The 
Wall of Respect became a focus of the community, with a 
number of those pictured on it coming to speak at the site 
to gatherings about the urgent problems of Black people 
and to perform music. At its dedication, two poems 
written for it were read by their authors. Don L. Lee 
proclaimed: 

The Wall 

sending their negro 
toms into the ghetto 
at all hours of the day 
(disguised as black people) 
to dig 

the wall, (the weapon) 

the mighty black wall (we chase them out — kill if 
necessary) 

whi-te people can't stand 

the wall, 

killed their eyes, (they cry) 

black beauty hurts them — 

they thought black beauty was a horse — 

stupid muthafuckas, they run from 

the mighty black wall 



brothers & sisters screaming 

"picasso ain't got shit on us. 

send him back to art school." 

we got black artists 

who paint black art 

the mighty black wall 

negroes from south shore & 

hyde park coming to check out 

a black creation 

black art, of the people, 

for the people, 

art for people's sake 

black people 

the mighty black wall 

black photographers 
who take black pictures 
can you dig, 

blackburn 

le roi, 

muslim sisters, 

black on gray it's hip 
they deal, black photographers deal blackness for 
the mighty black wall 

black artists paint 

du bois/ garvey/ gwen brooks 
stokely/ rap/ james brown 
trane/ miracles /ray charles 
baldwin/killens/muhammad ali 
alcindor/ blackness / revolution 

our heroes, we pick them, for the wall 

the mighty black wall/ about our business, blackness 
can you dig? 

if you can't you ain't black/ some other color 

negro maybe?? 

the wall 

the mighty black wall, 

"ain't the muthafucka layen there?"'* 

And Gwendolyn Brooks spoke her gift to the mural and 
its community: 

The Wall 

August 27, 1967 
[the day of its dedication] 

A drumdrumdrum. 

Humbly we come. 
South of success and east of gloss and glass are 
sandals; 
flowercloth; 

grave hoops of wood or gold, pendant 
from black ears, brown ears, reddish-brown 
and ivory ears; 

black boy-men. 

Black 

boy-men on roofs fist out "Black Power!" Val, 

a little black stampede 

in African images of brass and flowerswirl. 



fist out "Black Power!" — tightens pretty eyes, 
leans back on mothercountry and is tract, 
is treatise through her perfect and tight teeth. 

Women in wool hair chant their poetry. 

Phil Cohran gives us messages and music 

made of developed bone and polished and honed 

cult. 
It is the Hour of tribe and of vibration, 
the day-long Hour. It is the Hour 
of ringing, rouse, of ferment-festival. 

On Forty-third and Langley 

black furnaces resent ancient 

legislatures 

or ploy and scruple and practical gelatin. 

They keep the fever in, 

fondle the fever. 

All 

worship the Wall. 

I mount the rattling wood. Walter 

says, "She is good. ' Says, "She 

our Sister is.' In front of me 

hundreds of faces, red-brown, brown, black, ivory, 

yield me hot trust, their yea and their 

Announcement 
that they are ready to rile the high-flung ground. 
Behind me. Paint. 
Heroes. 

No child has defiled 

the Heroes of this Wall this serious Appointment 
this still Wing 
this Scald this Flute this heavy Light this Hinge. 

An emphasis is paroled. 

The old decapitations are revised, 

the dispossessions beakless. 

And we sing.'* 

The Wall of Respect became a community totem, a 
symbol of its identity. New panels were added in 1969, 
when Eda replaced his fist and portraits with Klansmen 
and police brutalizing Black people and Walker made 
further changes. The same year across the street both 
painters began the Wall of Truth. A sign over its doorway 
read: "We the People of this community claim this bldg. 
in order to preserve what is ours." The efforts of urban 
renewal to demolish these buildings met with continued 
community resistance, and it was only a fire in 1971 that 
; destroyed what has come to be regarded as the first of the 
community murals. Even then at least one panel was 
saved and remounted in front of Malcolm X Commu'iiity 
College. The Wall of Respect attracted the press. Ebony did 
an article on it in 1967 that gave it national notice.^" The 
mural caught the imagination of Black people around the 
country who were seeking through cultural nationalism 
to build confidence to resist discrimination and violence 
against them. It also encouraged artists of all races, says 



Invention (1967-69/70) I 53 

Mark Rogovin, to undertake cooperative expressions on 
social themes, even though they had imperfect materials 
to work with. The importance of the Wall of Respect lay 
first in its serving the people of its neighborhood, then in 
its spreading the idea of art done outdoors in public by a 
collaboration of artists, some of them local residents, but 
all of whom sought to speak out for Black people and 
their right to social justice. 

In the summer that the Wall of Respect was being 
created Detroit was undergoing the most destructive riot 
of the era. Paratroopers as well as the National 
Guardsmen had been brought in. Forty-three people 
were killed.^* The following year, 1968, The East Side 
Voice invited Walker and Eda along with other artists who 
worked on the Wall of Respect to Detroit to do there the 
kind of public art that had been begun in Chicago. '^^ 
Their first work in the Detroit ghetto was the Wall of 
Dignity. It was done on a one-story brick wall of a 
building that had been a skating rink and wrestling hall 
before it was burnt out the year before when Black 
people took out their rage by attacking property. Within 
a mile were four truck and automobile plants. Posters of 
wrestling heroes and villains. Black and White, were 
pasted along the wall before the mural. Eda now replaced 
these with portraits of Malcolm X, .Marcus Garvey, and 
other Black leaders. ^^ Across the top he painted a frieze 
that showed a king and queen issuing instructions to their 
retainers from a dais in their outdoor court surrounded 
by timbered buildings and masonry fortifications. This 
was Benin City in what is now Nigeria, which was famed 
for its bronze casting from as early as 1400. Eda included 
images of court officials from two high-relief bronze 
plaques that once had clad the pillars of the audience 
chambers. There are also over-life-sized scarified faces to 
which the Benin and earlier Ife bronze casters had given a 
highly refined style. The idealized naturalism of these 
figures is of great beauty, certainly one of the achieve- 
ments of human culture, and Eda clearly wanted to 
impress this on the people of the Detroit ghetto. The 
remainder of the frieze is given over to scenes from 
ancient Egypt — artists, leaders, warriors in a chariot, 
boatmen, the Sphinx, and pyramids, rendered in the flat 
profile style of Egyptian murals, all of which Eda pre- 
sents as a Black civilization. Beneath the frieze Walker 
and Edward Christmas did a series of vignettes, some 
directly on the brick, some on panels attached to it. One 
shows the chained victims of a slave ship presented in 
overlapping silhouettes outlined with white. Above it the 
rendering was reversed to a black-on-white line drawing 
of a crowd, also in profile, being addressed by a speaker 
with the words of Ameer Baraka, "Calling All Black 
People. . . ." Another panel shows the interlocking faces 
and features of four youngsters. And across the bottom 
are successive waves of Black men in dashikis, their eyes 
staring with intense determination to make good their 
heritage. In each instance Walker utilized different vari- 
ations on his style of overlapping parallel figures to 
express collective experience. 



Eugene Eda, William Walker, Edward Christmas, and 
Eliot Hunter: Wall of Dignity, 196S, Detroit. (Photo 
Robert Sommer) 





ER 

Eugene Eda: Wall of Dignity (detail) 






Invention (1967-69/70) I 55 



The Chicago muralists were next invited to vsork v\ ith 
local artists on the Grace Kpiscopal Church near the site 
of the riots, and they created the Wall of Pride. Their final 
project in FJetroit was across the street from the Wall of 
Dignity at Saint Bernard's Church. Eda and Walker were 
asked to paint a set of panels for the facade on the 
relevance of the Israelites' liberation from bondage to the 
present experience of Black people. A similar comparison 
had inspired the spirituals of plantation workers in the 
past. Eda did the central panel depicting a Black Moses 
before a Black Pharaoh with slaves in the background. In 
the panel to the left, Walker presented Black people 
chained and behind bars, but praying. The stylization of 
this panel is immensely impressive. The whole scene is 
rendered in parallel vertical, sometimes vibrating, lines 
that suggest tears and bodies trembling with hope as well 
as fear. The black striations recall the scarring of Ife faces 
symbolic of the overcoming of pain that Eda utilized in 
the Wall of Dignity. They also suggest the rough-hew n 
gouging of woodcut graphics and the verticality of 
Gothic design, which Walker emphasizes with the 
pointed arch at the top. Finally, these stripings are tied in 
with the crowded parallel profiles: they express a feeling 
that is shared by all the figures, a hope that seems 
promising because they are united. Walker's power is to 
create imagery with wide suggestibility and to pull it 
together in a very moving and simple w ay. 

On the opposite panel Walker presented a new exodus 
out of bondage. Here he depicted a dense march of Black 
people at the head of which are .Martin Luther King, Jr., 
and Malcolm X, and they are not in profile as on the left 
panel, but coming directly at you. The church titled the 
three-part composition the Harriet Tubman Memorial 
Wall, giving further reference to its theme of exodus and 
journey to a promised land, for Harriet Tubman had led 
slaves out of bondage to the North before the Civil War 
by way of the underground railroad. 

Walker had used the motif of the march already in the 
Wall of Respect in Chicago with the depiction of Elijah 
Muhammed leading a demonstration. On the Wall of 
Dignity across the street from Saint Bernard's he had 
again presented different aspects of the collective experi- 
ence of Black people, using styles similar to the concen- 
trated linear imagery on the church. The follow ing year, 
1969, he returned to the Wall of Respect to add a large icon 
of grim Black profiles confronting jeering White faces, 
while from the outside the open hands of the different 
races reached toward each other, forming a large cross, 
while holding a wreath surrounding the composition 
with the words "Peace, Salvation, Peace, Peace." Here, 
as at Saint Bernard's, Walker scored the faces of his Black 
people with the scars of suffering and dignity. 

All of these elements — the striated faces, the crowded 
profile figures, the mass demonstration and 
confrontation — would return in Walker's subsequent 
work. What seems especially to absorb him from the 
beginning of his murals is expressing collective experi- 




W'illiam Walker: Wall of Dignity (detail). 



ence in both its humane and its hostile moods. Persons 
are always presented in groups. He is concerned with 
what separates them: here they are divided by race; later 
it will be their identification with labor or management. 
He is also concerned with what can bring them together. 
And he continually explores the means to express both. 
In its subject and form Walker's work is distinctly a 
people's art. 

The importance Walker gives to motifs of people 
drawing together, confronting one another, and march- 
ing makes explicit the connection between the new 



56 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Eugene Eda and William Walker: Harriet Tubman 
Memorial Wall, 1968, St. Bernard's Church, Detroit. 



medium of community murals and the demonstration as 
forms of people's art. Both are expressions from the grass 
roots, determined statements by direct public action. 
They are also labor-intensive forms of public communi- 
cation, technologies appropriate to the needs of local 
people. 

The Wall of Dignity and the panels on Saint Bernard's 
Church across the street also became a rallying place for 
the community like the Wall of Respect. Seen in 1974, they 
looked out on an empty lot on the third side of which 
stood a red, black, and green stage with a large sign 
overhead that read: 

Heroes * Prisoners * Crusaders * Martyrs * Heroines 
Mankind's Search for Freedom, Justice, Opportunity, 
Righteousness, Peace. 




William Walker: Harriet Tubman Memorial Wall 
(left panel), 1968, St. Bernard's Church, Detroit. 



And on a wall up against new public housing were two 
Black figures ceremoniously grasping hands. With mu- 
rals on three sides creating an atmosphere of heritage, 
solidarity and struggle, the empty lot had been trans- 
formed into a public square with a solemn civic presence. 



Invention (1967-69/70) I 57 




William Walker: Wall of Respect (detail), 
Chicago. 



1969, 



While Walker and Eda were painting at Detroit in 
1968, in Boston militant Black Power murals were being 
done. Gary Rickson and Dana Chandler collaborated on 
a number of these projects. Rickson, an art teacher, had 
founded the Boston Negro Artists Association in 1963 to 
sponsor exhibitions throughout the country, and was its 
president when he began doing street murals. In 1966 he 
had been sent on a cultural exchange to the Soviet Union. 
Chandler had grown up in Roxbury and graduated in 
1967 from the Massachusetts College of Art. Later he 
was to teach at Simmons College in Boston and to lecture 
widely on Black art on college campuses.^* On the upper 
floors of the three-story Exodus Building, an alternative 
school for Black children in the Roxbury ghetto, they 
painted Black men with weapons laying their hands 
protectively on the shoulders of their children. Next to 
them was the slogan "Arm yourself or harm yourself." 

During the same year at a major intersection close to 
downtown, the South End Neighborhood Action Pro- 
gram decided to transform an empty lot into a play- 
ground. Three M.I.T. graduate students in architecture 
helped local kids design the apparatus and basketball 



court, and the youngsters provided most of the labor. ^^ 
Rickson and Chandler were commissioned to paint the 
five-story brick wall at the rear while the kids added their 
art to the lower part. On the upper half Rickson depicted 
a huge weeping eye looking out across the roofs of the 
city at a White man hanging from a gallows. This he 
titled Segregation B.C. Below in Chandler's section, 
Stokely Carmichael, leader of the Student Non-Violent 
Coordinating Committee, was shown radiating energy 
from his hands that broke the chains of Black men. 
Alongside them H. Rap Brown, another SNCC leader, 
was about to hurl a gasoline bomb — in defense, Chandler 
still says. The title he gave his section was Stokely and Rap: 
Freedom and Self-Defense, and he told a reporter that "Black 
art is not a decoration. It's a revolutionary force." He 
added that "there is no Black art in the Museum of Fine 
Arts, so we are going to utilize the facade of buildings in 
our country for our museum."^* Both this pair of murals 
and the one on the Exodus Building generated con- 
troversy, partly because they were funded by Summer- 
thing, a project of the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs 
with federal, state, and local corporate money, which 




Dana Chandler and Gary Rickson (Summerthing): Ex- 
odus Building Mural, 1968, Roxbury, Boston. 



had been allocated to murals in order to diffuse racial 
tension. Summerthing, organi/x'd in 1968, was one of the 
first instances of government support for murals, and in 
the future it was more careful to monitor its projects. 
The double murals were later destroyed. 

But militancy was to continue as <me of the main 
directions of Black murals for another year. In 1969 in 
Chicago young people at Saint Dominic's Church, close 
by Cabrini Green public housing, worked out with the 
assistance of John Weber the ideas and imagery of a 
thirty-seven-foot-iong painting that was one of the first 
collaborations of a team of untrained community resi- 
dents with a professional artist, particularly on an outside 
wall. This is important because it was to become a major 
method of creating community murals. Moreover, while 
the youngsters were Black, Weber vv as White, a graduate 
of Harvard who had studied art in Paris on a F"ulbright 



scholarship and had recently completed a master's degree 
at the Art Institute of Chicago. His ability to work in the 
ghetto and what he could bring to it was another break- 
through in cooperation. Producing the mural was a 
summer long undertaking, involving scores of young 
people, some for only a few days. In the manner of the 
Walls of Respect and Dignity, it incorporated portraits of 
Black leaders, here, Frederick Douglass, .Malcolm X, 
Huey Newton, and Erika Huggins. They confront 
skeletons and a pig wearing helmets. Between them are 
images of an enlarged upright fist holding broken chains 
seen against a fallen open hand, broken off like a piece of 
sculpture, while in the background are guns and thick 
blades of flame. The caption is "Dare to Struggle, Dare 
to Win, All Power to the People." The design recalls the 
chunky, thickly outlined images of the French painter 
Fernand Leger, a political progressive himself, who had 
developed a cubist style based on both ancient statuary 
and machine forms, that he usually employed to cele- 
rate the labor and pleasures of workers. (It is probably 
the common borrowing from Leger that makes this and 



later murals that Weber directed resemble those done by 
the Ramona Parra Brigades in Chile, that also got under 
way in 1969.) The slogan and imagery which were the 
ideas of the Saint Dominic youngsters, ^^ were adopted 
from the Black Panther party. Huey Newton, its na- 
tional chairman, was at that time imprisoned in Califor- 
nia, convicted of the murder of a police officer, and Erika 
Huggins, deputy chairmah of the New Haven chapter, 
was standing trial for murder, but was finally cleared; her 
husband, another Panther leader, had been killed earlier. 
Her image with fist raised was taken from a newspaper 
photo. 

The fist and the gun had become important motifs in 
murals largely through the Panthers' use of them as 
symbols and realities. Panther artist Emory Douglas had 
made a point of showing community people with 
weapons in his posters. The organization had been 
formed by Newton and Bobby Scale in Oakland in 1966, 
functioning at first as a community-alert patrol that 
followed police cars and advised Black residents of their 
rights when they were stopped. Police harassment and 
brutality in the ghetto moved them to carry unconcealed 
weapons, which they were ready to use, they stressed, in 
self-defense only. They opposed rioting and v\ere cred- 
ited with keeping Oakland cool after the slaying of Dr. 
King. But the guns also served as symbols of the unwill- 
ingness of Black people to submit to what many saw as 
systematic oppression. The symbolic act that most con- 
Gary Rickson: Segregation B.(]. (upper), and Dana 
Chandler: Stokely and Rap (lower), 1968 (Summer- 
thing), Boston. (Photo Institute of Contemporary Art) 



Local youth directed by John Weber: All Power to the 
People, 1969, St. Dominic's Church, Chicago. (Photo 
John Weber) 



Invention (1967-69/70) I 59 





60 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

founded the public was the Panthers' carrying rifles into 
the CaHfornia state capital in 1967 to protest police 
brutality and demonstrate their constitutional right to 
bear arms. Such symbolic acts were also warnings: art 
and reality had merged. 

The Panthers regarded their program as a series of 
demonstration projects, examples to be adopted wher- 
ever there were Black people. Their newspaper made this 
clear: "The black community in general would learn by 
observing the actions of the Party in the community, it 
was reasoned, and everything the Party did was educa- 
tional."^'* These activities included establishing health 
clinics, free breakfasts for children, and community 
schools that taught residents about their heritage. The 
Panther platform called for the control of local police by 
Black communities, the trial of Black people by a jury of 
their peers, the freeing of all Blacks in jails and prisons 
because they could not possibly have received fair trials, 
and the provision of decent employment and housing by 
government aid in establishing community-owned 
cooperatives. The Panthers, numbering about two 
thousand nationwide, were avowedly socialist, and the 
press dramatized them as a bizarre terrorist group. At the 
same time the FBI and police tried to render the organi- 
zation ineffective by arrests and killings on trumped-up 
charges, as became increasingly clear after Watergate 
made such exposure salable copy.^^ A few months after 
the completion of All Power to the People at Saint 
Dominic's Church, Illinois Panther chairman Fred 
Hampton was shot in the back of the head by police who 
broke through the door of his Chicago apartment while 
he was sleeping. 



Shirley Triest and David Salgado: Leaders and Mar- 
tyrs, 1969, Merritt College, Oakland. 



Meanwhile the need to respond to racial oppression 
was provoking some of the first murals in the Bay Area at 
Oakland's Merritt College, a two-year institution that 
particularly served the city's Third World population. 
Here Panther founders Huey Newton and Bobby Scale 
had gone to school in the mid-sixties, and Newton 
through his outspokenness had been "a large influence on 
the whole campus," as Scale put it."" In 1967, the year 
following their organizing of the Panthers, Newton was 
arrested for killing an Oakland policeman, and in 1968 he 
was convicted and imprisoned. A "Free Huey" campaign 
was joined by increasing numbers of those who believed 
that he was framed to destroy the Panthers. In 1971 he 
won two retrials that resulted in hung juries and finally 
the dismissing of charges. But while he was confined, his 
supporters set fires in trash baskets at Merritt and bar- 
raged campus walls with spray-painted calls to "Free 
Huey." Finally an agreement was reached between the 
college president and the militant students to end the 
trashing by painting a set of murals. The president asked 
Helen Dozier, an art teacher, to coordinate the project, 
and she invited her classes to submit designs. They were 
screened by the student activists, and a composition by 
Shirley Triest, a young White woman, and David Sal- 
gado, a Filipino student, was carried out on one of the 
outside walls during the fall semester of 1969. At the 
center they placed the empty wicker chair in which 
Newton had often been pictured, and "Free Huey" was 
inscribed on its back. Around it in a high-contrast 
Photo-Realist rendering were monumental portraits of 
Newton, Bobby Hutton (a young Panther slain by the 
police), Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert 
Kennedy, and H. Rap Brown, among others. In- 
terspersed were repeated appeals for unity. They called 
their mural Leaders and Martyrs. (When the campus was 




moved, the portable building on which this was painted 
was transported, and in 1978 one of the first of the 
outdoor community murals in the Bay Area remained 
intact.) 

The students did three additional works at the same 
time, one of the first instances of the combination of 
imagery from different Third World groups, which 
reflected their awareness that they shared common 
problems and aspirations and understood the need of 
working together. One panel united the faces of ordinary 
people of the different races. Flanking them on one side 
were images of Che Guevera, Emiliano Zapata, and Don 



Invention (1967-69 1 70) I 6\ 

Pedro Albizu Campos, Puerto Rico's "Tiger of Liberty." 
It was marked La Causa. On the other side there was a 
frieze in the flat style of ancient Egypt (all in profile 
except the shoulders) done by Joan X showing Black 
figures moving toward a Muslim crescent and star while 
carrying scales of justice, a book, a model for a pyramid, 
and a pick and shovel. Alongside was the caption "Let 
there be Peace & Love & Perfection among all creation." 
Murals on the Indochina and other Third World strug- 
gles were added in the following months and into 1970. 
On one of these Wilma Bonnett depicted a wall-sized 
Puerto Rican Nationalist flag with a cane-cutter against 




Joan X and other students: La Causa/ Peace, Love and 
Perfection, 1969-70, Merritt College, Oakland. 



Wilma Bonnett: Untitled, 1969-70, Merritt College, 
Oakland. 




62 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

its large cross with his arms outstretched, a machete in 
hand, gesturing toward scenes of demonstrators and of 
the massacre at Ponce, Puerto Rico, in 1937 when 20 
people were killed and 150 wounded by police at a march 
of nationahsts calling for the release of Albizu, who is 
also pictured in the mural. ^' Among the Latino students 
who worked on these murals at Merritt College was 
Domingo Rivera, who was years later to do a number of 
his own in San Francisco and become director of Mission 
Media Arts and a member of the city's Art Commission. 
Meanwhile, late in 1969 and early in 1970, another 
interracial set of murals was being done by Malaquias 
Montoya, Manuel Hernandez- Trujillo and David Brad- 
ford for the East Oakland Development Center (later, 
Merritt College Community Educational Center) w here 
they taught. Bradford, who had worked for a few days 
on the Wall of Respect in (>hicago, here showed a Black 
couple at the right considering possible roles. Fheir 
clothing characterizes them: young people in a dashiki, a 
mini-skirt, or Levi's; a grandmother in an apron; and 
men in suits and dark glasses. In the center an angry 
young man is about to strike out. And belov\ them, as if 
in a dark basement, others huddle about a naked light 
bulb and pour over a plan w hile guns are stacked at the 
side. In Alontova's panel of heated color the central 
figure is breaking his chains, holding in one hand a book 
and in the other a mirror — the pre-(>olumbian symbol of 
self-knowledge. Behind are figures of struggle and the 
cultivation of the land, while to either side are a victim of 
a firing squad, a Zapatista, a Vietnam vet, farm workers, 




David Bradford: Untitled, 1969-70, East Oakland De- 
velopment Center (later Merritt College Community 
Educational Center), Oakland. 



Malaquias Montoya: Untitled, 1969-70, East Oakland 
Development Center. 




Invention (1967-69/70) I 63 




Manuel Herndndez-Trujillo: Untitled, 1969-70, East 
Oakland Development Center. 



and a Brown Beret. In the panel of Hernandez- rrujillo 
amid symbols of the oppression of La Raza there rises an 
illuminated area of flowering plants and maiz, the 
suggestion of a bird's wing, indio designs, and the pow- 
erful shape of an eagle's talons. The brutalizing of images 
and the scrubbed-on color contrast with the tender deli- 
cacy of the new life that seems to emerge in the center. 
Thus at both Oakland institutions minority and White 
students and teachers had been able to collaborate on 
public art that affirmed ethnic pride and interracial sup- 
port in the continuing struggle. 

This work by students from varied ethnic groups in 
Oakland in 1969 and 1970 was not the first instance of 
people outside the Black Power and Pride movements 
turning to community murals. Moreover, while Black 
murals were the first at Merritt, it is not clear that the 
early Black work elsewhere, in spite of its major con- 



tribution, directly stimulated the earliest community 
murals of Chicanos and Puerto Ricans. These were 
certainly encouraged by their still-active mural tradi- 
tions, and it may well have been the general atmosphere 
of social activism during the late sixties that was 
sufficient to turn Latinos to the new wall painting. 

The Chicano Cultural Revolution 

At the same time that the Black Power movement was 
developing, other ethnic groups, fed up with being 
exploited and humiliated, were turning to their culture as 
a source of strength in comparable struggles for self- 
determination. In 1969 in the Southwestern states La 
Raza, made up mainly of Chicanos (people of Mexican 
descent) but also other Latin Americans, was the largest 
ethnic minority. In California there were three million, 
twice as many as there were Blacks. In Ims Angeles 
the average income of Chicanos in 1969 was $1,380, 
while that of Blacks was $1,437.'^ Chicanos received 
on an average only eight years of schooling, compared 



64 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

with ten years for Blacks and twelve for Whites. In 
the cities of the Southwest, Chicanos lived in barrios 
(neighborhoods) with massive unemployment and 
substandard housing, though some of it was public. 
There were high rates of drug abuse and gang vandalism 
and killings because young people could not turn their 
frustrations outward against the racism of Anglo society. 
The numbers of Chicanos were being continually 
swelled by undocumented workers who came across the 
border illegally because conditions were even worse in 
Mexico. There, what "development" was occurring took 
the form of capital-intensive industry and the industriali- 
zation of farming by agribusiness, often financed by U.S. 
corporations. The result was that 50 percent of Mexican 
rural workers were unemployed. In Los Angeles almost 
half the Spanish-speaking population were "illegals," 
who could be easily taken advantage of by employers. 
Between 75 and 80 percent of all agricultural workers in 
the Southwest were undocumented Mexican nationals. ^^ 
The "illegals" were making a major contribution to the 
economy, one that was far in excess of the wages and 
social services they could demand, since they lived in fear 
of detection. In the farm country thousands of migrant 
workers were subject to the mass-production procedures 
of domestic agribusiness, which sought to get the most 
out of them with minimal wages until workers could be 
replaced by machines. The result was stoop labor with 
the short hoe, exposure to toxic insecticides, corrupt 
hiring practices, shanty labor camps, irregular schooling, 
and an unstable community life. 

In 1962 Cesar Chavez began organizing the Mexican, 
Chicano, and Filipino farm workers in Delano. Three 
years later they undertook what was to become the 
longest agricultural strike in U.S. history. It was not 
merely a matter of labor organizing; it was, as Chavez 
described it, "a movement, more than a union," a "way 
of living" free of bureaucracy that could only come into 
being if people organized themselves. ^^ The farm-worker 
staff refused to give their members numbers, though that 
would have been more efficient. They sought to 
humanize working and living conditions by creating new 
community facilities built on the cooperative usages of 
the past. Their roots were deep in traditional culture, 
and from the beginning of the strike the eagle and the 
Virgin of Guadalupe were used as symbols for its flags 
and posters. 

The black eagle with its wings spread was an amalgam 
of the Indian thunderbird and the symbol on the Mexi- 
can flag, which commemorates the fulfilling of the oracle 
that the Aztecs were to complete their long migration 
from the north and settle at the place where they saw an 
eagle on a cactus struggling with a snake. The place was 
later called Mexico City. The Virgin of Guadalupe was 
not the cool Spanish mother of the Immaculate Concep- 
tion but an emanation of converted indios. She was the 
Dark Madonna, who was both Christian and Aztec 
mother of gods, Tonanztin. Legend has it that she ap- 



peared shortly after the Spanish conquest to the very 
poor indio Juan Diego, asking for a santuary to be built 
for her, and that he tried to persuade his archbishop, who 
was convined only when he saw the Madonna's image on 
Juan Diego's carrying net. The Virgin of Guadalupe 
became the patroness of Mexico and particularly of the 
impoverished and dark-skinned. It was under her banner 
that Father Hidalgo led the rebels against the Spanish 
during the War for Independence in 1810.^* Thus she 
became a symbol of people's struggles that was carried by 
farm workers in the valley of California. 

Meanwhile in the mid-sixties in Denver Chicano un- 
employment was over three times that of Whites, and 75 
percent of prisoners in local jails were Chicano.^® There 
Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales, a former boxing champ and 
successful businessman, resigned from his chairmanship 
of the city's War on Poverty and a seat on the steering 
committee of the program for the Southwestern States 
because he believed these government programs were 
emasculating.^^ He devoted himself both to community 
organizing and writing poetry and drama about the 
struggles of La Raza. In 1967 he wrote / Am Joaquin, a 
poem that gained wide circulation because it expressed 
the plight of Chicanos. They were forced to choose, he 
said, between embracing the Anglo way of life, which 
might provide a full stomach but insured spiritual 
hunger, and adhering to Chicano culture and facing the 
likelihood of poverty.'* Gonzales had already sought to 
resolve the paradox of cultural survival and physical 
hunger by founding in 1965 the Crusade for Justice, 
which created El Centro Para Justicia. It was a commu- 
nity center that provided employment, legal, health, and 
recreation services; a library, nursery, and dining room; 
Mexican shops; a gymnasium and ballroom; a school 
with "liberation classes"; a "revolutionary theater"; and 
an art gallery.'^ The Crusade was also to sponsor murals. 
Gonzales offered dynamic leadership for the cause of 
Chicano nationalism and authored the Plan of the Barrio, 
that called for community control of all facets of its 
public life and the restoration of ancestral lands to the 
pueblos, the villages of the countryside. 

The Crusade's social and cultural efforts were crystal- 
lized in the revival of the concept of Aztlan by the young 
San Diego poet Alberto Alurista and the Youth Libera- 
tion Conference that was held in Denver in 1969 and 
which Chicanos from all over the country attended. 
Aztlan was the legendary and perhaps historic homeland 
of the ancestors of the Aztecs in what is now the south- 
western United States. They are said to have migrated 
from there to the site of modern Mexico City where they 
founded their new capital in 1325. The Spiritual Plan of 
Aztlan that the Denver conference produced spoke for 
the consciousness of nationhood that Chicanos had been 
working towards during the sixties: 

In the spirit of a new people that is conscious not only 
of its proud heritage, but also of the brutal "gringo" 



invasion of our territories, we the Chicano inhabitants 
and civiHzers of the northern land of Aztlan, from 
whence came our forefathers, reclaiming the land of 
their birth and consecrating the determination of our 
people of the sun, declare that the call of our blood is 
our power, our responsibility, and our inevitable 
destiny. 

We are free and sovereign to determine those tasks 
which are justly called for by our house, our land, the 
sweat of our brows, and by our hearts. Aztlan belongs 
to those that plant the seeds, water the fields, and 
gather the crops, and not to the foreign Europeans. We 
do not recognize capricious frontiers on the Bronze 
Continent. 

Brotherhood unites us, love for our brothers makes 
us a people whose time has come and who struggles 
against the foreigner "gabacho" who exploits our ricnes 
and destroys our culture. With our heart in our hand 
and our hands in the soil, we declare the independence 
of our mestizo Nation. We are a bronze people with a 
bronze culture. Before the world, before all of North 
America, before all our brothers in the Bronze Conti- 
nent, we are a Nation. We are a union of free pueblos. 
We are Aztlan. 

To hell with the nothing race. 

All power for our people 
March 31, 1969'»» 

The feelings of brotherhood of which Gonzales spoke 
Chicanos also call carnalismo, "common flesh." It implies 
a unity that is cultural as well as genetic, the conscious- 
ness of La Raza. It is a sense of identity due to a common 
way of life, a distinct language, and a garrulous absorp- 
tion of people in local affairs. The specific form that the 
nation of Aztlan was to take has remained a subject of 
discussion among Chicanos. Few seriously pursued the 
idea of independence or a separate state within the 
United States. More often Chicanos have sought to 
realize Aztlan in terms of community organizing, the 
developing of locally controlled institutions, the mutual 
support of Chicanos in different cities, and the develop- 
ing of political leverage on the state and national scene 

i within the context of mainstream politics. Gonzales 
wrote of the Chicanos in his Plan of the Barrio, "We are 

' basically a communal people," and went on to describe a 
vision of cooperative shops and small industries sup- 

^ ported by low-interest loans, family homes around 
plazas, local schools where Spanish is the first language, 
and textbooks rewritten to tell the truth about the indio 
and Mexican contribution to the Southwest.^' Its aims 
have been not only to bring an end to racial discrimina- 
tion against Raza people but also to restore their lan- 
guage, culture, and social forms, particularly indigenous 
cooperative institutions. And the spirit of Aztlan has 
informed murals from Chicago to Santa Fe and San 
Diego. 

In 1967 Reies Tijerina led a raid of the Alianza Federal 
de Pueblos Libres on a courthouse in northern New 
Mexico to make a citizen's arrest of the district attorney 



Invention (1967-69/70) I 65 

of Santa Fe county for obstructing their efforts to recover 
ancestral lands. The Alianza itself, founded in 1962, was 
an organization of rural villages that sought to reclaim 
land grants that had been lost to the Anglos by force and 
guile since the Mexican War. It and independent Raza 
groups and villages in New Mexico, inspired by com- 
munal traditions, experimented in cooperative farming, 
collectively owned stores and small industry, and 
community-controlled social services. ^^ The murals of 
Santa Fe that Los Artes de Guadalupanos de Aztlan 
began in 1970 grew out of this spirit of protest and the 
sense that Chicanos could resist racism only by reaching 
back to their old culture and usages to shape a modern 
way of life that was uniquely their own. 

The concept of "cultural revolution" was adopted by 
Raza intellectuals, as it was by Blacks. Eliu Carranza, 
professor of .Mexican American Graduate Studies at San 
Jose State College (later University), wrote in 1969: 

.... This is the essence of the Chicano Cultural 
Revolution. A confrontation and a realization of worth 
and value through a brutally honest self-examination 
has occurred and has revealed to Chicanos a link with 
the past and a leap into the future, a future which 
Chicanos are fashioning, a future that has validity for 
Chicanos because Chicanos are the agents, i.e., the 
creators and the builders of their destiny."** 

This cultural revolution has become manifest not only in 
murals but also in a burst of imaginative writing and 
social action. But the murals reveal with particular clarity 
the encouragement that Raza people have sought in their 
heritage to "leap into the future." 

Early Chicano Murals 

The first documented community-based Chicano 
murals were done in 1968 in Del Rey and Sacramento, 
California, in Denver, and in Chicago. Del Rey, a town of 
fruit-packing sheds, cantinas, and migrants, is sixty miles 
from Delano, where the farm workers' strike began in 
1965.^'' Nearby are two dozen more villages where dur- 
ing harvest season tens of thousands of migrants camp. 
The Del Rey mural was painted at the entrance of an 
abandoned drugstore where Luis Valdez two years ear- 
lier had createtd the Teatro Catnpesino as part of the farm 
workers' organizing. Valdez describes how the huelga 
brought a "cultural revolution of those who were too 
uneducated and too illiterate to know they were sup- 
posed to be culturally deprived. ""** Where formerly the 
farm workers had been frightened by Anglo society and 
silent, they were singing as they marched into the vin- 
yards with their simple paintings of the Virgin to bring 
their compadres out. Their newspaper El Malcrtado (the 
mischievous one) published poetry and essays.** The 
actors oiEl Teatro were field hands who wore masks and 
signs designating their roles in the slapstick morality 



66 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Antonio Bemal: Untitled, 1968, El Teatro Campesino 
Cultural, Del Rey, California, (Photo Robert Sommer) 



plays of labor union and community, a mix of Cantinflas, 
Mexican soap opera, medieval sacred drama, and Aztec 
ritual. These short satiric actos were not written but 
created by the collective improvisation of the perform- 
ers,*' a method similar to that of the murals that were 
to be produced by a collaboration of an artist and non- 
professional community people. Moreover, the murals 
and actos' practice served as an example of their 
purpose — to inspire social activism. Valdez asks: 

What about culture? It is akin to a political act. It is 
when a man stands up and takes his life in his hands 
and says, I am going to change my life. That's what 
culture is all about. I feel that before you get any 
political act out of a man, that man has to feel a certain 
pride in himself. He has to touch his own dignity, his 
own destiny. La Raza needs the arts to tell itself where 
it is. 

The arts are largely prophetic.** 

El Teatro Campesino was not only the farm workers 
speaking to themselves. It carried their message through 
the Central Valley and to the big cities of the United 
States, to the Old Senate Office Building in Washington, 
and overseas. It also spawned similar teatros. In Del Rey 
its home was the Centro Campesino Cultural, where art and 
guitar lessons were given as well as new actos of Mexican 
and Chicano history every two or three weeks. 



On either side of its entrance Antonio Bernal in 1968 
painted a visual translation of these historical dramas. At 
one side was a procession of Aztec nobles and women. At 
the other, a procession of recent heroes: Adelita (the 
legendary woman guerrilla of the Mexican Revolution 
who has been sung of since), Joaquin Murieta (the 
gringo-fighter of California mining country who was also 
largely legendary), Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, Reies 
Tijerina, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. In the 
center was Cesar Chavez carrying the farm workers' 
banner.** 

This must have recalled to viewers their recent pil- 
grimage to Sacramento and the daily marches into the 
fields. These processions and their resemblance to reli- 
gious observances provided the living prototyf>e both for 
the actos of El Teatro and for what is depicted on the 
wall. And Bernal connected the farm workers' current 
organizing efforts to the rituals by which their ancient 
Aztec predecessors sought to assure the welfare of the 
community. The Del Rey mural thus suggests that this 
new art form in which community people actively par- 
ticipated grew out of the crucial experience of public 
demonstrations by which they transformed themselves 
from victims and spectators into creators. 

This was the crux of the cultural revolution, for it 
meant not only a change in people's relation to art but a 
radical change of their daily life. In the process of that 



Invention (1967-69/70) I 67 




Antonio Bernal, Untitled, 1968, El Teatro Campesino 
Cultural, Del Rey, California. (Photo Robert Sommer). 



transformation art ceased being an entertainment and 
became integrated with their work. As the demon- 
strations and the murals were work for social change, so 
working in the fields as organized farm laborers who 
were gaining control over their lives and shaping new 
community institutions acquired meaningfulness as 
forms of social creativity. 

While the Del Rey mural appears to be the first of its 
kind, it was not to be unique, for the imagery of people 
marching in support of farm workers became a major 
motif of Raza murals in the years ahead. In many cases 
this imagery was based not on knowledge of previous 
murals but on either participation in such demonstrations 
or acquaintance with them through the media. Hence 
direct action in the streets continued to foster the creation 
of murals by local people. Bernal's mural summed up the 
traditions of Mexican imagery and anticipated much of 
what was to come in Chicano murals. There were not 
only the marches but also the familiar Mexican montage 
of portraits of political leaders and the ancient indio 
inheritance. 

During the same year, 1968, that Bernal was painting 
at Del Rey, Esteban Villa was taking his students from 
the studios of the Art Department at Sacramento State 



College to paint in the barrio. On an inside wall of the 
basketball court at the Washington Neighborhood 
Center they created immensely powerful images of 
Chicanos struggling to break out of their oppression. In 
the center against a farm workers' thunderbird, a naked 
howling man of knotted muscle is bursting out of his 
constriction and the wall, while to either side other 
figures stream outward, one a Brown Beret gripping a 
rifle, the other a woman who carries books titled Princi- 
ples of Education — Aztldn and El Grito. (The latter title, 
which recalls the cry of Hidalgo when he began the War 
of Independence against Spain, was a journal started that 
year that published new Chicano art and literature.) 
Next to these images of both militant and cultural strug- 
gle, the painters pictured a calavera with daggers in it, an 
indictment of the current condition of Chicanos, and a 
pregnant woman with a child coming forward, suggest- 
ing the future. The emphatic flesh and bone rendered 
roughly by big patches of color and thick, shadowy line 
was a powerful way of expressing the anger and energy 
of people who were becoming conscious of their pos- 
sibilities. 

The visualization of the naked or seminaked body as a 
symbol of the totality of human powers — intellectual and 
spiritual as well as physical — was to remain a major 
resource of Chicano art. It had its roots in indio culture 
and Latin machismo, which, though sometimes criticized 
by Chicanos themselves for its insensitivity, nevertheless 



68 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Esteban Villa and art students from Sacramento State 
College: Emergence . . . , 1968, Washington Neighbor- 
hood Center, Sacramento. 



grew out of a feeling for the dignity of the flesh that was 
respected in women as well. This elemental sense of 
human energy and its connection with the earth was to 
give Chicano murals a unique character that combined 
the physical with the visionary. 

The Washington Center mural was done during Villa's 
second semester at "Sac State," where he taught with an 
old friend, Jose Montoya, who was in Art Education. 
(Jose's brother was Malaquias, who did some of the first 
murals in Oakland and San Jose.) Jose and Villa had gone 
to school together at the California College of Arts and 
Crafts in Oakland along with Salvador Torres, who was 
later to do murals in San Diego.) Villa became interested 
in public wall art as the result of a trip to .Mexico in 1964. 
He also had heard about the Wall of Respect, which was 
created a year before his first mural. Together with 
.Montoya and their students, Ricardo Favela and Juanishi 
Orosco, who dropped out of college to do what they 
believed was more relevant work, they organized the 
Rebel Chicano Art Front in 1968, which others, noting 



the initials, dubbed the Royal Chicano Air Force. The 
artists accepted the nickname and played the role in their 
later imagery. The RCAF's initial mural work was to 
carry them into much broader community-based art in 
the early seventies. Still thriving in 1979, they were to be 
one of the longest-surviving mural groups in the country. 
Another Chicano mural painted in 1968 was done in 
the Pilsen barrio of Chicago. Until 1950 the neighbor- 
hood was occupied mainly by Central and Eastern Euro- 
pean immigrants. Then people of Mexican descent began 
moving in until twenty years later they set the character 
of the community. Most of Chicago's half million people 
of Mexican heritage lived in Pilsen, the largest Chicano 
area outside of the Southwest. As a barrio publication 
described Pilsen, it was the poorest area in the city, 
unemployment was high, the educational level was low, 
health facilities were lacking, and housing was substan- 
dard. A young fellow had to join a gang for protection 
and there was widespread dependence on drugs. But in 
the sixties and early seventies the community had begun 
directing its own redevelopment, and murals were part of 
this. Mario Castillo, a student at the Art Institute who 
was also working with young people in Pilsen, did two 
murals with them there in 1968 and 1969. Castillo took 



Invention (1967-69170) I 69 




Local youth directed by Mario Castillo: Metafisica, 
1968, Halsted Urban Progress Center, Pilsen, Chicago. 
(© Public Art Workshop) 



the teenagers to local museums, showed them slides, and 
gave them instruction in design. Then he drafted the 
general outlines of the murals and asked the youngsters 
to work out the details. The group selected the ones they 
liked most and carried them out on the walls. Both 
murals were abstract but called up the traditions of barrio 
residents. Castillo says that in the first he borrowed from 
the designs of the Native Americans of the Northwest 
Coast as well as pre-Columbian motifs. He regarded both 
as part of a common heritage. The intention of the 
painters was to decorate the minipark that they were 
developing at the Halsted Urban Progress Center. One 
of the teenagers wrote "Metafisica" alongside his part of 
the design, and the title was adopted for the whole work, 
which anticipates the visionary character of many 
Chicano murals that were later done around the country. 
The second, the Wall of Brotherhood, was done nearby as a 
program of the city's Department of Human Resources. 
Here a deliberate effort was made to evoke Raza heritage 
by adopting the forms of pre-Columbian temple 
moldings. In the center of the decorative patterns of each 
mural was a peace symbol, which had special significance 
for Chicanos because of the excessive proportion of 
young Raza men who had been drafted for service in 
Indochina. Since few Chicanos went to college, they did 
not have the benefit of deferments. Also, the courts, 
which convicted large numbers of minority people, 
would sometimes give them the choice of jail or volun- 
teering for the Army. 

.Meanwhile, the first Chicano mural in Denver was 
undertaken in 1968 at the Crusade for Justice center by 



Manuel Martinez, who also worked with .Mayan 
motifs.*** Martinez had discovered his ability to draw as a 
delinquent in a boys' school at thirteen when the nurse, 
against the rules, secured him materials.*' In high school 
he began winning prizes and scholarships, and after 
graduation he took art courses in the local state college. 
In 1967 he hitched a ride to Mexico to see its murals and 
meet Siqueiros, returning the following year to paint 
with the master and help install his March of Humanity in 
Latin America in the Polyforum built for it in Mexico 
City. Working as a lifeguard in Denver's Lincoln Park 
(later La Alma) in 1970, he painted two poolside build- 
ings, one with a seventy-foot-long mural using motifs 
that were becoming central to Chicano art.*^ There was a 
three-faced mestizo head, symbolizing the mixture oiindio 
and Spanish blood that flowing together make for La 
Raza, and enveloping it were the serpents revered by the 
Toltecs and one of the five suns, symbolizing the epochs 
of the Aztec calendar. At one side was a full-length 
portrait of Emiliano Zapata, who led the peasants of 
.Morelos in the struggle for the restoration of their tradi- 
tional communal lands during the revolution of 1910-2 L 
At the other side, in a design of his own, .Martinez 
showed four hands — one brown, the others black, yel- 
low, and white — each clasping the wrist of the other in a 
symbol of the unity of the races. Quetzalcoatl, the god of 
culture, was also there. While Martinez had begun with 
the intention of doing only the mestizo head to give local 
people imagery with which they could identify, he and 
the neighborhood youngsters who helped him got carried 
away. As a further result, many of the kids began 
attending arts and crafts classes at an opportunity school 
where he taught. 

Shortly afterward Martinez and Roberto Lucero were 
painting more indio imagery at Columbus Park, including 



70 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Local youth directed by Mario Castillo: Wall of Brother- 
hood, 1969, Pilsen, Chicago. (© Public Art Workshop) 



Manuel Martinez: Untitled, 1970, Lincoln Park, Den- 
ver. (Photo Denver Postj 




the last Aztec emperor Cuauhtemoc, who was slain by 
the conquistadores because he defied them.'^^ Martinez 
was now sought by other recreation centers to do murals, 
and he was creating his own position as a full-time 
muralist for the Denver Parks and Recreation Depart- 
ment. But w hen its director asked him to paint out one of 
Lucero's murals because it angered a councilman, Mar- 
tinez refused and resigned.'^'' He received a commission 
to do a mural in Albuquerque and remained in New 
Mexico running bars, returning to Denver later to take 
up murals once more. 



At the end of the sixties East Los Angeles was the 
home of about two hundred thousand people of Mexican 
descent. Perhaps the earliest mural to be painted there by 
Chicanes was The Birth of Our Art on the facade of the 
Goez Gallery in 1969 and 1970. Goez had opened in the 
fall of 1969 in a meat-packing warehouse which was 
refurbished into the exhibition space and workshop of 
Chicano artists who had joined together to establish a 
permanent place to market their art. They also hoped to 
reestablish the old apprenticeship system. By the early 
seventies some three hundred painters, sculptors, furni- 



Invention (1967-69170) I 71 




John Gonzalez, designer, assisted by Jose Gonzalez, Robert 
Arenivar, David Botello, Ignacio Gomez and others: The 
Birth of Our Art, 1969-70, facade of Goez Gallery, 
East Los Angeles. 



ture makers, metal and ceramic craftsmen, decorators, 
and restorers became associated with Goez. One of the 
founders, Jose Gonzalez, who had training in both art 
and engineering, had been restoring murals and statues 
in churches for the previous dozen years. His brother 
John, another of the original members, had lived for a 
time in Spain. Their experience partly accounts for the 
dark, ornamental wood interior of Goez, intended to look 
like the cabin of a galleon, and the character of the murals 
its artists were to do. The Gonzalez brothers were joined 
by Robert Arenivar, a former college friend of Joe who 
earned his living before by polishing chrome bumpers in 
auto repair shops. He is a husky man with a love of 
classical literature and quotations. Joe says that when 
they began doing murals together they depended on 
Robert's facility at transforming a verbal concept into 
visual imagery. 

One of the intentions of the artists who opened Goez 
was to introduce the doing of murals in East Los 
Angeles. Therefore they planned a work for their facade 
and tried to involve as many artists as possible in some 
part of the painting. John Gonzalez did the basic design, 
and Joe, Robert, David Botello, Ignacio Gomez, and 
others lent a hand. The mural pictured the indio and 
Spanish sources of their culture. A dark-skinned nude 
woman bearing an earthenware bowl modestly in front of 
her and surrounded by pre-Columbian artifacts is bal- 
anced by a naked conquistador similarly holding a hel- 



met, while behind him castles and a wheel (an invention 
of the Old World) as well as Velazquez's portrait of his 
Moorish assistant are offered as symbols of European 
culture. The two main figures separated by a sea monster 
are shown dispensing their riches on the land that later 
became the United States. The composition is handled in 
a symmetrical, heraldic way, and the figures are illumi- 
nated and modeled in the dramatic manner of the High 
Renaissance and Baroque. There is a distant recollection 
of Michelangelo's God conveying the spark of life to 
Adam and a closer connection with the mosaic murals of 
Jose Reyes Meza and John Bene at the Pan-American 
National Bank and the East Los Angeles Doctors' Hos- 
pital nearby. These styles are rendered in the manner of 
popular magazine and commercial illustration of the 
early twentieth century. You expect to find antiques 
inside rather than the experimental modern art fre- 
quently exhibited. Although the mural appears old- 
fashioned when compared with the work of Rivera, 
Orozco, and Siqueiros, it meant the reassertion of heri- 
tage to its artists and many who saw it. Much of the new 
wall art in East Los Angeles that was to follow pursued 
the manner of Goez, Bene, and Meza — their imagery of 
indios and conquistadores, and the display of the human 
body's grace and force, rendered in an updated 
sixteenth-century way. This style would be employed by 
local artists to reevoke the achievements of the past to 
suggest what could be accomplished in the future. The 
dramatic modeling, illumination, and arabesques would 
be used to convey the energy the artists sought to ex- 
press. This was a popularized and picturesque "Spanish" 



72 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

style like the elaborately carved and upholstered furni- 
ture that merchants in the area tried to persuade people 
had the opulence of the aristocratic past. Whatever its 
weakness, the style did stimulate an awareness of a rich 
heritage and provided a bridge to stronger invention that 
was soon to appear as the anger of the barrio provided 
new substance to its art. Some of the forms were to 
remain, but there would be a new vehemence and social 
content. 

The frustrations that had been building during the 
sixties finally came to a head with blowouts in the 
schools in 1968 and 1969 and a general strike of Raza 
students. Students complained that they were not per- 
mitted to speak Spanish, were treated with contempt and 
were channeled for menial dead-end jobs, that Raza 
history and culture were neglected, and that Chicano 
teachers were not hired. The first walkout of the students 
in 1968 was led by the Brown Berets, young men often 
from gangs who had organized the previous year as 
barrio defense units to monitor school and police action 
against Chicano youth and to protect their rights "by all 
means necessary."** Taking their example from the 
Black Panthers, they exercised their right to bear arms to 
defend their communities. In 1969 they also opened a 
free medical clinic in East Los Angeles. When high 
school, elementary school, and college students went on 
strike, their parents came to their support and the barrios 
organized. They were also becoming aware of the dis- 
proportionate number of Chicanos drafted. A national 
Chicano draft resistance movement had been organized 
in 1969, initiated by the UCLA student body president, 
Rosalio Murioz, and it sponsored the National Chicano 
Moratorium in an East Los Angeles park on August 29, 
1970. The demonstration of some fifteen thousand was 
cut short by a police attack in which three people were 
killed, one of them Ruben Salazar, a former feature 
writer for the Los Angeles Times who was at that time the 
news director of KMEX-TV. Salazar had been hit by a 
tear-gas grenade the police fired into a cafe.*^ His death 
became a symbol nationally but particularly in East Los 
Angeles of Anglo oppression of Third World people in 
the United States and overseas. The growth of Chicano 
consciousness that culminated in the Moratorium pro- 
vided the base for the murals that were to follow in East 
Los.*^ One of these, a mosaic work, showing the news- 
man reading to young people with images of their heri- 
tage behind them, was titled Homage to Ruben Salazar. 
Done by Frank iViartinez, it was mounted at the 
emergency entrance of East Los Angeles Doctors' Hos- 
pital. (See photo, p. 171.) 

The escalation of events in the barrios in the late sixties 
and the development of Brown Power and Pride explain 
the break that Chicano murals in Los Angeles made with 
the well-behaved academicism of the work of Meza, 
Bene, and Goez. Two months before the Chicano 
Moratorium, Saiil Solache, Eduardo Carrillo, Ramses 
Noriega and Sergio Hernandez completed a mural in the 



Chicano Studies Office at UCLA. Titled Chicano History, 
it is a powerful indictment of the violence that La Raza 
suffered both from its adversaries and itself. It shows a 
muscular naked Anglo's body with a skeletal head 
crowned with a bishop's miter. In one hand he holds his 
self-castrated genitals, in the other a sword with unbal- 
anced scales of justice, and he strides a river of blood. 
One Mexican eagle rips at his chest, and another carries 
off his crozier that ends in a snake's rattle. He is con- 
fronted by a young Chicano couple, the man holding a 
rifle, the woman sheaves of corn suggesting culture and 
fertility. Between the bishop and the couple are a contin- 
gent of helmeted police or soldiers brutalizing Chicanos; 
Uncle Sam is carrying a bucket of blood and an addict is 
lying strung-out in the desert. In a detail like an updated 
episode out of Posada, the Mexican popular engraver of 
the turn of the century, a blond Anglo in a white suit is 
gnawing the arm he has ripped from a child. This is 
matched by a seemingly ravished, blindfolded, blond 
lady of justice with money in her hand. Meanwhile in the 
center, another Mexican eagle with a human head and 
chest lifts its winged arms, freeing itself from chains and 
the emblematic serpent. Behind the young couple, the 
desert has suddenly been watered by a stream, and from 
the other direction ranks of people carrying posters ap- 
proach. The picket signs carry the farm workers' eagle 
and read "Unidos Venceremos" (United we shall over- 
come), "Crusade for Justice," and "MECHA" 
(Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Azdan, a student or- 
ganization). Although the main figures are rendered with 
the detail and three-dimensional modeling of the earlier 
academic murals, there is a vehemence and topicality that 
makes it understandable how Chicano History stimulated 
murals throughout East Los Angeles. 

Counterculture Murals 

Community-based murals frequently involved the 
collaboration of a number of painters, trained and un- 
trained. It was a new experience for them to make a 
collective work, for painting for at least a century had 
been regarded as the preserve of highly professionalized 
self-expression. It is understandable why it took time for 
people to be able to work together on a single unified 
image. The first murals were often a collection of sepa- 
rate compositions linked by a broad theme. For instance, 
in the Wall of Respect and Wall of Dignity the racism 
represented by scenes of violence against Blacks was 
contrasted with depictions of their historical achieve- 
ments, portraits of leaders, and scenes of civil-rights 
demonstrations. The exodus theme unified Walker and 
Eda's panels on Saint Bernard's Church that were differ- 
ent in style, although this made explicit the difference 
between the ancient and present exoduses. Chicano His- 
tory represents a more unified effort of artists to arrive at 
a single image, although it also tends to be composed of 



Invention (1967-69/70) I 73 




Local residents: People's Wall, 1969, Berkeley. (Photo 
Robert Sommer) 



separate but related episodes. These early collaborative 
murals developed from add-on panels and images to 
gradually more unified ones, which occurred as a result 
of increasing experience in working together. 

The most elementary collaboration is represented by 
the People's Wall in Berkeley, which must have begun as a 
series of unconnected graffiti no different from other 
walls in nearby streets and throughout urban America 
where young people left their marks. But this wall 
because of its location became the site of written and 
increasingly more elaborate figurative messages. It be- 
came a pictorial community bulletin board writ large. 
The name People's Wall was probably given it in 1969 at 
the time of People's Park. This was the first large wall 
between the park and Telegraph Avenue that then ran 
about five blocks past bookstores, restaurants and shops 
serving the university community to the plaza of Sproul 
Hall, the administration building. This route was the 
focus of a decade of student and counterculture activity 
which climaxed with People's Park, the project of stu- 
dents, a few professors, local residents and street people 
to transform a muddy, unpaved parking lot into a user- 
maintained vegetable garden and recreation area. The 
university, which owned the land, wanted to clear them 
out and to build on its property. Although the faculty, 
student body organizations as well as local merchants 
favored the park, the university forcibly evicted the 
occupants and a street battle ensued during which one 
watcher from a roof was shot and killed by the police. On 
Memorial Day, two weeks later, thirty thousand people 
marched through Berkeley in defiance of Governor 



Reagan's ban and the presence of three battalions of 
National Guardsmen. The newly named People's Wall 
had become during this time an alternative to the 
mainstream media. Like the park it was a form of appro- 
priate technology. 

It had no formal beginning. Shortly after the eviction, 
the wall offered scenes urging the support of People's 
Park. Later there was an image of a figure hooded and 
draped in a flag together with a city councilman and a cop 
blinded by his visor and pointing a gun, another beating 
on the head of one of the young, and a tombstone 
inscribed with the name of the one student who was 
killed during the People's Park riots — James Rector. At 
one moment, there were portraits of bearded, long- 
haired, smiling, serious local people of every color lined 
up and confronting you as in a school photo. Some 
waved, some folded their arms soberly, one held an 
infant, one a dog. Inscribed across the scene was "Free 
Territory" and "Revolution." Simultaneously or at suc- 
cessive times there was a scene of the city in flames with 
the call to "Liberate Berkeley," and images of Che, 
Bobby Scale, Huey Newton, the Masonic eye in a 
triangle with the mystic syllable "Om" printed above it, 
and in adjoining panels, a multiarmed hippie molesting a 
young woman and then her swinging around to kick him 
in the groin. There was also "Whistler's Mother" — 
seated, but holding a machine gun. The caption over her 
read: "Women's Liberation is gonna get your mama and 
your sister and your girl friend." Another image and 
caption called for "Kid's Lib." White spots had been 
added to the real bars of a window in the wall, and below 
it were painted red and white stripes with a peace symbol 
superimposed. In another part of the mural chimneys 
spewing smoke protested pollution. The graffiti ranged 
from true gang inscriptions like "Red Rockets Rule" to 



74 / COiMMLNITY MURALS 




"The Bible for Peace," "Turn On To Others As U 
Would Have Others Turn On To U," "Only real wars 
are never won" ( — E.E. Cummings), "End Greed," "End 
Graphitti," and "Brothers Try A Little Togetherness." 
Finally, a few years later, all the images and messages 
were painted out and replaced by the new proprietors, 
the One World Family, with a unified mural that showed 
a beaming sun and flying saucer and called for "The 
People's Spiritual Reformation." But in 1976 a group of 
artists working together was to do A People's History of 
Telegraph Avenue reviewing the events of the sixties and 
calling themselves the People's Wall Muralists. 

While Berkeley during the sixties was the national 
focus of student activism, the Haight-Ashbury in San 
Francisco was the symbol of the psychedelic and alterna- 
tive life styles of mainly White youth who, it was said, 
"dropped out," but in fact actively rejected the destruc- 
tiveness of conventional vocations and personal relation- 
ships. Many had left comfortable middle-class homes, 
but there were also some from working-class families. 
One of the Haight's communes was The Family, which 
had come together about 1964. Gradually it gained pos- 
session of the building across the street from the Straight 
Theater, the scene of rock concerts, light shows, dances, 
and poetry readings. The Family valued psychedelic 
experience and sought to live an "organic" life, one in 
conformity with their understanding of nature. Unlike 
most comparable groups. The Family was still thriving 



Local residents: People's Wall (partial view), 
Berkeley. (Photo Robert Sommer). 



1969, 



Joanna J obson: Evolution Rainbow, 1969-70, Haight- 
Ashbury, San Francisco. 




with some of its early members as late as 1979 and 
operated a health-food store on the corner. Joanna Jobson 
and her husband were among the early members, and a 
child was born to them while they were with The 
Family. Working alone, she captured the spirit of the 
group and the Haight scene in a mural she did on their 
building in 1970, calling it Evolution Rainbow. In fact it 
was half a rainbow, but it seemed to spring into the 
future. It reads from left to right, beginning with clouds 
and then a band of indigo in v\ hich spermlike cells swim 
toward tiny flowers. In successive bands as purple 
merges to green, dinosaurs appear amid the vegetation, 
fish and octopus swim in the blue, and successive forms 
of life emerge and cavort with one another. Finally, in 
the orange, humans appear along with their creations — 
tepees, castles and churches, ships, battle-axes, and 
peace signs. The red area with cut tree stumps was left 
unfinished. One of the longtime members of The Family 
says that the artist intended to contrast there scenes of 
desolation with dancing — leaving it to viewers to choose 
and do something about it. The final band is clouds 
again. In 1979 The Family still hoped that Joanna would 
return to finish and restore their rainbow . 

The rainbow motif by 1970 was becoming a symbol of 
the counterculture, suggesting its hopes for a fulfilling, 
peaceful world, one in which people of different cultures 
and races could share. Down Haight Street in two years 
a more political mural called Rainbow People was to be 
painted, and the city's museums a few years later did a 
Rainbow Show that assembled art done with the motif. 
Evolution Rainbow, by reminding viewers of their place in 
nature and responsibility, anticipated the murals that 
were to deal with ecology in a few years. Arch Williams, 
one of the painters of Rainbow People, believes that the 
light shows and the chalk-ins of the sixties when scores of 
people would embellish the sidewalks and pavements of 
Haight Street and the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park, 
led them to think of big art and prepared the way for 
murals. He recalls that many painted their rooms in 
imaginative and wild ways, creating new spaces, new 
environments. Joanna Jobson was one of these. 

Kindred psychedelic and new-life-style murals were 
being created in the late sixties and early seventies 
around the country. In Baltimore Bob Hieronimus as 
early as 1968 was introducing them to staid old Johns 
Hopkins University and only finished six years later. He 
enveloped the walls and ceilings of the chapel and stair- 
case well of the student center with occult and contempo- 
rary symbols that included the Statue of Liberty, the 
Russian bear, Chinese dragon, biblical prophets, and 
Egyptian and kabalistic imagery. He called it all The 
Apocalypse. Flowers and vibrating lines enrich it. There is 
a tonality of the whole ranging from deep wine to gold 
that combines with the density of detail to create a 
serious religious ambience. Working with assistants, 
Hieronimus sought the same meticulousness in painting 
as in his researching of the symbols. At the Graduate 



Invention (1967-69/70) I 75 

Club in 1969 he used tarot figures, script familiar from 
psychedelic posters and rippling pattern to illustrate the 
Lord's Prayer. He also founded and successfully con- 
tinued throughout the seventies a college of esoteric lore 
that made murals part of its curriculum. 

Hieronimus's and Jobson's work arc important exam- 
ples of the early murals of the counterculture, which the 
term "hippies" tends to demean. Frying to create an 
alternative to bourgeois life, they used wall art as an 
instrument of revisualizing and reshaping the world. 
Both artists approached the task with a strong sense of 
the past and the ongoing processes of the universe. 
Although the orientation of the "organic " and esoteric 
life-styles differed from that of the New Left, many of 
whose members also had middle-class backgrounds, they 
all were concerned with fundamental change and at- 
tempted to create cooperative working and living situa- 
tions. Together they struggled against a bourgeois v\ ay of 
life that most of them knew from the inside, while 
minority people and the poor were organizing against its 
exploitation that came down on them from outside. 
There was complex interaction among these groups be- 
cause of their common enemy and because of their belief 
in community activism. Opposition to the Indochina 
War and racism at home linked many of them. Many 
enjoyed freer personal relations and looked to drugs, art 
and music as important. Each group developed its own 
kind of mural because of its need for public communica- 
tion. All could be co-opted by the establishment, but 
those from bourgeois backgrounds were more vulnerable 
because they usually could go back, while the poor and 
minorities had few chances at upward mobility. 

Summary 

The first three years of the new murals, 1967 through 
1969 and 1970, exhibited isolated but determined efforts 
of artists and the untrained to use public walls to assert 
their grievances against an establishment that deprived 
them of what was essential to their survival and self- 
respect. Fhey took to the walls as another form of public 
demonstration at a time when marches, picketing, sit-ins, 
and boycotts were giving people the confidence to speak 
out collectively and because mainstream politics and 
media were inaccessible to them. Although the national 
publicity that the Wall of Respect in Chicago received 
stimulated many of the community murals, it is likely 
that others were done without knowledge of it or similar 
works, but arose .out of the widespread atmosphere of 
social activism and still-living traditions of making mu- 
rals. Those who initially were drawn to community mu- 
rals were Third World People who identified with the 
Black and Brown Power movements in their com- 
munities and revived their ethnic culture as a means to 
redefine who they were and establish new bearings as 
they came to believe that the liberal ideology of assimila- 
tion could no longer serve them. If they were ever to be 



76 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

accepted as equal members of American society, they 
realized it would have to be as people who gained 
strength through active cooperation with those who 
shared the same neighborhood and work, the same past, 
the same problems and hopes. And public art was a 
means for defining and projecting that consciousness. 
Much of this early art was angry and protested against 
the humiliations they had suffered. Some called for 
armed self-defense, some for nonviolent demonstrations 
and organizing. From the very beginning, artists of like 
mind began finding one another, while other artists 
began seeking out untrained but interested young people. 
A few White artists made common cause with minority 
people, and in other cases, as at the People's Wall, Whites 
along with Third World people made separate statements 
and images next to each other. Some murals done by 
White artists expressed the life-styles of the countercul- 
ture. What all who were drawn to murals expressed was 
the need for control over their own lives, and many saw 
this as possible only through fundamental social change. 
What shape that new life was to take was a matter of 
controversy among them, but in fact they began to act it 
out as they painted. 

Community murals during their first three years were 
being invented. Old uses of art were being rediscovered, 
and new ways of making it were being tried out. A 
variety of methods of working were developed, which in 
their most elementary forms were an elaboration of 
graffiti but in other instances started out as collaborations 
of professional artists or as joint ventures between them 
and the untrained. What was important to the makers of 
the murals was not that they were developing a new art 
form to become another innovation of the modern era. 
What they had in mind was finding an instrument to 
meet their most serious needs, needs that they recognized 
as shared and which could only be dealt with if artists 
and their communities worked together. 

NOTES 

1 . Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders 
(New York: Bantam, 1968), p. 231. 

2. Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York: 
Grove, 1966); Stokely Carmichaei and Charles V. Hamilton, 
Black Power {New York: Vintage, 1967). 

3 . Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 
p. 232 ff. 

4. Speech at the founding rally of the OAAU, New York, 
June 28, 1964, in By Any Means Necessary, ed. George Breitman 
(New York: Pathfinder, 1970), pp. 53-54. 

5. Ibid., pp. 55-56. 

6. Answer to question at sp>eech November 23, 1964, in 
Malcolm X on Afro-American History, ed. George Breitman 
(New York: Pathfinder, 1970), p. 69. 

7. Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X , p. 181. 

8. Carmichaei and Hamilton, p. 44. 

9. Ibid., p. 55. 



10. Larry Neal, "The Black Arts Movement," in The Black 
Aesthetic, ed. Addison Gayle, Jr. (New York: Doubleday An- 
chor, 1972), p. 257. 

11. Ibid., p. 258. 

12. "The Artists' Statement," distributed at exhibit of 
Chicago muralists at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 
February 15-March 15, 1971. Redistributed by Public Art 
Workshop, Chicago. 

13. "Wall of Respect," fiowy, December 1967, p. 49. 

14. Report . . . on Civil Disorders, p. 39. 

15. Victor A. Soreli, Guide to Chicago Murals: Yesterday and 
Today (Chicago Council on Fine Arts, 1978), p. 32 f. 

16. Eva Cockcroft, John Weber, and James Cockcroft, To- 
ward a People's Art (New York: Dutton, 1977), p. 4. 

17. Ibid. 

18. Don L. Lee, Black Pride (Detroit: Broadside/Crummell 
Press, 1969). 

19. Gwendolyn Brooks, The World of Gwendolyn Brooks (New 
York: Harper and Row, 1967), p. 414 f. 

20. December issue. Arts and Society pictured the Wall of 
Respect on its cover with an accompanying article in Summer- 
Fall 1968, and Time included a large photo of it in its April 6, 
1970, issue. 

21. Report . . . on Civil Disorders, p. 107. 

22. Weber and Cockcrofts, p. 5. 

23. Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin, Detroit: I Do Mind 
Dying (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975), p. 135 f. 

24. Fine, p. 204. 

25. "SNAP Playground Dedicated," Boston Globe, Sep- 
tember 8, 1968. 

26. Thomas H. Shepard, "Exodus Building Hub Artists 
Canvas," unknown Boston newspaper. Summer, 1968. 

27. Jim McGmv/ , Renewal (Chicsigo), December, 1969, p. 2. 

28. Black Panther, May 31, 1969, p. 4. 

29. The Senate Intelligence Committee reported that the 
FBI directed 233 actions against the Panthers between 1969 
and 1971. In 1977 a $100 million suit was filed against the FBI, 
CIA, and other government agencies charging that they had 
been trying to destroy the party. By then the Panthers' com- 
munity service activities, voter registration, and campaign 
work for liberal Black candidates had made them respectable 
and important in Oakland mainstream politics. "Black Pan- 
thers: Now a Strong Political Force," San Francisco Examiner, 
July 3, 1977, p. 1 f. 

30. "The Biography of Huey Newton," Ramparts, October 
26, 1968, p. 24. 

31. For the Ponce Massacre, see Lincoln Bergman et. al., 
Puerto Rico: The Flame of Resistance, (San Francisco: People's 
Press), 1977, p. 58 ff. This mural anticipates a powerful one 
done by Mario Galan in 1971 in Chicago where Campos is 
placed at the center of the flag as a crucified martyr. 

32. Kathy Mulherin, "Chicanos turn to Brown Power," 
National Catholic Reporter, June 4, 1969. 

33. "Et Tu, Cesar," /» These Times, March 28, 1979, p. 12. 
Also, Jim Wood, "Illegal Aliens' Economic Ro\e," San Francisco 
Sunday Examiner & Chronicle, September 11, 1977, p. 12. 

34. Steiner, p. 293. 



35. Anita Brenner, Idols behind Altars (Boston: Beacon, 
1970), p. 149 ff. 

36. Mulherin. 

37. Steiner, p. 383 f. 

38. I Am Joaquin, 1967, p. 3. 

39. Rendon, p. 168. 

40. Ibid., p. 336 f. 

41. Steiner, p. 387 f. 

42. Ibid., pp. 95-110; Rendon, p. 166. 

43. Pensamientos: On Los Chicanes: A Cultural Revolution 
(Berkeley: California Book Co., 1969), p. 8. 

44. Steiner, p. 325. 

45. Ibid., p. 328. 

46. Ibid. 

47. Luis Valdez, "The Actos," Guerrilla Street Theater, ed. 
Henry Lxsnick (New York: Bard Books, Avon, 1973), p. 196. 

48. Steiner, p. 334. 



Invention (1967-69/70) 1 11 

49. Cf. Tim Drescher and Rupert Garcia: "Recent Raza 
Murals in the U.S.," Radical America, .March-April, 1978, pp. 
15, 19. 

50. Ibid., p. 29. n.5 

5 1 . Glenn Troelstrup, "Former Delinquent Paints His Way 
Out of Corner," Denver Post, April 23, 1977, p. 2. 

52. George Lane, "Lincoln Park Mural Is Designed To 
Educate, Stimulate," Denver Post, August 23, 1970, p. 29. 

53. "Columbus Park .Mural To Be Finished," September 
14, 1970, p. 3. 

54. Cockcroft, Weber, and Cockcroft, p. 224. 

55. Steiner, p. 115. 

56. Rendon, p. 216 ff. 

57. Says Shifra .M. Goldman, who has worked with local 
Chicano groups for many years, has written about murals, and 
teaches at Santa Ana College in California. 



3 



DEVELOPMENT (1969110-12) 



While the first three years of community murals had 
been devoted to their invention, during the next three 
their use was deepened and spread widely, and some 
professional artists decided to make them their vocation 
and organized muralist groups. Because the murals were 
conceived at first mainly as instruments to fight racism, 
they spread along racial lines — to nearby walls, to 
neighborhoods of the same ethnic groups elsewhere in a 
city, and to other cities where slides were shown or news 
photos were seen. .Media coverage during these first years 
was minimal however. But Black, Chicano, and Puerto 
Rican artists also learned from each other, and soon 
Asian-Americans began doing ethnic works. Murals 
came to grips with the danger of minorities being drawn 
into further racial violence. The necessity for community 
organizing and overcoming the self-destructive behavior 
that racism produced — rioting, gang war, and drugs — 
became important subject matters. Racism was met by 
a growing number of works reaffirming ethnic pride 
through depictions of historical and cultural heritage. 
Some murals stressed the need of minority f>eople for 
a new kind of education so that they could serve their 
communities. Also during this period the first murals 
appeared on the special concerns of ethnic women; 
only later would wall paintings be done by interracial 
groups on the issues that all women shared. 

New Responses to Racism in Boston and Chicago 

The shift away from confrontation to the importance 
of education and culture as more lasting means of com- 
bating racism and deprivation occurred most dramati- 



cally in the murals of Rickson and Chandler in Boston. 
While in 1968 they had cooperated on two militant walls, 
Rickson turned to the Black heritage in his surreal mural 
Africa Is the Beginning on the Roxbury YMCA in 1969. 
Here night draws back as if at the dawn of culture, and a 
pyramid — symbol of what the artist believed was the first 
civilization and also a Black culture — casts its shadow 
across the earth. This reflected a theory that was gaining 
credence among supporters of Black Power and that was 
based on scholarly research. It held that the world's first 
civilization was indeed Black because Egyptian culture 
was not merely African, but was derived from Black 
African sources. We shall turn to the details of this later, 
but for the moment it is sufficient to understand that the 
idea of the Black origin of Egyptian civilization accounts 
for Rickson and Eda's compositions and the plethora of 
Black King Tutankhamuns that were to appear in murals 
in the early seventies.' What is particularly impressive 
about Rickson's mural is its success in adopting the style 
of surrealism, which is notorious for its esoteric charac- 
ter, and making a statement that is legible to the unin- 
structed viewer and at the same time elegant in its 
simplicity. 

Dana Chandler likewise emphasized the liberating 
power of education in his 1971 mural Knowledge Is Power: 
Stay in School next to the Dudley elevated station in 
Roxbury. But it is distinctly Black education, and in this 
respect it does not depart from the theme of the earliest 
murals like the Wall of Respect in Chicago that celebrated 
Black cultural and social leaders. However, it is a shift of 
emphasis from the mural calling for community self- 
defense that he had done with Rickson three years ear- 



78 



Development (1969170-72) I 79 




Gary Rickson: Africa Is the Beginning, 1969, VMCA, 
Roxbury, Boston. (Photo Institute of Contemporary Art) 



Dana Chandler (Summerthing): Knowledge Is Power: 
Stay in School, 1971, Roxbury, Boston. 




»Ak-.i^ 



Her. Ihe mural shows Black people, books in hand, 
breaking out of a white egg that has confined them. The 
egg is shattered by fire that comes from the mouths of 
Dr. King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers at one side and 
the hand of a multieyed African ancestor figure who 
hovers over a young man of today at the other. 

The problem of violence against Black people and how 
to deal with it remained a major concern of muralists, 
particularly in Chicago. The police killing of Panther 
leader Fred Hampton there in 1969 prompted a poem to 
him on the mural .Mitchell Caton did in an alley of 
Chicago's South Side the following year where other 



murders had occurred. The image shows a huge silver 
pistol that penetrates the bodies of two Black men with 
their hands raised in terror. The ribbons of color of the 
pistol's handle and smoke were intended to recall Africa, 
Caton says, describing the scene as "up against the wall, 
mutha fucka." Below are a pair of black dice and a very 
white skull with a peace sign on its forehead. The mural 
was titled Ripoff and in 1974 was repainted and extended 
down the alley. 

In 1970 William Walker also was grappling with the 
problem of racial violence. He had already secured a wall 
just down the street from the Cabrini Green housing 



80 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Mitchell Caton (CMG): Rip-Off, 1970, rene^u:ed and 
extended as Universal Alley, 1974, South Side, Chicago. 



project when two police officers were shot there and the 
authorities in response besieged the neighborhood. When 
Wallier could get on with the mural, he painted Peace and 
Salvation, Wall of Understanding. Although he did the 
painting himself, he was aided by a residents group that 
sponsored the work, gang members and a local priest 
who helped raise the scaffolding as well as the regular 
watchers who talked about the imagery with him and 
kept an eye on the materials that he could leave out 
during the two months that he painted there. ^ The 
four-story-high work on the side of a tenement shows at 
ground level a march of Black leaders, including Malcolm 
and King, together with a column of Panthers and other 
local Black organizations moving forward out of the wall 
toward you. As at Saint Bernard's Church in Detroit in 
1968, Walker was looking to such concerted nonviolent 
demonstrations as the means to meet racism. But what is 
new about this mural is the way he attempts to raise the 
consciousness of viewers. That is what the title and most 
of the upper imagery are about. At Detroit he and Eda 



had dwelt on the analogy with the biblical Exodus. Here 
Walker is more direct. A giant hand issues from the 
marchers upward to the alternatives that lie before them. 
The first is the confrontation of a rank of angry Black 
faces and White figures with helmets, hoods and a swas- 
tika, each group accusing the other. Slightly behind is a 
standoff between an armed police officer and a Panther 
and, just above them, the corpses of John Kennedy and 
King. Meanwhile pistols are pointed at each other from 
surrounding brick walls, which reflects what was hap- 
pening locally and nationally. But the possibility of a 
solution is indicated by another large hand that reaches 
down from a globe suggesting both a light bulb and the 
world, inside of which people of the different races join 
together beneath a dove. The mural seems to call for 
solidarity among Black people like that expressed by the 
marchers at the bottom but with their minds fixed on 
peace. What is especially imaginative is the manner in 
which Walker expresses the understanding he wants to 
encourage. It occupies five-sixths of the wall and is like 
an enormous vision or a comic-strip balloon. Moreover, 
to convey his effects Walker ingeniously u.sed the actual 
brick surface, heightening and darkening sections to 
suggest many embattled buildings and painting simu- 
lated posters on them. 



Development (1969/70-72) I 81 




William Walker (CMG): Peace and Salvation: Wall of 
Understanding, 1970, near Cabrini Green, Chicago. 



82 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

Kugene Eda also dealt with the issue of strategies 
against racism the same year in Chicago, and he used a 
method Hke Walker's to project the stages of his thinking. 
These were the most advanced methods yet that the new 
moralists had devised to give visual expression to a train 
of thought. At the bottom of his Wall of Meditation a 
figure with his forehead in his hands considers the alter- 
natives exhibited about him: a Molotov cocktail and hand 
grenade or a book; and above them a portrait of Malcolm 
pointing to a soldier of the Black Panthers at one side, 
and at the other. King, gesturing to ancient Egyptians 
building their culture. Eda points out that the two lead- 
ers were very close in their ideas toward the end of their 
lives: King had become more militant and Malcolm more 
tolerant of Whites who worked to end racism. Eda says 
he intended to show both of them crucified and w anted 
viewers to think about why this had happened. In the 
mural the movement upward is dialectical: the incoher- 
ent violence of bombing is superseded by the restrained 
but armed self-defense by the Panthers, which is shown 
as not inconsistent with the effort to build Black culture 
and soul. Similarly, in Eda's Wall of Dignity in Detroit, 
warriors were placed on a par with culture. Moreover, 
Eda's analysis was similar to the Panthers' opposition to 
unorganized rioting and their support of the bearing of 
unconcealed weapons to ward off attack. 

In his paintings on the stairwell doors of Malcolm X 
College in Chicago in 1971 and 1972 Eda combined 
images of militancy and culture. On one door he created 



a figure that was part West African mask and part 
modern man with a raised fist. On other doors he pre- 
sented images of Egyptian scholars, priests, artists, and 
craftsmen, implying the education that was necessary for 
Black people to match and excel their ancient achieve- 
ments. In giving these figures an elegance borrowed from 
ancient wall painting and sculpture, Eda seemed to point 
to a skill and refinement he hoped students could learn. 
The murals contributed to the solemn ambience of the 
all-Black community college, which seemed appropri- 
ately housed in an elegant Bauhaus-style structure of 
black beams and tinted glass, designed by C. F. .Murphy 
Associates, over which a red, black, and green flag 
waved. Under the guidance of President Charles Hearst, 
Black art flourished at the college with students doing 
murals along the corridors and remnants of the Wall of 
Respect and Wall of Truth mounted outside. Some of 
Malvina Hoffman's sculpture of Africans was also in- 
stalled. Eda says he wanted to be a "people's artist" and 
took a salary cut to be able to paint at the college for a 
year and a half. In 1971 he also did a large mural at 
Howard University in Washington, D.C. 

The achievements and struggles of women have been a 
persistent theme from the earliest murals. The portraits 
of Gwendolyn Brooks, Sarah Vaughan, and Nina 
Simone had appeared among the other faces of Black 
leaders and artists on the Wall of Respect in 1967. 
Seventeen-year-old Vanita Gre^n adopted the portrait 
genre when she did her Black Women on an old garage 




Eugene Eda (CMG): Wall of Meditation, 1970, North 
Side, Chicago. 



Development (1969/70-72) I 83 




Eugene Eda: Staircase door murals, 1971-72, Malcolm X 
College, Chicago. 



Eugene Eda: Staircase door murals, Malcolm X College. 




1 



84 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Vanita Green: Black Women or Racism, 1970, 
Cabrini Green, Chicago. (© Rosenthal Art Slides) 



wall in Chicago in 1970, close to where William Walker 
was working on Peace and Salvation. She painted the faces 
and names of Angela Davis, Mary Bethune, Harriet 
Tubman, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone — and Aunt 
Jemima. Shortly afterwards it was splattered with white 
paint. It was speculated that it may have been a White 
person who defaced the portraits, or perhaps a Black man 
with strong sexist views who resented the honoring of the 
women of his race. Whatever the truth of the matter, no 



Don Mcllvaine: Black Man's Dilemma, 1970, 
Chicago. 



attempt was made to remove the white splashes, and the 
portraits were left with the drippings as a sort of monu- 
ment to the struggle for racial and sexual liberation. 
Green retitled her work Racism, and a photograph of the 
wall was chosen for the cover of the first book on the 
mural movement. Cry for Justice. 

The violence that Black people suffered and inflicted 
in response on themselves absorbed Don Mcllvaine in a 
mural he did on a brick wall facing a Chicago alley and 
empty lot in 1970. He called it Black Man's Dilemma and 
showed a figure stabbed in the heart with the Bill of 
Rights while the American flag goes up in flames. In 
despair his people become victims of a hooded white 
skeleton with a syringe, and a naked couple reach 




joylessly toward each other — an indictment, Mcllvaine 
says, of prostitution. Meanwhile others look with hope 
toward a winged angel who points to an African effigy, 
suggesting their ancient culture, which the artist says he 
believed Blacks needed to turn to in their search for 
meaning and unity. The previous year Mcllvaine had 
painted Into the Mainstream, depicting strong black faces 
coming out of the wall just outside an art gallery he 
operated. And in 1971 in an alley near Black Man's 
Dilemma, he filled another wall with defiant masked 
Africans.'* 

The imposition of a standardized mass culture based 
only on White experience was being increasingly under- 
stood as a kind of violence by students and a few 
educators at this time. In 1971 Marie Burton, who had 
studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and was coor- 
dinator of the art department and Street Arts Program at 
Saint Mary's Center for Learning, worked with students 
on a two-story mural at the center. They borrowed kids' 
perennial joke about "Bored of Education" and breathed 



Marie Burton: Bored of Education, 1971, St. Mary's 
Center for Learning, Chicago. (© Public Art Workshop) 



Development (1969/70-72) I 85 

new meaning into it. Taking it as their title, they de- 
picted the mouth of a Black person driven by chains and 
a clock. From the mouth pours forth an assembly line of 
dead or sleeping white faces with American flags as 
mortar boards (or shrouds). These seem to be the irrele- 
vant words and ideas that the Third World students felt 
they were compelled to repeat, and they are shown 
trying to stop the machinery. The student painters 
A'orked in the classroom on the large panels that were 
then lifted into place by a mobile tower truck of the fire 
department. In later years Burton went on to .Milwaukee, 
where she directed other murals such as the Wall of Life 
and Celebration of Cultures in 1974 and 1975.^ 

The different approaches to the theme of racism itself 
and particularly the problem of violence represented by 
the Chicago and Boston murals done by Black artists and 
community people only begin to suggest the variety of 
opinion within the Black community during the years of 
disappointed hopes, rioting, and organizing to deal with 
them. Thus it is understandable why murals frequently 
called for solidarity, such as Unity of the People in 
Chicago, done in 1970 by Black youths guided by .Mark 
Rogovin, a professional artist, who like .Marie Burton and 




86 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

John Wcbcr was one of the first Whites to share his 
know-how w ith ghetto people. It ,showed Dr. King and 
other Black leaders joining together with community 
people in a march into the future. Rogovin himself had 
studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and worked 
in 1967 and 1968 with a team of artists directed by 
Siqueiros in C^uernavaca on The March of Humanity. Back 
in the States in 1969, Rogovin directed his first mural 
with inner-city teenagers in Saratoga Springs, New 
York. 

One of the masterpieces of the mural movement is 
Mitchell Caton's Nation Time. Painted on the side of a 
Chicago mortuary in 1971, the work begins with a 
woman's face that crowds the top and bottom of the 
one-story wall and cries out "Home," in block capitals 
decorated w ith stars and stripes but in the colors of the 
Black liberation flag and complementaries of Old Glory. 
.Much of the rest of the mural shows scenes of devastation 
and death — the experience of Black people in their 
nationwide funeral home. A great fist of Uncle Sam 
emits lightning as wrecking equipment destroys a 
neighborhood and drops Black people from its jaw s w hile 
skyscrapers seem to be tumbling over on others. .Mean- 
while a haggard w oman bends over children encouraging 
them as they do their lessons. At the far side a younger 
woman w ith a "natural" and wearing an African gow n 
with great dignity contemplates the desolation and im- 
plies the alternative of Black Pride. The whole mural is 
broken up like a patchwork of African textile patterns, 
but they are so disjointed that it takes time to make out 
the forms, w hich suggest the violent shattering of Black 
people's experience. The color is bright but, because it 
was painted on a w all that had been tarred for w eather- 
proofing, the tones are somber, even sour.® But the final 
impact of Nation Time is of a very moving affirmation of 
the strength of Black people to re-create their own cul- 
ture. 

John Weber's Wall of Choices oi 1970 represents another 
approach to the problem of racial violence. It w as done 
on the wall of the Christopher Settlement House on 
Chicago's North Side and faces a children's playground. 
This was a predominantly White working-class 
neighborhood, and, according to Weber, the anxiety of 
local people about trouble between the races only gradu- 
ally emerged during his discussions with them about 
doing a mural. Together artist and residents agreed that 
this concern required public airing.^ The need for local 
people to decide openly the direction they w ere to go is 
expressed by the choices the mural offers. It depicts a 
number of .scenes that project dramatically from the wall. 
In one, daggers and guns held in w hite and dark-skinned 
hands attack each other. In the next, a dark and a white 
hand grip each other in a radical handshake beneath 
portraits of John Brow n and Frederick Douglass, both 
identified as "Freedom Fighters." Nearby, White and 
Brown mothers nestle their children. Another scene 
surrounds a real window with painted flames. And next 



to it women of different races watch a dove above them 
with longing. Yet another scene presents a pair of mana- 
cled hands with the caption "Free All Political Pris- 
oners." The final image shows factory chimneys 
smoking — a symbol in those days of full employment. 
An additional caption asserts "We can change the 
World." The images are clear, bold and simple. Taken 
together they leave no doubt about the message. The 
mural is noteworthy as one of the first in a White 
neighborhood to deal with the subject of racism. Stylisti- 
cally it is also interesting as a further development of 
Weber's chunky figures derived from the Cubist classi- 
cism of Leger. The advantages he gained by this style 
were clarity and the power of concision. 

Fhis series of Boston and Chicago murals concerned 
with overcoming violence illustrates how individual 
painters used w all paintings to help people think through 
the strategies of change. Rickson and Chandler's Boston 
murals went through a development from armed self- 
defense to education as means to liberation. The Chicago 
paintings openly set forth alternatives within each work. 
In general these murals of struggle were not only calls to 
action, but also efforts to move people to serious thought. 
With the painting of fi/ac^ Low in 1971 William Walker 
turned from the theme of grass-roots political activism 
that he had pursued in his early murals to life in the 
community itself. Explicit reference to racism and the 
battle against it has disappeared; and it is the interrela- 
tions of the generations of local people that are celebrated 
in one of the most moving and beautifully executed 
murals of the whole movement. The mural was done on a 
wall facing a playground at Cabrini Green public hous- 
ing not far from the Peace and Salvation Walker had done a 
year before. Here the two- and three-story gray brick 
apartment houses look like slave quarters. The painting 
simply shows children and adults bending over a checker- 
board, preparing for a ball game, listening to old 
timers' yarns, reading, and goofing around. The strong 
sense of mutual involvement and concern is achieved 
partly by the gestures of the old and young reaching out 
to each other and their leaning over to listen and watch. 
The feeling of harmony is also generated by the blue 
tonality and the repetition of circles and curves that 
describe the heads and shoulders of the figures. In spite 
of all the bustle in this crowd of about sixty persons, 
there is a quiet orderliness created by a generalizing of 
forms and the relating of everything to the surface by the 
overlapping figures that are all presented in profile or 
frontal views. In the foreground also parallel to the 
surface run some low benches and a fence that complete 
the sense of a self-contained and self-fulfilling world. The 
mural is a remarkable affirmation of the community of 
the generations in spite of their hardships. In fact the idea 
of hardship is entirely absent from the painting and is 
replaced by a scene of simple but profound dignity. The 
conception presented of Black life is not the racist 
stereotype of happy mindlessness. There is a sobriety as 




Development (1969/70-72) I 87 



Mitchell Caton (CMG): Nation Time (detail), 1971, 
South Side, Chicago. 



John Weber (CMC): Wall of Choices, 1970, Morth 
Side, Chicago. 




88 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




William Walker (CMG): Black Love, 1971, Opportuni- 
ties Industrial Center, Cabrini Green, Chicago. 



well as warmth that the images project. While earUer 
Walls of Respect had sought to build Black self- 
confidence by portraits of their leaders and achievers, 
Black Love reminded local residents of another kind of 
achievement — the common life that they built together. 

Early Organizing in Chicago 

The call for interracial cooperation that Walker and 
Weber were projecting from their walls was matched by 
their efforts at organizing muralists. In 1970 they wrote 
and received partial funding for a proposal for 
community-based murals. Eda joined them, and each did 
his own wall that summer. They had wanted to paint 
with community assistants, but funds were insufficient. 
As a result of their work, they were invited by the 
.Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago to do portable 
murals in public at the gallery which would later be 
placed in neighborhoods. With the help of Rogovin and 
Caton the artist-in-action show was held from February 
to March 1971. Afterwards Eda went his own way and 
Rogovin began organizing the Public Art Workshop that 
opened on the West Side in 1972. Meanwhile, in the 
summer of 1971, Caton, Walker and Weber began 
meeting with a view to shaping a permanent artists' 



collective that was later called the Chicago Mural Group. 
They did nine murals and were joined that year by Ray 
Patlan and in 1972 by Caryl Yasko, Astrid Fuller, Jim 
Yanagisawa, and Santi Isrowuthakul. Together they 
were making a fundamental change in 'what it was to be 
an artist in the United States, although some had to 
maintain outside jobs to survive and some continued to 
do their private art for exhibition and sale. Their inten- 
tion was not to meet a temporary need for political 
painting but to make a commitment that was often more 
than full-time to an art that gave people who had no 
public voice, people of the lower middle and working 
classes, the chance to come together to examine and give 
public expression to their ideas about their community as 
a means to empowering it. Their intention was more 
than cultural, it was "consciously political," Weber 
says.* It was "to serve as an active organizing role ... to 
win people over, to change consciousness, to change how 
people saw themselves as well as . . . changing their view 
of art and artists." These aims were shared by many 
other muralists around the country, some of whom were 
able, like the CMG and the PAW, to build sustaining 
organizations. 



his family into the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago, 
which was then occupied mainly by residents of Lithua- 
nian descent, that one night a torchlight procession of 
local people came to his house. He was delighted at the 
welcome but quickly learned that it was just the opposite: 
the neighborhood had come to demand that the Patlans 
get out. But they stayed, and Ray grew up there. As 
older residents departed and more Chicanos came, Pilsen 
became a barrio. Since he was ten, Ray went to Mexico 
every year, initially to visit relatives, but he became 
absorbed with art and in 1966 worked on a fresco mural 
under the direction of Siqueiros. The following years he 
was in Vietnam and in 1967 and 68 painted a Wall of 
Brotherhood in the chapel of Camp Bearat near Saigon. 
After his return from overseas he was hired as art direc- 
tor for young people at the old Pilsen settlement house 
that had now become Casa Aztlan and bustled with three 
generations of Chicanos. It was the home of the 
Neighborhood Service Organization, which by the early 
1970s had created a free health center, a well-baby clinic, 
and a day-care facility. It had also wrested a large 
playground and a new high school from downtown. And 
local people were homesteading old houses in the barrio 
that they secured from the government for little and with 
further funding were refurbishing, using their own skills. 
In 1970 Patlan, who was studying at the Art Institute 
and sharing a studio with Mario Castillo who had done 
the first murals in the Pilsen barrio, began painting the 
auditorium of Casa Aztlan. The building's walls were 
studded with plaques with the names of those who had 
contributed to the old Howell Settlement House since 
1905 when it was founded by Jane Addams, but the only 
records of its present users were graffiti. Patlan's inten- 
tion was to remind them of their heritage. He began in 
the area behind the stage with his own father as a young 
man springing from maiz and breaking out of chains 
attached to machinery. Patlan says that he wanted to 
express how what is often described as progress impris- 
ons people. In a series of stop-photography images be- 
ginning with his crucifixion and clenched fists, the young 
worker frees himself and extends his hands towards 
viewers as if he were showing and offering us what he has 
achieved. The imagery clearly alludes to the New De- 
mocracy of Siqueiros in which a bare-chested woman 
breaks out of the Mexican earth like an erupting volcano 
and liberates herself. Patlan then turned to painting the 
walls on either side with panels representing Raza history 
from the coming of the Spanish to Mexico through the 
revolutionary eras to the current struggles of Chicanos. 
He borrowed from Siqueiros in a scene of the torture of 
Cuauhtemoc, the last of the Aztec kings, who refused to 
disclose the site of his people's treasure to the Spanish. 
Tense naked figures press against their confinement in 
other panels, and pre-Columbian patterns that are usu- 
ally rectilinear swell with organic energy. "Corky" 
Gonzales of the Crusade for Justice and a rank of Brown 
Berets are shown with Reies Tijerina, who is depicted 



Development (1969/70-72) I 89 

behind bars because, Patlan says, he did not know what 
he looked like. In another panel the image of Cesar 
Chavez is presented along with industrial workers. When 
completed, the murals enveloped the auditorium, the 
Sala de la Raza, and Patlan titled the ensemble From My 
Father and Yours. The painting, which he did entirely by 
himself and w hich took a year to complete, he says was 
an education for him. While sometimes borrowing from 
the composition of Siqueiros, he loaded his brush and 
built up surfaces with broad vehement strokes reminis- 
cent of Orozco, which he acknowledges. Patlan w as one 
of the few community muralists to work in a "painterly" 
manner, and he continued to use it powerfully with the 
naked figures struggling up the stairwell at Casa Aztlan 
and in his later work. 

Under the guidance of Patlan barrio young people 
between 1971 and 1972 spread murals from the inside of 
Casa Aztlan out the main entrance and across the outside 
brick of the first two floors of the building. Around the 
doorway they painted a welcoming .Mexican hombre and 
mujer and a'.mg the exterior, pre-Columbian masks and 
architectural patterns. They called their work Hay Cul- 
tura en Nuestra Communidad (There Is Culture in Our 
Community). Also in 1971 Patlan and his young people 
began Reformay Libertad on the front of a local wcxxlwork 
factory, reworking and extending it three years later. 
The mural commemorates the indio heritage of maiz, 
pyramids, ceremonial masks and brightly painted mean- 
ders. But then it offers a portrait of Hidalgo and Juarez 
and the motto which connects past struggles for inde- 
pendence and social justice to today's. 

As elsewhere gang violence in Pilsen was one of the 
products of racism. Cut off from jobs and an education 
that could prepare them for promising employment and 
respected their culture, the young took their frustrations 
out on each other and the community. And this was 
inflamed when the gangs were of different ethnic groups, 
as here where Chicano and Puerto Rican gangs were at 
each other's throats. But Patlan was able to bring them 
together with the prospect of doing a mural, and this 
provided the chance to get them to think about the 
similarities of their two peoples, particularly their strug- 
gles for social change, and its relation to them. The result 
was Mural de la Raza, a work that was in imagery very 
simple, but a complex achievement. It shows Puerto 
Rican revolutionary leaders — Betances, Albizu, and 
Hostos on the one hand and the Mexican — Zapata, 
Juarez, and Villa on the other — superimposed on large 
maps and flags of their lands. Elsewhere in the barrio, a 
teenage gang painted the indictment of the police for 
condoning and actually introducing guns and drugs into 
the barrio, which was described in the introduction. 

In 1972 Patlan worked with a group of young people 
on another painting that utilized monumental portraits of 
leaders, this time Cesar Chavez along with Juarez, 
Zapata, and Villa. The choice was significant, for all 
were leaders of the downtrodden of La Raza: Juarez, the 



Ray Patldii: From M\ l-ather and Yours (partial 
viezv), 1970, Casa Aztldn, Pilsen, Chicago. (Photo 
Harold Allen) 




From My Father and Yours (partial view) 
Harold Allen) 



Local youth directed by Ray Patldn: Hay Cultura en 
Nuestra (>)munidad, 1971-73, Casa Aztldn, Pilsen, 
Chicago. 



Development (1969170-72) I 91 




Local youth directed by Ray Patldn: Reforma v Liber- 
tad, 1971 and 1974, Pilsen, Chicago. 



Local Chicane and Puerto Rican gangs assisted by Ray 
Patldn: Mural de la Raza, 1971, Pilsen, Chicago. 




92 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Local youth directed by Ray Patldn: La Causa, 1972, 
Pilsen, Chicago. 



nineteenth-century land reformer who became Mexico's 
first indio president; Zapata and Villa, the twentieth- 
century revolutionary fighters for tierra y libertad. It was 
the landless who had come to Chicago seeking not only 
work but a home and a community. Although the faces 
of leaders may have been suggested by Black Walls of 
Respect, there was an independent tradition of such 
mural portraits in Mexico that they were more closely 
related to. Below the portraits the mural team painted a 
bound figure with the three faces of La Raza — indio, 
Spanish, and mestizo — each of which expresses anguish as 
their common body tries to lift itself from a skeleton 
covered by the stars and stripes. An actual window on 
the field of stars is painted with bars. The mural seems to 
climax at the left with a horseman in the garb of a campesino 
follower of Zapata or Villa throwing back his head and 
arms in a cry of exultation — el grito — which comes from 
him as the words, Im Causa — the liberation of farm- 
workers and residents of the urban barrios. 

.Murals were part of the effort of the Pilsen barrio to 
overcome its deprivation. Families came out to watch the 
painting and to share in it. These people who had been 
arriving from Mexico and the Southwest during the past 
twenty years could strengthen their sense of community 
by refreshing their knowledge of a common past and 
talking about its relevance to their present struggles. And 
elders could look with satisfaction at the talent of their 
youngsters being drawn out and their taking pride in 
their heritage. 

Early Puerto Rican Murals 

As we saw, there was a tradition of Puerto Rican 
outdoor community wall painting that predates the use of 
murals to express special social and political messages. 
These early works were backdrops for fiestas as well as 
decorations of the neighborhood to remind people of 
their homeland. But the example of Black and Chicano 
murals in the late sixties seems to have encouraged the 
extending of these efforts to politically activist composi- 



tions. The Puerto Rican nationalist mural at Merritt 
College in Oakland followed quickly on the first work 
done there in 1969, Leaders and Martyrs, which was a 
product of the "Free Huey" agitation. Comparable 
Puerto Rican works were soon done elsewhere. 

While small groups of Puertoriqueiios came to the 
mainland since annexation in 1899, the principal wave 
began in 1941, forced by poverty at home and attracted 
by the economic recovery that World War II brought to 
the continental United States. After the war they came in 
even larger numbers in spite of, or because of, the 
economic development strategy of North American 
business, which could escape taxes and strong labor 
organization on the island, where wages were one-third 
to one-half what they were on the continent.* While 
runaway industry that relocated in Puerto Rico could 
reap profits three and four times those they earned on the 
mainland, unemployment on the island increased from 
1950 to 1975, when it was 40 percent in the cities and 
as high as 95 percent in the countryside. Meanwhile the 
migration to the mainland made for 1.7 million Puerto 
Ricans there in 1970, the majority remaining in New 
York, their port of entry.'" Most of those who found 
work had to be satisfied with the lowest-paying, menial 
jobs. In 1975 21 percent of Puerto Rican workers 
in New York were unemployed, nearly two and one- 
half times the city rate. When those who had given 
up looking for jobs were counted, more like 50 percent 
were out of work. A third of all Puerto Ricans on the 
mainland lived below the poverty level as against 11.3 
percent of all U.S. families, and a fourth were on welfare 
compared to 5 percent of Americans as a whole. What 
statistics described impersonally was borne out by drug 
addiction, street crime, anger, and despair. As Pedro 
Pietri, who lived in New York, put it in "Broken English 
Dream," 

To the united states we came 

to learn how to misspell our name 

to lose the definition of pride 

to have misfortune on our side 

to live where rats and roaches roam 

and sing a house is not a home 



to be trained to turn on television sets 

to dream about jobs you never get 

to fill out welfare applications 

to graduate from school without an education 

to be drafted distorted and destroyed 

to work fulltime and still be unemployed 

to wait for income tax returns 

and stay drunk and lose concern 

for the heart and soul of our race 

and the weather that produces our face. 

One response to their worsening condition was for 
Puerto Ricans on the mainland to organize. It was the 
revolt of a street gang against police brutality on the 
Northwest Side of Chicago in 1966 that was the begm- 
ning of Puerto Rican activism across the country which 
protested discrimination not only in civil rights but also 
in employment, housing, and education.'^ There were 
draft resistance, prison revohs, and community self-help 
undertakings. By 1968 the Chicago gang that had 
touched this off had become the Young Lords Organiza- 
tion which linked up with a New York group the fol- 
lowing year that formed the Young Lords Party. With 
the example of the Black Panthers and the Cuban Revo- 
lution, the YLP called for self-determination of Puerto 
Ricans on their island and on the mainland, "community 
control of our institutions," and "true education of our 
Afro-Indio culture and Spanish language." To them it 
seemed that this required a socialist society, armed self- 
defense, and struggle.'* They piled up uncollected gar- 
bage in the streets of New York blocking traffic and 
compelling the authorities to provide service in their 
neighborhoods. They surveyed tenements to identify 
poisonous lead paint on walls. They commandeered a 
church and distributed free food, blankets, and clothing 
until evicted by the police, and they opened a drug 
rehabilitation center in the South Bronx. It was the face 
of Che Guevara that .Mark Rogovin painted on a mural 
for their national headquarters in Chicago. Police repres- 
sion and their own divisions finally destroyed them in 
New York, though the Chicago group hung on longer. 
However, some of their aims and efforts were shared by 
other organizations. 

One was the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party that had 
been formed on the island in 1922 and had supported all 
means including guerrilla warfare to achieve indepen- 
dence. >'• Under the leadership of Harvard-educated Don 
Pedro Albizu Campos during the thirties, the party 
pressed for workers' legitimate share in foreign business 
profits, taxation of nonresident firms, and an end to 
absentee landlordism and dependence on foreign loans. 
When the chief of police was assassinated in 1936, A [jizu 
and many rebels were imprisoned. Freed in 1947, Albizu 
again organized an insurrection, which broke out in 
1950 '5 An attempt was made on the life of President 
Truman, but both failed, and Albizu was returned to 
prison and released in 1965 mortally ill, three weeks 
before his death. 



Development (1969/70-72) I 93 
Meanwhile in 1952 Puertoriquenos were granted a 
referendum and voted for a commonwealth over their 
current colonial status. Independence was not on the 
ballot. '•* In 1954 four Nationalists, Lolita Lebron, Rafael 
.Miranda, Andres Cordero, and Irvin Flores, entered the 
U.S. Capitol and from the visitors' gallery shot and 
wounded five Congressmen while Lebron unfurled a flag 
and called for the independence of Puerto Rico. The four 
were arrested and imprisoned. Claiming that they were 
fighting for the liberation of their people and should have 
been tried before a world court, Lebron and her com- 
panions after a quarter century of incarceration were to 
become in the eyes of many the longest held political 
prisoners in the Western Hemisphere. They were finally 
released by President Carter in 1979. 

Their cause was summed up in the Crucifixion of Don 
Pedro Albizu Campos, which Mario Galan and the Puerto 
Rican Art Association painted on a Chicago wall in 197 1 . 
In the mural he hangs from a cross in a suit and tie but 
with bare feet, and calmly awaits the spear thrust of 
Muiioz Marin, the governor of the island who earlier had 
revoked his pardon. On the two lateral crosses hang 
Lolita Lebron and Rafael Miranda in the black and white 
of mourning, which were also the colors of the 
Nationalists' uniform.'' Across the top is a series of 
portraits of other liberation leaders. Coinciding with the 
cross of the Nationalist flag that fills the background, 
Don Pedro's slim body looks at once terribly vulnerable 
but also as compelling as a Byzantine Christ. This is 
achieved by presenting the revolutionary leader in the 
formal manner of a Puerto Rican santos, a folk image 
customarily of a saint or Christ, a tradition that ulti- 
mately derives from Mediterranean Christian art. Don 
Pedro in fact seems not so much a victim as affirmatively 
spreading his arms to welcome beholders to the cause he 

died for. • . • 

After completing this work Galan painted in the 
courtyard of the Puerto Rican Congress on North Ave- 
nue and was to do some nineteen murals up to 1979, 
when he was working on a B.A. in art education at the 
Art Institute and surviving by sign painting. 

John Weber throughout most of the seventies also 
worked with Puerto Rican residents in Chicago on mu- 
rals that called for cooperation with other ethnic groups 
to fight racism, gang violence, drugs, and the exploita- 
tion of workers.'* 



Urban Renewal 

During this second stage of the development of com- 
munity murals artists and communities began to con- 
centrate on particular aspects of discrimination, such as 
gang violence, drugs, and urban renewal. While the 
Chicago Wall of Respect was painted in protest to the 
condemnation of a Black neighborhood, its imagery did 
not bear directly on this. It was only about 1970 that 



94 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

murals began to turn directly to this theme, and then it 
became a prevailing one throughout the country. 

Urban renewal was a government-coordinated and 
subsidized means of "upgrading" aging districts, usually 
in the innercity, and making way for more profitable 
upper-income high rises, new office towers, trade and 
convention centers, expanding educational and medical 
institutions, facilities for sports and high culture, as well 
as the freeways and bridges to connect them with new 
suburbs. It was a key strategy of the transformation of 
cities during the sixties and seventies from manufactur- 
ing centers to hubs of corporate administration, the 
services and entertainment, while factories moved to the 
suburbs for more space and lower taxes. '^ The process 
was carried out under the supervision of a redevelopment 
authority appointed by the mayor. It used the city's right 
to condemn property, bought it w ith federal money, had 
it cleared and sold it to private developers. In the course 
of this little consideration w as given for the breaking up 
of neighborhoods, small businesses and the ties of com- 
munity. Nor was there the possibility to relocate people 
at rents they could afford. .More often they were left to 
fend for themselves and crowd into other aging buildings 
that landlords could subdivide, neglect, and raise rents 
for, w ith the expectation that their properties would soon 
be purchased by the development authority. The dein- 
dustrializing of the cities also left increasing numbers of 
working people with obsolete skills and the untrained 
young without jobs, not only because of new technology 



but also because many especially among the minorities 
did not have access to education or to the high-priced and 
segregated suburbs near the new industry. Unemploy- 
ment in turn contributed to the ghettoizing of their 
neighborhoods and a recurring vicious circle. 

One of the first murals specifically to protest urban 
renewal was Protect the People's Homes, painted in 1970 by 
Mark Rogovin and local assistants. Done on a two-story 
wall in a Chicago neighborhood of Puerto Ricans and 
Appalachian Whites, it showed a monumental dark- 
skinned man fending off a wrecking crane with one arm 
as he threw the other around neighborhood houses to 
save them. Meanwhile a White woman lurched forward 
to prevent the jaws of the crane from closing on other 
houses over which luxury high rises already loomed. The 
simplicity of the design and the rendering of everything 
in unmodeled, flat, angular forms that hold to the surface 
of the wall in spite of their seeming to burst out of it 
made for an extraordinarily bold composition that con- 
veyed the urgent need for concerted action by people of 
different races if they were not to become refugees. 
However, the mural itself was destroyed when the 
building changed ownership. 

One way to reshape your living space was to paint its 
walls, and members of other ethnic groups were begin- 
ning to reaffirm their identity at this time. In 197 1 Sachio 
Yamashita swamped a three-story apartment building 
with a wave borrowed from the nineteenth-century 
Japanese woodcuts of Hiroshige. His ambitions were 




Mark Rogovin, director, and local youth: Protect the 
People's Homes, 1970, destroyed. North Side, Chicago. 
(© Public Art Worbhop) 



Development (1969/70-72) I 95 




Sachio Yamashila 
Chicago. 



even grander, and he announced that he wanted to paint 
all the runways and buildings of O'Hare Airport, the 
largest in the world. ^^ 

Growth Cut Short in Boston 

As the murals of Chicago's Pilsen barrio illustrate what 
happens when local people try to take control of their 
own development, including their housing, so in Bos- 
ton's North End wall paintings are to be seen on its main 
street and in its park, schoolyards, and apartment-house 
courts. There they mark the vitality of the Italian 
working-class and shopkeeping district and its success in 
having fended off the ravages of redevelopment. Origi- 
nally condemned for renewal, by 1959 it was renewing 
itself by strong local organizing, putting together its 
small savings, and depending on the "sweat equity" of its 
own skilled craftsmen.^' However, this was a commu- 
nity that did not suffer the burden of racism and had 
modest resources. Its murals in the early 1970s were 
often pastoral scenes of fields, flowers, and animals, 
well-behaved graffiti arrangements, or more "profes- 
sional" supergraphics in contrast to the painting in Black 
neighborhoods. 

The militant and later more culturally oriented murals 



of Gary Rickson and Dana Chandler in the late sixties 
were only some of the work that either protested racial 
injustice or affirmed racial pride. One of the most im- 
aginative and moving of these w as among the first wo- 
men's murals done in the country. It was painted in 1970 
on the side of a three-story brick apartment house in the 
South End by Sharon Dunn, a voung Black woman, 
who is said to have been pregnant at the time. Titled 
Maternity, it shows the ten-foot-high angular silhouettes 
of women who are pregnant or hold infants in their arms 
or stand proudly alongside a child. The paint has been 
laid on in flat, unmodeled color without detail; the 
women's flesh is simply black and their dresses plain 
bright colors. Above them are a band of stylized naked 
and X-rayed women with their breasts or wombs sym- 
bolically outlined in color. At the very top and bottom 
are decorative echoing bands of more abstract symbols, 
suggesting eyes, mouths, breasts, and vulvas. By leaving 
large areas of the brown brick unpainted, the artist 
alluded not only to skin color but also the hardship of 
motherhood in these tenements. 

Another powerful work was done in 1971 by James 
Brown on the two-story remnant of a wall that projected 
from a drug rehabilitation center in a deserted area of 
Roxbury laced by highways and apparently awaiting 
renewal. The mural shows a reclining child, almost the 
color of the brick, shooting himself up, but in the heart. 
It is its large simple forms, its absolute clarity and 



96 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




SJjuroii Uunii {Suminci thing). Maternity, 1970, South 
End, Boston. (Photo Institute of Contemporary Art) 



James Brown (Summerthing): The Third Nail, 1971, 
Roxbury, Boston. 




minimizing of means that make it compelling. Its title 
suggests crucifixion: The Third Nail. 

Meanwhile, the Chinese community in Boston had 
begun to take an interest in murals. In 1970 Dan Hueng 
and Bob Uyeda did a stylish semiabstraction of a Chinese 
junk on a structure of the Chinese Merchants Associa- 
tion, and Pietro Ferri painted a decorative dragon on the 
Chinese Christian Church. 



Development (1969/70-72) I 97 

Most of the murals in Boston continued to be spon- 
sored by Summerthing, which was not an organization of 
muralists or artists at all, but an agency of the Mayor's 
Office of Cultural Affairs that coordinated art projects 
for the disadvantaged in the inner city. By 1971 its staff 
had grown wary of socially conscious murals, and its 
support turned increasingly to chic abstractions and 
supergraphics. 




Dan Hueng and Bob Uyeda (Summerthing): Untitled, 
1970, Chinatown, Boston. 



98 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Local youth directed by Susan Shapiro-Kiok (City arts): 
Anti-Drug Abuse Mural, 1970, Alfred E. Smith 
public housing, Lower East Side, New York. 



New York 

Cityarts Workshop, says its founder and first director, 
Susan Shapiro-Kiok, began because she wanted to de- 
velop a creative arts program that was responsive to the 
desires of low-income residents of the Lower East Side, 
who were "discovering their unique ethnic identity and 
power."^^ She had worked as a pottery instructor in 
community arts projects in the area since 1962 and 
organized Cityarts in 1968 under the auspices of the New 
York City Department of Cultural Affairs. With two 
teenagers who had an interest in the arts and knew the 
neighborhood, Susan Caruso-Green and James Jannuzzi, 
she set about helping the racially mixed residents of the 
Alfred E. Smith housing project create a mural for the 
entrance hall of its recreation center. Over a hundred 
mostly Black people of all ages were involved in making 
cement sand-casted tiles that they had individually de- 
signed and then assembled in the mural. Their first 
outdoor painted mural was done two years later in 1970, 
again with local residents, on a two-story wall facing a 
playground of "the Smith." In preparation the three staff 
members took their team of young assistants to Boston to 
see the murals that had been done in Roxbury and talk 
with the painters. When they returned, the inexperi- 
enced members were concerned about producing a 
good-looking image because their drawing was not up to 
it. The Cityarts staff had them take Polaroid photos of 
one another acting out what they wanted to express. 



These were then shown from an opaque projector, and 
their figures were reduced to simple silhouettes from 
which the composition was assembled and transferred to 
plywood panels. The process was simple, it involved the 
youngsters in the whole operation of formulating, draw- 
ing, and finally painting the images, and it had a "profes- 
sional" look to it. What the finished mural on the recrea- 
tion center wall shows is a three-story-high youth giving 
the Black Power salute as he faces the Black Olympic 
winners at iMexico City in 1968 who defied the rules to 
assert their pride. At the same time he turns his back on 
vignettes of gang fighting, drug addiction, and a cop 
taking a payoff. The latter detail provoked serious con- 
troversy, which moved Cityarts to seek independence 
from City Hall, its funding source, and to become a 
non-profit, tax-exempt corporation. 

Using the Polaroid procedure, Cityarts and Smith 
residents in 1971 did a more complex work made up of 
elegant green and brown silhouettes of women looking 
toward the big shadow of Africa calling it Black Women of 
America Today. 

The following year Alan Okada, a young professional 
artist and draftsman who had joined Cityarts, organized 
a team of local teenagers to do the History of Chinese 
Immigration to the United States at a major intersection in 
Chinatown. At its center are monumental faces of local 
people surrounded by historical vignettes of Chinese 
working on the railroad, being massacred by Whites, 
bending over sewing machines in sweatshops, and per- 
forming traditional music. In the midst of commercial 
billboards, here was a statement by local people about 
what they had suffered and their continuing dignity. 



Development (1969/70-72) I 99 




Local youth directed by Alan Okada (Cityarts): History 
of Chinese Immigration to the United States, 1972, 
Chinatown, New York. 



Local residents and Cityarts: Black Women of America 
Today, 1971. Alfred E. Smith public housing. Lower 
East Side, New York. 




When Cityarts did a poll of viewers, they found general 
approval, but also uncertainty as to the political direction 
of the work; they promised themselves to avoid am- 
biguity in the future.^* 

This they succeeded in powerfully with Arise from 
Oppression, which they also completed in 1972. Directed 
by Susan Caruso-Green and James Jannuzzi, some sixty 
local teenagers worked nine months on it. Again the 



composition was produced by Polaroid photos of team 
members acting out what they wanted to express. It fills 
the side of the four-story Henry Street Settlement 
Playhouse on Manhattan's Lower East Side and shows 
local people breaking out of the boxes that trap them — 
drugs, unwanted pregnancy, and the oppression of 
tenement life. One figure trapped inside a hypodermic 
needle is all veins and arteries. Gradually they pull 



100 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

themselves up, helping each other climb above the rubble 
of the slums. The power of the mural arises not only 
from the scale but also from the imaginative X-raylike 
bodies of the tenement dwellers, whose straining green, 
yellow, and purple bones and muscles express their 
struggle. The painters clearly did not attempt anatomical 
accuracy, but rather the impression of extreme effort. 
The central image, now an ankh, the Egyptian symbol of 
life, emerging from a fire in which Black and White 
people are being destroyed, had been changed from a 
cross, which had produced protests from Jewish resi- 
dents who lived in apartments facing the mural. This was 
one of the most powerful murals that had yet been done, 
largely because of the rough-hewn vigor of the rising 
X-rayed figures. Here even the awkward drawing rein- 
forces the humaneness of the conception which over- 
comes the difficulty of rendering. However, one criti- 
cism can be made: the movement of the figures across the 
surface from left to right is weakened by the recession of 
the street up the center so that the viewer's attention is 



Arnold Belkin (City arts): Against Domestic Colonial- 
ism (detail), 1972, HelFs Kitchen, New York. 



not concentrated in one direction but divided. But a work 
of this power can endure such flaws. 

Untypical of the methods of Cityarts but consistent 
with its social consciousness was its commissioning of 
Arnold Belkin, a mature artist who had painted im- 
portant murals in Mexico, to do a work on a tenement 
wall facing a playground in Hell's Kitchen in 1972. This 
was a racially mixed, working-class neighborhood west 
of Times Square that w as threatened with demolition to 
make way for office towers and luxury high rises. Work- 
ing in a style that he says he borrowed from New Deal 
art, Belkin depicted the threat by a bulldozer decorated 
with a federal eagle and new high rises looming behind it. 
In the foreground a figure w ith a needle is being carried 
off, suggesting that it is a society that pushes people aside 
that produces addiction. This scene is contrasted with 
the residents' dreams of new homes of human scale 
surrounded by greenery. These garden dwellings are at 
the end of a rainbow , w hich springs from the gray flags 
of the nationalities that immigrated to this country and 
now live in Hell's Kitchen. The cooperation and mixed 
heritage of the residents are also suggested by the differ- 
ent complexions cubisticly combined in each of the faces 
of the central four-story-high figures. With arms about 




each other's shoulders, they stride out of the w all with 
leaflets announcing, " Ihe Neighborhood Is For People 
Not Big Business" and "We The People Demand Control 
Of Our Communities." The title is Against Domestic 
Colonialism. 

Philadelphia 

During the late sixties grass-roots public art sprang up 
in Philadelphia as elsewhere around the country. There 
are some locals who take pride in claiming that the 
contemporary wave of graffiti in the United States began 
there between 1967 and 1969 with the wall art of 
Cornbread, Cool Earl, and Hi Fi. Justine DeVan, who 
later was to paint with the Chicago Mural Group, recalls 
that in the late sixties she was commissioned by Fellow- 
ship House, a Quaker social service agency, to paint six 
"interior portable murals," each four feet square, on Black 
heroes and events. The panels, exhibited at local paro- 
chial schools, were similar to the Wall of Respect, she says. 



Ron Pierce and local youth (DUO): Untitled, 1971, Mill 
Creek, Philadelphia. 



Development (1969/70-72) / 101 
and done in the style of Black artists Hale Woodruff and 
Charles Alston, who had painted murals in public 
buildings since the thirties. 

In 1969 the Philadelphia Museum of Art, seeking to 
respond to the rising interest in community art, hired 
David Katzivc to head its Department of Urban Out- 
reach, and two years later he secured as staff two artists, 
Clarence Wood and Don Kaiser, the first Black, the 
second White, to assist people in making public art in 
their own neighborhoods and at the museum. Wood and 
Kai.ser undertook a wide variety of projects but in par- 
ticular coordinated mural teams of inner-city youngsters 
and local painters. They regarded themselves as "en- 
vironmental artists" and still insist that they bring no 
preconceptions to a mural as to what it should be apart 
from it being what local people ask for. DUO received 
some of the first National Endowment for the Arts 
funding for murals in 1971, and the first work was done 
by Ron Pierce and teenagers in the Mill Creek neighbor- 
hood in June. On what had been a concrete baseball 
backstop a group of racially mixed young people are 
shown demonstrating the pleasures of reading, dance, 
music, gardening, and sports. The style is what used to 
be called "primitive," but perhaps "vernacular" is better 




102 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

because this acknowledges such work's indigenous 
character and the careful efforts at formal arrangement 
and pattern. The figures may appear stiff to an eye used 
to "correct" drawing, but the painters make their state- 
ment in a straightforward and engaging way. 

Later that summer artist Sam Maitin designed for 
DUO an abstract mural for the side of the Fleisher Art 



Memorial, a school and gallery. He explained the design 
to the inner-city teenagers whom he was working with 
and local residents, w inning them over, and the wall that 
faced a pocket park was painted with lilting colors and 
forms that flickered through the trees. That year DUO 
made possible murals done by community people in a 
drug rehabilitation facility, a school, and recreation cen- 




Gene Davis, designer, painted by Parkway School students 
and local people, coordinated by Don Kaiser and Clarence 
Wood (DUO): Franklin's Footpath, 1971-72, 
Philadelphia Museum of Art. 



Sam Maitin assisted by local people (DUO): Untitled, 
1971, Fleisher Art Memorial, Philadelphia. 




tens. In December it began what was literally a street 
painting, Franklin's Footpath, on the parkway in front of 
the museum and finished it in the spring. It was a carpet 
of color larger than a football field and composed of 
eleven-inch parallel stripes, which if placed end on end 
would have stretched six miles. Designed by Gene 
Davis, it was painted by students of the experimental 
Parkway School and other community residents super- 
vised by Kaiser and Wood. Also in 1972 the first au- 
thorized moving mural in Philadelphia was completed by 
Graffiti Alternatives Workshop, which was funded by 
DUO. Under the direction of Sandy Ruben, former 
graffitists in teams of up to thirty had their energies 
redirected to designing and painting transit authority 
buses with supergraphics. Later they painted a six-car 
subway train. 

That year, too, one of the first of the Philadelphia 
Walls of Respect was painted on the end wall of a 
two-story row house in Haddington. Actually called the 
Wall of Consciousness, it brought together portraits of 
Satchmo, Wilt Chamberlain, Dick Gregory, Black Jesus, 
George Jackson, Jesse Jackson, and Malcolm X. Wood 
coordinated the project, Bernard Young did the design, 
and it was painted by local artists. Their placing of 
portraits in decorative geometrical frameworks was to 
become characteristic of other walls dedicated to Black 
heroes in the city. 

DUO also made possible in the summer of 1972 four 
children's murals on the end walls of aging row houses 
along Sickles Street in West Philadelphia. There kids ten 
years old and younger did portraits of their homes and 

Bernard Young assisted by Haddington Leadership Associa- 
tion and West Philadelphia artists, coordinated by Clar- 
ence Wood (DUO): Wall of Consciousness, 1972. 



Development (1969/70-72) I 103 

each other. Later Wood sketched in the faces of contem- 
porary Black heroes on a nearby playground wall that 
were completed by youngsters. 

The activity of DUO stimulated other artists like 
Wayne Tate and Gary Bloom, w ho painted a mural on 
the two-story facade of the Haddington Redevelopment 
Authority and Leadership Organization in West 
Philadelphia that year. In it they contrasted a well-laid- 
out African village beneath an umbrella of trees with a 
street of local run-dow n row houses, and next to them 
the more-than-life-size head of a Black man looks towards 
the names of the sponsoring organizations for something 
adequate to his heritage. ,\cross the street on a wall 
facing a pocket park, Tate and Bloom painted a Wall of 
Respect with faces of Black leaders from Frederick 
Douglass to .Martin Luther King. 

Washington 

In the nation's capital, community-based murals were 
supported during the early years of the movement not 
only by private service organizations but also by a gov- 
ernment program. Youth Pride Inc. sponsored the long 
frieze that wrapped around its corner job-training center 
that William Battle, Chico Hall, and local artists painted 
in 1972 indicting racism and calling for education (de- 
scribed in the introduction). And the D.C. Commission 
on the Arts and the Department of Environmental Ser- 
vices operated a Wall Mural Program. With its help Dan 
Wynn the same year depicted a Black Moses bringing 
down a new tablet inveighing against racism, war, and a 
heroin monkey. The mural also indicts w hat it describes 
as a "politics made simple" kind of racial cooperation 
and shows demonstrators trampling a Confederate flag 




104 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




and joining a Black Panther. With similar fury Wynn in 
another work that year struck out against drugs. Pocket 
parks and playgrounds were also painted with social 
statements, such as a supergraphic fist clutching a ques- 
tion mark. A large and impressive project was the paint- 
ing of the outside walls of the Shaw Community Health 
Center illustrating the activities going on inside (see 
chapter 4 for further description). 

New Orleans 

One of the achievements of urban renewal here was 
the demolition of Treme, a neighborhood next to the 
French Quarter that also had many historic houses but 
was occupied largely by Black people. What was to re- 
place them was a performing arts center and a park 
named for Louis Armstrong. In protest Bruce Brice, a 
self-trained "folk-artist" who had grown up in the Quar- 
ter, took to the old brick across the street from the re- 
newal site in 1971 with a panorama of marionettelike 
figures. (He once had made marionettes.) He showed a 
bulldozer and wrecker's ball knocking down houses and a 



Dan Wynn: Thou Shalt End Racism 
Washington, D. C. 



1972, 



Wayne Tate and Gary Bloom: Untitled, 1972, Hadding- 
ton Leadership Organization and Redevelopment Author- 
ity, Philadelphia. 




Development (1969/70-72) I 105 




Bruce Brice: Untitled, 1971, Treme, New Orleans. 
(Photo Bruce Brice) 



three-armed cop between flags of the Union and Confed- 
eracy ordering residents out of their community. The 
mood is one of sadness but also an indomitable buoy- 
ancy, as in a jazz funeral, as they depart. The dis- 
placed were headed for the public housing in Desire 
(where a bus not a streetcar now runs), a remote area 
distant from where most worked. There Brice the same 
year did another mural about a young tenant who had 
been left to bleed to death by the police after they shot 



Bruce Brice: Untitled (partial view), 1971, Desire, New 
Orleans. 



him. Next to this scene Brice set a depiction of White 
slave traders brutalizing Africans who take their revenge. 
Meanwhile he was also embellishing the walls of a play- 
ground and frame houses in the French Quarter. But, 
embittered, he left what he calls his "charity work" to 
do easel painting and posters of the old ways of the 
Quarter — the social clubs, their impromptu jazz blasts, 
and Mardi Gras. Like the musicians who hire themselves 
out while still doing their own thing when the spirit 
moves them, he believes he can preserve his integrity and 
survive by his art. 

San Diego 

With a metropolitan population of over a million, the 
city is a home port of the Navy and a tuna fishing fleet, 
the site of fish canneries and boat, aircraft, and missile 
manufacturing, as well as a winter and summer tourist 




106 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

resort. Almost at the Mexican border, it is the home also 
of an old and large Chicano population and the haven of 
undocumented workers, who, as elsewhere, are taken 
advantage of and, not wanting to be noticed, do not 
organize to protect themselves. The power structure is 
Anglo. In 1968 an ad in Life by a local utility company 
that showed a fat, moustached ".Mex" with his taco 
w agon brought together the few local Chicano groups to 
demonstrate against the firm.^'* Demanding fair hiring 
practices, training programs, and opportunities for ad- 
vancement, these groups realized the power of unity and 
organized themselves into the Chicano Federation of San 
Diego County with the intention of acting as the perma- 
nent advocate for all the barrios, overseeing community 
development and the delivery of social services. 

Local Chicano artists were also getting themselves 
together at this time. During the sixties Los Artistas de 
los Barrios had organized to exhibit distinctly Chicano 
art in both commercial and public places, including the 
neighborhoods.^^ Some of its members were students 
associated with MECHA (.Vlovimiento Estudientil 
Chicano de Aztlan) and in 1970 they were stimulated by 
a symposium on Chicanos in the Southwest at San Diego 
State College to form a new group, Los Toltecas en 
Aztlan, named for the pre-Aztec civilization famous for 
its craftsmen. They organized to bring art to the barrios 
by creating a cultural center where they could work 



Gilberto Ramirez assisted by Guillermo Aranda and Ruben 
de Anda: Conquest of the Americas, Joining of the 
Chicano and Mexican, and Birth of the New Man, 
1970, Aztec Center, San Diego State College (later 
University). 



together and teach. Within the year they were to suc- 
ceed. 

Also in that year two Toltecas, Guillermo Aranda and 
Ruben de Anda, became assistants to Gilberto Ramirez, 
a Mexican artist who was doing a triptych of murals in 
the Aztec Center, the student union of San Diego State. 
The first panel pictures the holocaust of the Spanish 
conquest of .Mexico but the survival of the mestizo spirit, 
symbolized by naked figures rising from skulls and de- 
bris. In the central panel it is modern machinery that 
crushes people, but it is presided over by a rabbit god, 
suggesting fundamental weakness. The two victims, one 
Mexican, the other Chicano, are united by a bond that 
connects the corazon of each — their heart and heritage. 
This seems to be the basis of their triumph in the final 
panel which shows a group of people, hands joined, 
rising from the rubble of the past and looking hopefully 
toward an approaching dove. The mural clearly ad- 
dresses the growing consciousness of local Chicanos and 
is carried out in a carefully rendered manner. In fact, its 
good manners are a shortcoming of the triptych; the nude 
figures are handled in an academic way, in contrast to the 
sections where human suffering is laid bare, where the 
stylization is convincing. There the artists gained most 
from their borrowing from Orozco's visions of diaster 
and their adaptation of his "painterly" handling of grays 
and pinks. In spite of its defects, this was an auspicious 
beginning for murals in San Diego. During these years 
Ramirez did a similar scene of conflict at the Centro 
Teatro of the National University in .Mexico City, but 




his figures were bolder. And he was to continue to bring 
the Mexican mural tradition to young Chicano artists and 
give them chances to paint with him. 

Logan Heights was the Anglo name for what Chicanos 
called el ombligo (the navel) of San Diego. It was the 
county's oldest barrio. You did not have to live there in 
order to identify with el Barrio de la Logan. Some could 
count four generations of their families' residence in the 
white frame cottages that huddled close to the bay, fish 
canneries, National Steel, and a hulking power plant. 
One of the residents said of his neighbors, "We are a 
more gregarious people than most. The whole barrio is 
our living room. We have a strong family organization 
and strong families lead to strong communities."^® How- 
ever, in the sixties the barrio was bisected by Interstate 5, 
then by the construction of the Coronado bridge across 
the bay. Its ramps cut through the center of the barrio, 
driving out a third of the residents, so that by 1970 there 
were about five thousand people who remained and had 
only their dispersal to look forward to, because the area 
was rezoned as industrial. Slumlords let their houses fall 
into decay, and auto junk yards owned by Anglos were 
inundating the area, providing no jobs for locals and 
filling the air with the hammering and cutting of metal. 
The area beneath the bridge was also becoming the place 
to make a connection with drug dealers. 

Young people resisted the blight with their graffiti on 
the support columns of the bridge, and these were fol- 
lowed by more elaborate symbols and imagery, carefully 
watched and photographed by a local artist, Salvador 
"Queso" Torres, who had done portable paper murals in 
San Francisco in 1967. A year later, Torres, Guillermo 
Aranda, Mario "Torero" Acevedo, also a painter, poet 
Alurista, and others began to develop a vision of the 
revival of Barrio Logan around what had threatened to 
destroy it. A number of them attended the Youth Liber- 
ation Conference in Denver sponsored by the Crusade 
for Justice in 1969 where the Spiritual Plan of Aztldn was 
drafted, and they returned excited by its affirmation of 
their "bronze culture" and "the independence of our 
mestizo Nation." They talked about murals on the pylons 
and retaining walls, about transforming the bridge engi- 
neer's building underneath into a community center, 
creating a park that would extend all the way to the bay 
and a marina at its end. Torres says the idea of a 
user-developed and -maintained park was partly inspired 
by the People's Park of Berkeley. They discussed the 
need for a neighborhood clinic and drew up plans for a 
barrio university. Local business was to be developed on 
adjacent streets, including shops where local art could be 
sold. Sharing their ideas with the barrio and the Chicano 
Federation, they drew residents into the planning. Re- 
peatedly they asked the city for a park beneath the bridge 
and were promised one. 

Their dreams were caught up short when on April 22, 
1970, bulldozers arrived to prepare the site for a parking 
lot for three hundred State Highway Patrol cars and a 



Development (1969170-72) I 107 

police substation. That day Mario Solis went from door 
to door rousing residents. High school and college stu- 
dents and the Brown Berets joined them. Together they 
confronted the bulldozers. Some of the drivers were 
Chicanos themselves, and the work stopped. Police 
headquarters was also picketed. That day a new kind of 
work began: barrio residents and Chicanos from 
elsewhere in the county began building their park with 
their own picks and hoes. The confrontation succeeded. 
An area of 5.8 acres beneath the bridge ramps was given 
to the people of Barrio Logan by the state and city, and it 
became Chicano Park. Grass and shrubs were planted 
and maintained by the city, but locals have continued to 
donate trees and flowers and to work in the park. Play- 
ground equipment was provided, and the building 
alongside the bridge that had been designated for the 
police station became a neighborhood center and the 
office of the Chicano Federation. It was the continuation 
of the collective action that saved and created the park 
that was to begin the extraordinary murals on the abut- 
ments and columns of the bridge three years later. 

Part of the confrontation of April 1970 was the 
takeover of the old Ford exhibition building in Balboa 
Park, the city's central park, by Los Toltecas en Aztlan. 
Salvador Torres had been given space there by the city to 
do a large portable mural, and he invited other Chicano 
artists to work in the building. One of them, Victor 
Ochoa, a San Diego State art student, w as turning out 
leaflets for the fast breaking events. The city tried to 
force them out, but it w as maintained by the artists as a 
cultural center for nearly a year. The artists lobbied city 
hall and gave them a short course on Chicano history and 
culture, Ochoa says. They wanted a location in Balboa 
Park to balance the status of the city's fine arts museum 
there. Finally they were given an abandoned water tank 
in the park that had been previously used as a stable 
during World War II and as the storage shed for park 
gardeners since then. The city contributed an initial 
twenty-two thousand dollars to help renovate what was 
to become El Centro Cultural de la Raza with workshops 
for children and adults in the visual and performing arts. 
The forty artists who worked there teaching and doing 
their own art were members of Los Toltecas. The paint- 
ers among them took as their name El Congreso de Artistas 
Chicano en Aztldn, the acronym of which is equivalent to 
"shit," a humorously bitter characterization of them- 
selves. 

The first collective work of the painters at the Centro 
Cultural was a large mural on the curved wall of the 
interior, which was begun in 1971 and coordinated by 
Guillermo Aranda. Work was intermittent, but by 1974 
it covered about a fifteen-by-fifty-foot area and main- 
tained its appearance until 1978, when Aranda returned 
to it with a Native American painter, and they began 
changing it in substantial ways. Aranda's initial design 
begins with a more-than-life-size indio crucified on a huge 
silver dollar which is also a machine made of meshed 



108 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Guillermo Aranda assisted by other artists: La Dualidad, 
1971-79, Centra Cultural de la Raza, San Diego. 



gears, suggesting clockworks and modern industry in 
general. He also suggests Cuauhtemoc, last of the Aztec 
rulers and symbol oi indio resistance. The dollar further 
serves as the shield of a militarized monster that has a gas 
mask for a head and leads a phalanx of similar creatures. 
He holds in an armored hand a dagger in the shape of a 
cross with which he pierces his other arm that is bared 
and plunges out of the surface as a sculptured fist grasp- 
ing its own chains. It is as if he is shooting himself up 
with Christianity. The heart of the indio is ripped out by 
a bird that has the talons of a vulture and the deceptive 
head of a timid quail, the state bird of California. The 
bird of prey also suggests the national eagle, while the 
indio is tormented by a torch that is lifted from the 
bottom of the painting in a huge hand, ironically alluding 
to the Statue of Liberty. .Meanwhile off to one side, a 
nude young woman flees from the military machine. She 
escapes across a rainbow towards a pyramid suggesting 



the revival of ancient culture. The mural is a nightmarish 
indictment of Anglo "civilization" and a call to rebuild 
Aztlan. 

This account was written before an explanatory chart 
was placed before the mural for viewers. The artists' 
power to communicate is demonstrated by the legibility 
of the composition alone. What the accompanying dia- 
gram adds is a connection of the symbols he employs to 
Mayan, Toltec, and Aztec symbols. The bird of prey, 
for instance, is identified as Cozcautil, a vulture, the 
despoiling principle of the Toltecs. The rabbit (with the 
U.S. shield), the chart says, was regarded by the indios as 
"afraid of nearly everything and consequently extremely 
harmful in a position of power." The flaming rubble 
beneath the fist is described as "capitalism's fall, 
materialism." The nude woman is identified as "the 
earth" and "the mother who brings life to the world . . . 
running away from the material destruction of 
men. . . ." Above is the emblem of the Centro in tiles 
with el corazon (the heart symbolic of life, spirit, love and 



courage) at its core. The caption observes that this 
signified the philosophy of art of Chicanos' ancestors as 
well as the Centro: "He who divines things in his heart is 
open to inspiration bringing him close to truths." Be- 
neath is a tree of life in the shape of a woman, an indio 
symbol of the unity of the world and its people. Aranda 
calls the work La Dualidad. 

His and his fellow artists' vision of Aztlan gained 
plausibility as more San Diego Chicanos were beginning 
to take part in making it real. The mural was an extraor- 
dinarily vehement statement, and yet it was precise in its 
analysis of the threats to La Raza. The beautiful fleeing 
girl, the rainbow, and the visionary pyramid were heav- 
ily romantic, yet their message had credibility. Local 
Chicanos understood that, if Aztlan was to be rebuilt, it 
had to be done in practical terms, as their concrete 
achievements showed. Considering the obstacles that lay 
before them, we may be tempted to dismiss their plans 
and dependence on art as quixotic, but their ability to 
extract concessions from the establishment and create 
their own institutions demonstrated what could happen 
when people, strengthened by a sense of community and 
heritage, took common action. Speaking of the revival of 
Logan Barrio, Abran Quevedo, a local professional plan- 
ner, has admitted that "taken in terms of land-value 
planning, as urban planners do, this idea would never 
work. But as a planner I concentrate on human-value 
planning. "^'^ The efforts of the Chicanos of Logan Barrio 
and those at Centro Cultural achieved so much only 
because they appealed to human values, and this appeal 

Las Vistas Nuevas directed by Judy Baca: Mi Abuelita 
(My Grandmother), 1970, Hollenbeck Park, East Ij)s 
Angeles. 



Development (1969170-72) I 109 

was carried by their art. This was to be confirmed by the 
murals that were to follow in later years. 

Los Angeles 

As in New York and Boston, so in Los Angeles 
employment by a public agency became the means by 
which some young artists were able to get funds to do 
community murals. One of these, Judy Baca, was hired 
by the city Department of Recreation and Parks in the 
summer of 1970 as an art instructor and salaried through 
the federally funded Emergency Employment Act. Her 
assignment was to take on twenty teenagers from feuding 
barrios who would be paid by the Neighborhood Youth 
Corps to do public service work. In this way she became 
probably the first artist in Los Angeles to involve gang 
members in murals. Her own purpose was not the same 
as the city's intention of cool-out. She understood very 
clearly what many barrio murals were later to make 
explicit — that gang violence was a product of the racism 
of schools, discriminatory hiring, and police harassment 
that cut young Chicanos off from their natural develop- 
ment. Baca observes that 

generally art is thought of as a frivolous luxury. People 
nave got to express tnemselves; that's a necessity, not a 
luxury. Unless we begin to tap people's creativity, 
we'll have to continue to try to control their expres- 
sion. And that kind of solution is not a good bet.^ 

It seemed to her that murals would provide them the 
chance to say important things publicly and to have some 
concrete effect on changing the conditions of their lives. 




1 10 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

It was from the gangs — the White Fence, Primera 
Flats, Quatro Flats, and Evergreen — that her crew of 
painters came. Baca recalls that she had to spend a great 
deal of time helping them relate to each other, doing 
small-scale art first, then banners, and finally murals on 
the vandalized Costello Recreation Center in East Los.^^ 
They struggled to keep ahead of the graffiti writers, and 
by 1971 when they finished, they had demonstrated to 
them and themselves that murals were better. One of the 
young artists, Pepe Hernandez, a former junkie, had 
introduced imagery from tattoos. Other visual ideas like 
that of an old bogeywoman came from tales that were 
seldom talked about except in the family. Baca regards 
the turning of this intimate folklore into public art as a 
political act. 

This was the beginning of Las Vistas Nuevas (New 
Vistas). Its next project, also during 1970/71, was 
painting the bandshell in Hollenbeck Park. Using an old 
photograph of her grandmother, Baca and her crew 
painted a monumental image of Chicano motherhood in a 
manner reminiscent of a Byzantine madonna in the apse 
of a cathedral, but her arms reach out tenderly around 
the stage to embrace performers and audience. 

The anger of the barrio is most eloquent in the work of 





William F. Herron III and local youth: The Wall 
That Cracked Open, 1972, East Los Angeles. 



Willie Herron, a professional sign painter whose ties 
have been with the young people, often gang members, of 
the barrios. At twenty-one he had worked out his own 
strong style by using enlarged grotesque or tormented 
masklike faces reminiscent of Orozco. A work he did in 
1972 at the end of an alley shows a coiling Quetzalcoatl 
lifting itself proudly above a cluster of faces that look up 
at it with growing respect. Herron invited neighborhood 
kids to add their graffiti, and among them are a cross and 
the name of one who had been killed. The mural, which 
he titled The Plumed Serpent, seems to call for an end of 
gang violence and a new awareness of what unites barrio 
people. Down the alley he did another work the same 
year. His younger brother had been beaten up there, and 
Herron says, "I wanted to show the experience of the 
blood, of him being loaded on drugs and the whole gang 



William F. Herron ILL and local youth: Plumed Ser- 
pent, 1972, East Los Angeles. 



Development (1969/70-72) /111 




William F. Herron III and ''Gronk": Untitled, 1973, 
City Terrace Park, East Los Angeles. 



situation, and of him trying to break through the barrier 
that's always been there holding him back."^" The mural 
depicts people trying to bust out of the wall and among 
them is a grieving old woman with rebozo and beads. In 
1973 Herron painted the convex wall behind a basketball 
court in City Terrace Park with a crowded mass of 
blown-up grimacing, angry faces, fists, and feet that 
assault the viewer, w hile a huge calavera is splayed out in 
the foreground. The wall is like a sustained howl. Again 
Herron invited local kids to add their placas. These 
graffiti on every part of the surface intensify the affirma- 
tion of Chicanos' existence and their protest against it. In 
the following years Herron was to elaborate these public 
indictments. 

At the same time, murals were beginning to express 
the effort of Chicano teenagers to understand the anger 
they turned against each other in gang warfare. In 1972 
there were four gang killings in Lil' Valley, a small 



canyon in East Los. The parents of gang members 
proposed a mural project as a means of reducing the 
violence and secured the help of a social w orker and artist 
Bill Butler. One of their murals was on the side of Ken's 
Market, the boundary between two turfs. The painting 
was a memorial for two of the dead. The youngsters 
painted a body lying in the road and covered by a sheet as 
candles burn around it. Most telling is a pair of white 
arms that come from the top edge and press down the 
heads of one group of boys. Between the arms is a set of 
unbalanced scales of justice. .Meanwhile another group of 
faces and arms reach upwards. The mural seems to 
charge that the ultimate cause of the gang warfare is the 
oppression of the White establishment. The boys under- 
stood that the frustration of their energies by the Anglo 
world had turned them against each other. The caption 
reads: 

In memory of our two brothers whose youthful lives 
were destroyed brutally. Out of the outrage commit- 
ted against them has emerged a new era of love and 
brotherhood in our community — Their deaths were 
unwarranted but not in vain. 



112 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Gang youth assisted by Bill Butler: Untitled, 1972, Ken's 
Market, LiV Valley, East Los Angeles. 



In the center of the mural two cocks with boys' faces grip 
a single ribbon of the Mexican national colors in their 
mouths as a symbol of unity. Other captions affirm the 
solidarity of La Raza, and towards each side there are 
symbols of their heritage — the Virgin of Guadalupe, a 
huge Olmec head, pyramids, and temples of the ancient 
past. Among them are a pair of school graduates in caps 
and gowns and a family. The mural served to bring the 
gangs together, to help them understand the cause of this 
hostility and what their possibilities were. 

A second project of the gang muralists was painted the 
following year on another market a short way down the 
street. They called it Madres and depicted a pietalike 
mother weeping over her stabbed son, while a crucified 
boy hovers in the background. Elsewhere on the wall 
mothers are shown caring for their children while girls 
are growing to young motherhood again. These scenes 
are embraced by painted arcades on which forty gang 
members inscribed their graffiti signatures. The 
nicknames of five dead youngsters are listed at the 
front — Cruz, Turtle, Smokie, Blackie and Doc.'' In the 
front window of Ken's Market it became customary to 
record the killings of "home boys" by painting crosses 
and gravestones. Fourteen names had been added be- 
tween 1973 and \91%.^'^ 



Gang youth assisted by Bill Butler: Untitled (detail). 
1972, Ken's Market, LiV Valley, East Los Angeles. 




Development (1969/70-72) / 1 1 3 




Gang youth assisted by Bill Butler: Madres, 1973, UP 
Valley, East Los Angeles. 



Santa Barbara 

The sides of boarding houses, groceries, eating places, 
the post office, and the People's Center in Isla Vista, the 
University community here, were gradually muralized 
by students during the seventies with beachscapes and 
countercultural paradises. Meanwhile at City College 
probably the first Raza mural in Santa Barbara was 
painted in watercolor by Manuel Unzueta in 1970 for 
Chicano Studies and later mounted under glass outdoors. 
It shows a naked young man grasping a key with a 
flaming eye as he leaps from a morass, suggesting the 
present, toward a better life. It was rendered in a 
shadowy Baroque style that Unzueta had brought back 
from a trip to Europe and was to use through most of the 
decade. By 1972 he was at the University directing a 
team of fellow students in a mural commemorating the 
Isla Vista riots of two years earlier when the Bank of 
America branch was burned down because of its parent 
company's involvement in California agribusiness and 
Vietnam. In the painting fists were breaking through 
bars, people were rising before the ruins of the bank, and 
students' eyes and mouths were wide. The portable 
panels remained hanging until 1980, when they were 
destroyed by the administration without notifying the 
painters. 

Back in 1971 Unzueta began embellishing the inside of 
the new Casa de la Raza, a social service and cultural 
center that served Chicanos throughout the city. After 
nine years all of the big walls of what was formerly a 
warehouse were covered by him and his assistants. His 
first work there was in the library and titled A Book's 



Memory. It shows the Chicano heritage issuing from a 
great volume while a figure with the torso of a man sends 
roots into the earth and reaches out with three arms in 
the hues of the mestizo race as its v\ ing displays the colors 
of the Mexican flag. Above a corazon is bleeding. While 
continuing his painting here, Unzueta completed the first 
master of fine arts degree in Chicano art awarded by the 
University and taught there and at City College. 



Fresno 

Fresno is in the heart of the San Joaquin Vallev 
vineyards, and it was here and in Delano, seventy miles 
away, that Cesar Chavez and the farm workers began 
organizing in the early sixties. Nearby some of the first 
community murals were painted at the Centro Cam- 
f>esino Cultural in Del Rey in 1968. Three years later the 
first in Fresno was done by Ernesto Palomino and Lee 
Orona. Palomino had grown up there and was hired by 
Fresno State as a result of students' protests at the lack of 
Chicano teachers, although the university served a 
population of 200,000, half of whom were Chicano. The 
mural he and Orona collaborated on was down the street 
from where farm workers before they organized gathered 
each morning while it was still dark with the hope of 
being hired by bosses who would bus them to the 
vineyards for the day. In the center of the wall there is a 
flatbed truck on which a mother sits with her child while 
field hands hunch over at each side. Embracing them is a 
blazing UFW thunderbird with a calavera and an ancient 
indio. All of this was painted by Palomino, while Orona 
is responsible for the flanking mask and Quetzalcoatl. 
The mural is a big flatly painted heraldic symbol of the 
life and hope of migrant families, mixing affirmation with 







Manuel Unzueta: \ Book's Memory (partial view), 
1971, Casa de la Raza, Santa Barbara. 



Ernesto Palomino and Lee Orona: Untitled, 1971, Tulare 
Street, Fresno. 




Manuel Unzueta: I. V. Riots, 1972, Student Union, 
University of California, Santa Barbara. (Photo Manuel 
Unzueta) 



some defensive self-irony. There is humor in the carica- 
tured calavera and indio, including the looping design of 
the skeleton's ribs, the India's costume, the bunches of 
grapes, and the hoses on the truck's underside. Palomino 
was to continue to do other important works in the area 
during the decade and came to be regarded the father of 
muralists there. 

Santa Fe 

Like other early muralists the Chicano painters of 
Santa Fe began in response to a crisis. But in this instance 
it was a personal tragedy — the death by drug overdose 
of the twelve-year-old brother of Samuel, Albert, and 
Carlos Leyba in 1971.^" The three decided to do a mural 
as a memorial and painted a scene of African animals in 
front of a playground. But the personal tragedy was part 
of a much larger one. Encouraged by the response of the 
Chicano community and funded by a $3,600 Office of 
Economic Opportunity grant, the brothers joined with 
Geronimo Garduno and Gilberto Guzman to work with 
nineteen addicts on a methadone maintenance program 
to do murals and crafts. Only Samuel Lebya, who had 
been working on the wall of La Clinica de La Gente 
earlier, and Gardufio had formal art training. They 
called themselves Los Artes Guadalupanos de Aztlan. 
Then the money ran out, and in 1972 they were 
employed to do large signs by an independent slate of 
candidates in opposition to the local Democrats and 
Republicans. The result was a mural on two sides of a 
tool shed owned by the Chicano candidate for mayor. 



Los Artes Guadalupanos de Aztlan: Lady of Justice, 
1972, Santa Fe. 



Development (1969/70-72) / 1 15 

The shed faced Canyon Road, one of the centers of Santa 
Fe's fashionable arts and crafts colony where tourists 
from all over the world shopped. The controversy that 
arose duplicated the relation of community muralists 
around the country to the respectable "art world." The 
Santa Fe establishment had sought to enforce all over the 
city their conception of what an Indian pueblo was — 
low-slung caramel, not adobe-colored, structures with 
dark beams. But here were local, indigenous people who 
were no longer content to play the role of "good Indians." 
Los Artes saw their work as an expression of their protest 
of unemployment, poor housing and the humiliation of 
welfare, which resulted in drugs and alcoholism.^* What 
they painted was an indio goddess of justice breaking the 
chains of an over life-sized Chicano rising from the earth. 
With her other hand she holds water out to him while 
with a massive arm he lifts up a basket carrying a mestizo 
family. What is aesthetically original about the mural is 
that it is centered on the projecting corner of the shed's 
walls so that the image is forced out towards viewers like 
a ship's prow. When observed flat on from one side, the 
figures appear to be on a receding pavement. But when 
you move out to the corner where both sides can be 
viewed, the pavement suddenly stands up and becomes a 
pyramid that reaches from ground to eave. Although 
most indio pyramids were not pointed, perhaps the art- 
ists' intention was to suggest the rebirth of Aztlan by this 
optical illusion. In any event, the mural on the small tool 
shed and its message burst into the benign landscape of 
Canyon Road. 

Even more powerful was a small adobe Los Artes did 
also in 1972 alongside a well-traveled highway. Similarly 
painted on two adjoining walls, a bare-chested miner 




1 16 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

carrying a book titled Viva La Raza plunges tow arc! you at 
the corner. To his right raising both her fists is again an 
indio goddess, probably Tonantzin, the indio mother of 
the gods, source of the black madonna, after whom a 
school was named that Los Artes helped organize. She 
presides over a Raza family, and a son rushes forward 
with a pencil, suggesting education. On the left-hand 
wall another ;«^zo god embraces Chicanos who join in the 
clenched-fist salute. Heavy black outlines delineate fists, 
muscles, clouds, and flowers as if to express their deter- 
mination to exist. The artists have clearly borrowed their 
images from a number of murals of Siqueiros — For the 
Complete Safety of All Mexicans at Work, the New De- 
mocracy, and The People to the University, the University to 
the People. They have used their allusions to their tradi- 
tion effectively, but what is inventive is their perspective. 
As with the Canyon Road mural, the composition com- 
pels you to take a position opposite the prow of the 
converging walls. From there the two walls open up into 
a conventional picture box of space. But the effect is 
unusual because the spatial recession moves in the oppo- 
site direction of the actual walls. The vanishing point of 
the perspective lines that rush into depth a little uncer- 
tainly is on the corner of the walls, which is nearest to 



Los Artes Guadalupanos de Aztldn: St. Francis Road 
Mural, 1972, Santa Fe. 



you. The space is at once deep and turned inside out by 
the actual walls so that the whole scene is forced forward 
onto you. The sun at the vanishing point, which should 
be farthest away, is in fact closest. Its beams push the 
miner and the gods towards you and seem to energize 
their thrusting motion. Along the upper edges of the two 
walls clouds attach the scene to the real sky. But the total 
effect of the small adobe seen against the sky is of an 
enormous space at once cut into the real world and at the 
same time coming at you with tremendous force. The 
effectiveness of the mural is immediate, and the result 
reflects a leap of imagination. 

Seattle 

Probably the only and certainly the largest walls built 
specifically for a community mural were constructed by 
the city of Seattle in 1972. The idea for the project came 
to Royal Alley-Barnes in 1970 while she was teaching a 
seminar at the University of Washington, where she had 
been discussing with her students the need for Black 
artists to revitalize the spiritual and political conscious- 
ness of their communities.^^ She and her husband, Cur- 
tis, who taught painting in the city's public schools and 
community college, pressed the idea on Seattle's Parks 
and Recreation Commission, which was apprehensive 
that the work would be propaganda but finally approved 




Development (1969/70-72) / 1 17 




Curtis Barnes and Royal Alley-Barnes: Omowale, 1 972 , 
Garfield Park, Seattle. (Photo the Barneses) 



the proposal, the Barnesses feel, "to do something for 
Black people" after racial violence had hit the city. Blacks 
made up about 10 percent of Seattle's population of half 
a million. It was decided to do an outdoor work adjacent 
to the Medgar Evers Pool and Garfield High School, but 
by 1971 the project was still pending. In order to get on 
with it the Barneses undertook a survey in the Black 
community and found that over 90 percent of those 
questioned approved the idea of a mural to enliven the 
bare concrete of the pool site. This persuaded officials to 
the extent that they agreed to the construction of a 
concrete entry court, the sides of which would serve as 
the structural support of the mural's two panels. By the 
time the project was completed $175,000 had been ex- 
pended on it, $3,000 of which came from the Arts 
Commission, the same amount from Pacific Northwest 
Bell, and additional funding from Model Cities. The 
artists' fee was $10,000, which they calculate came to 
$1.25 an hour when their actual time they gave to the 
project was figured in. Their sketches were approved in 
the spring of 1972, and painting was completed that year. 
Although the artists had surveyed the neighborhood 



concerning the desirability of a mural, they did not feel it 
was appropriate to check their designs with local people. 
They had grown up and continued to live there and 
believed they understood the area and what was needed. 
Although the work was to be complex in its details, 
alluding to African folklore and myth, they w anted it to 
be clear enough to be understood by residents. 

The result was a pair of panels rendered in a sophisti- 
cated, painterly manner unique in outdoor work. The 
title is Omowale, Yoruba for "Children Turn Home." As 
the artists describe it, the panel at the left begins with the 
creation: out of chaos and the fire and passion of beget- 
ting, a child is given to a barren woman by the spirit 
force embodied in the man. The human figures are 
shown in harmony with the jungle and whole natural 
world, and tree forms are humanized. People are en- 
veloped in the roots and trunks of the baobab tree, 
symbol of the family and the communal way of life. But 
suddenly the forest is invaded by white centaurs with a 
tangle of blood vessels or hair instead of heads; though 
white-skinned, they were meant to represent not only the 
Caucasians, but all oppression, the Barneses say. 

The second panel illustrates the violent wresting of 
Africans to the New World where they are chained in an 
uprooted tree. The faces are those of the Barneses' 



Omowale (detail). (Photo G. Carlsen) 




parents and grandparents. A man is freed from the 
chained tree by self-knowledge inherent in the touch of a 
woman seated on a royal stool. But he is cast into the 
harsh environment of the cities. Overhead broods the 
hornbill, a bird of freedom which presides over the 
defeat of the oppressive forces, and at the end there is 
a huge honeycomb, signifying the unification of Afro- 
Americans. 

City officials attended the dedication, and Jacob Law- 
rence, one of the nation's great artists, who was teaching 
at the University of Washington, spoke. A plaque and 
booklet explaining the work were to be produced by the 
city, but the artists never saw either. The city had not 
provided for the sealing of the mural, and in time it 
suffered damage. In spite of the imaginativeness and 
brilliant execution of the work, there has been no re- 
sponse by the art establishment. The Barneses feel that 
they were not taken seriously, partly because they 
painted as a husband-wife team. But the mural was well 
received by the neighborhood and has served as a 
background for rock concerts. The artists went on to 
do a series of eight-foot works for the Black Community 
Church Library and portable panels contributed to Black 
organizations about the city. But in 1979 the Barneses 
said that Omowale remained the sole mural by Black 
artjsts to be seen in the streets of Seattle. 

Becoming increasingly disillusioned with the narrow- 
ness of officials and the unresponsiveness of the art 



Students directed by Nancy Thompson: Untitled mosaic 
mural, 1970, Alvarado School, San Francisco. 



Development (1969170-72) I 119 
world, they decided to abandon painting temporarily in 
order to acquire enough capital to free themselves from 
dependency on the art system. Curtis became a con- 
struction manager for a city agency rehabbing housing. 
Royal insists that this is art also because he is putting his 
talents to work to provide low-income people with at- 
tractive spaces that meet their needs. She works as a 
financial analyst in the city's Office of Management and 
the Budget, learning skills they will need when they 
strike out on their own. Together they have been invest- 
ing their savings in real estate so that by 1982 they will be 
able to leave their current positions and open their own 
firm, which will combine rehab work with murals — 
"integral symbols," they say, "on inner and outer walls," 
adding, "If you build a wall, you can paint it." They 
want to be independent of public funding and foundation 
grants. They also want to help create with others a 
fine-art center that will make art a part of the everyday 
environment of ordinary people. 

San Francisco 

A new focus of community murals appeared in 
1970 — elementary schools. Although murals had been a 
customary part of school activities for decades, they had 
usually been treated as an occasional exercise on butcher 
paper in which kids in the same class cooperated on a 
decoration for Thanksgiving or Christmas. They would 
remain hanging for a week or perhaps a semester and 
then be discarded. They were seldom treated with the 
seriousness with which works that were to be mounted 




120 / COMMUNITY MURALS 



for semipermanent viewing would be regarded. They 
hardly ever dealt with controversial social issues. But all 
this was changed by a program initiated in San Francisco 
in 1968 by twenty parents with children in the Alvarado 
Elementary School, who included sculptress Ruth Asawa, 
then a city art commissioner. The program grew 
out of the concern of parents that the art instruction their 
children received was neglected. One of the long-term 
effects of Sputnik and the space age was that, as science 
and math gained in importance in the curriculum, hardly 
any schools were left with art teachers. But the Alvarado 
parents "believed that the skills of art are as useful as any 
others taught at the primary level. "^® The parents 
realized that there were many artists and craftsmen living 
in the neighborhood who would be willing to volunteer a 
few hours a week in the schools. The program was 
initially so successful that within a few years public 
funds were allocated for local artists to work with stu- 
dents. While it gave children experience in all the visual 
arts, it stimulated wall paintings and mosaic murals in 
schools throughout the city. 

Under this program in 1970 sixth-graders with the 
help of artist Nancy Thompson did a mosaic portrait in 
the Alvarado School yard of their neighborhood that 
shows the children of all races posing beneath the high- 
pitched gables of their homes that rise above each other 
on the steep hills of the city. The images are ingeniously 
built up from found objects: a roof gable is constructed 
from shells, the shirt of a guitar player from broken 
crockery; a dog w ith spots is shaped from discarded tiles; 
faces are formed from modeled and baked clay. Local 
merchants contributed mosaics, and the students com- 
posed these materials in a delightful but carefully de- 
signed way. The importance of this collective self- 
portrait lay not only in its beauty but equally in the 
children's cooperative effort and their celebration of their 
life together. In this respect it was comparable to the 
murals being done elsewhere around the country that 
affirmed community. 

Just as powerful are the murals that were painted in 
1972-73 by kindergartners to fourth-graders on the long 
retaining wall in the lower yard under the direction of 
Perci Chester. Here portraits combine with mermaids, 
dragons, caterpillars, giraffes, and a range of imaginative 
inventions, some joyous, some terrifying. They are in- 
credibly intense and densely packed against each other, 
creating a visionary world. 

The significance of these children's projects is that 
young people had been given the opportunity to share 
their ideas and skills; they had had the chance to express 
in a common enterprise what was profoundly important 
to each of them, and it was recognized as a serious 
contribution. It is this that builds community, and it was 
important that they continued to get such chances as they 
grew older. There are many tales told by teachers, 
parents, and kids about how these art projects have made 
school exciting for children — how youngsters who were 




Alvarado School mosaic mural (detail). 



discipline problems or who were apathetic have been 
"turned on" by murals. Peter Coyote, the chairman of 
the California Arts Council, says that he is also im- 
pressed by the transfer of attentiveness, skills, and the 
ability to work together that occurs from such art proj- 
ects to other studies. 

The decoration of school yards by children's murals is 
not peculiar to San Francisco. Although the Alvarado 
project had a nationwide impact, William Walker early 
had helped youngsters paint murals over the exterior of a 
school portable and on the asphalt yard around it in 
Chicago, and other artists and teachers independently 




[Aharado School mosaic mural (detail). 



Alvarado School mosaic mural (detail). 




122 / COMMUNITY MURALS 



in ^ ^\ ^ ^ ^ ^ 




Students directed by Perci Chester: Untitled, 1970, Al- 
varado School, San Francisco. 



had begun working with kids on murals elsewhere. In 
time these projects spread to high schools, which took up 
the subject of racism and most of the other public issues 
that were dealt with by professional muralists. 

The impact of early Chicago murals is to be seen 
around the country. Dewey Crumpler, a young Black 
artist from San Francisco, had gone there to see the Wall 
of Respect and come back impressed as well by Eugene 
Eda's use of ancient Egyptian design. The result was 
Truth and Education, a mural he did in 1970 for an outdoor 
wall of an elementary school at Hunter's Point, a district 
of Black people many of whom still worked in the 
shipyards nearby. Beneath the spreading hawk wings of 
the Egyptian god of light, Horus, he depicted over-life- 
sized students reading books with pictures of W. E. B. 
Du Bois, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, King, and Ali. 
Later Crumpler supervised students' murals depicting 
city scenes around the whole inner yard of the school. 

Truth and Education was probably the first and it 
remained probably the only Black Pride mural done by 
an adult in the city for the next two years. The con- 
tinuous urban renewal and displacement of the Black 
population in the district where most lived, the Fillmore 
(also called the Western Addition), explains the scarcity 



of Black murals in the early seventies when wall paint- 
ings were beginning to be taken up by Latinos. 

The main migration of Black people to San Francisco 
from the South had occurred during World War II. 
They found work particularly in the shipyards. By 1972 
there were about 100,000 or 14 percent of the city's 
population. '' During the late forties and fifties the 
Fillmore shopping area was second only to downtown. It 
was the hub of the city's nightlife, particularly its jazz. 
Blacks in the fifties were beginning to buy some of the 
stores that they had long patronized, and the community 
was thriving.'* But the city establishment decided that 
the Fillmore was a blighted area and ripe for redevelop- 
ment. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy: as demoli- 
tion proceeded, people were forced out of their apart- 
ments into the shrinking number of residences, thereby 
ghettoizing the area. In 1970 there were five thousand 
more families whom urban renewal had removed 
throughout the city than it had provided new housing 
for, in spite of federal regulations to protect the dis- 
placed.'' The disappearance of jobs in the Fillmore, 
together with the decline of local shipbuilding and other 
industries in which Blacks had worked, the shift of 
industry to the suburbs and the development there 
especially of electronics, for which few Blacks could get 
training, explains why 21 percent of Black families in 
San Francisco in 1970 lived below the poverty level, 
while for the city as a whole the figure was four 
percent.* 



Development (1969170-72) / 123 





ey Grumpier: Truth and Education, 1970, Hunt- 
Point School, San Francisco. 



When redevelopment demolished old structures in the 
Fillmore, it replaced them with luxury high rises, a 
multiblock trade center, a cathedral, and a diminished 
quantity of housing that former residents could afford. 
For years block after block was left empty until a private 
developer could be found. 

In spite of the blight inflicted on the Fillmore, its first 
outdoor mural was painted in 1972 when Bob Gayton, a 
boxer turned portrait painter, was commissioned for one 
thousand dollars by the San Francisco Museum of Art 
(later. Modern Art) to do a work on the Hayes Recreation 
Center. Gayton's design, similar to Walls of Respect 
elsewhere in the country, brought together portraits of 
Black notables including Frederick Douglass, Joe Lewis, 
Malcolm X, and Angela Davis along with local children. 
All were seen against a large peace symbol, and Gayton 
called his proposal Cultural Black Folks. But the city 
Recreation and Park Commission was disturbed because 
the visage of local Black Assemblyman Willie Brown was 
also included. Skirting this obstacle, Rolando Castellon, 
who headed the Museum Inter-Community Exchange 
sponsoring the work, arranged for Gayton to paint on a 
nearby warehouse wall, which was condemned for de- 
molition but gave the mural two years of life. 

Also during 1972 Black artists mounted "Black 
Quake," a summer art festival at Black Light Explosion, 



the community cultural center in the Fillmore. A series 
of indoor murals showed musicians, dancers, "bad" 
street dudes and their women. David Mora and Camille 
Breeze did a large work in a rough cartoon style showing 
a huge bald-headed White businessman holding a rocket 
in one hand like a dagger or scepter and sucking up 
nourishment through an industrial pipe from naked 
Blacks rounded up by armed, gas-masked troopers. In 
another mural. Mora created a vehement scene of Third 
World figures, who were intended to suggest the Viet- 
namese in particular, firing at U.S. soldiers with pig and 
skull faces and dollar signs and swastikas for insignia. 
.Mora, a .Mexican of Afro-American descent, had painted 
a similar set of angry works in a clinic and bar in Mexico 
City. Although his expressionism was intense, he had 
control of his means. 

Among the casualties of redevelopment in the Fillmore 
were fourteen murals depicting the Stations of the Cross 
in the Emmanuel Church of God in Christ, which had a 
Black congregation. They had been the work of Aaron 
Miller, a local Black artist who was a familiar figure on 
the Beat scene and had done a Wailing Wall in the Bagel 
Shop, a popular gathering place in North Beach. He also 
shined shoes at the .Mark Hopkins Hotel. Beginning on 
the nine-by-fourteen-foot panels in 1950, he had worked 
for eighteen months, borrowing his design and colors 
from early Italian Renaissance painting, but his personal 
vision and self-taught skill intensified everything, making 
the composition angular and twisting the mouths of 
Christ's tormentors. In 1974 the city Art Commission 



124 / COiMMUNITY MURALS 



Robert Gayton: Cultural Black P'olks, 1972, Fillmore 
San Francisco. 





Aaron Miller: Fourteen Stations of the Cross (frag- 
ment), 1950-51, Twelve panels destroyed 1974. Fill- 
more, San Francisco. 



David Mora: Untitled, 1972, Black Light Explosion, 
Fillmore, San Francisco. 




126 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

determined that the murals were not of sufficient artistic 
merit to justify saving in spite of the protests of a few 
local artists. One of the charges against the murals was 
that Jesus was presented as a White man, an ironic 
criticism made in 1974 by people who in the fifties would 
have thought it either impious or naive to have made him 
Black. As it was, one scene showed a Black Simon of 
Cyrene coming to the aid of Jesus, who has faltered 
under the weight of the cross and the beating of his 
White captors. Figures representing the other races oc- 
curred throughout the panels. The Redevelopment Au- 
thority did make a concession and saved two panels, 
which since then have been packed away in a warehouse. 
In 1976 local muralists viewing slides of all fourteen 
recognized their power. 

The first outdoor mural to be painted in the Mission 
District of San Francisco, soon to become the center of 
this activity in the city, was done in 1971 on the store- 
front of Horizons Unlimited, a job-training center. It 
offered four black-and-white comic strip scenes of local 
Raza life drawn by underground cartoonist "Spain" Rod- 
riguez, with green florid lettering and decorations by 
Jesus "Chuy" Campusano and Ruben Guzman. Bob Cuff 
assisted. One panel showed the densely packed shops 
and signs of Mission Street; another, a caricatured crowd 
of local faces; the third a biker and his girl; and finally 
conga players in Dolores Park. All of this floated proudly 
but with some self-amusement over a heap of golden 



clouds. In 1977 the mural was renewed and more color 
was added. 

The .Mission District is the bustling focus of Latino life 
in San Francisco, where in 1970 there were about one 
hundred thousand Spanish-speaking people. Since the 
eighteenth century they had settled around Mission Do- 
lores, but from the time of the gold rush their proportion 
to Anglos dwindled. After World War II, immigrants 
from Central and South America, particularly from 
Nicaragua and El Salvador, chose San Francisco as their 
port of entry, so that by 1970 it was these people, not 
those of Mexican descent, who were the largest compo- 
nent of La Raza in the Mission.*' The district was, like 
the Fillmore, under siege by downtown planners and 
developers who were only partially balked by local or- 
ganizations. 

While many of the immigrants of the fifties and sixties 
were city people with machinists' skills, they found it 
difficult to use their talents because of the departure of 
industry from San Francisco and the growth of white- 
collar employment. Access to training and education for 
Latinos, as for Blacks was remote, and teenagers were 
tracked in high school for menial, dead-end jobs. Un- 
employment in the Mission in 1965 was 15 percent. 
Statistics for the following year showed that 36 percent 



''Spain" Rodriguez, Jesus Campusano, Ruben Guzman, 
and Bob Cuff: Untitled, 1971, Horizons Unlimited, 
Mission District, San Francisco. 




Development (1969170-72) I 127 



of the youth looking for Jobs could not find any.'*" 
Vandalism, robbery, and drugs flourished. It v\as par- 
ticularly young people in the Mission who responded to 
the organizing of Brown people elsewhere in the 
Southwest — the farm workers in the Central Valley and 
the Brown Berets in Los Angeles. Ihe Berets carried 
their activities to the Bay Area in 1968, spreading their 
ideas of political and cultural self-determination and 
encouraging students to demand bilingual education. 
That year in the auditorium of Mission High School a 
Brown Beret read Corky Gonzales' / Am Joaquin while 
brothers played a guitar and congas and showed slides of 
Mayan ruins. ''^ That year also at San Francisco State 
College Latino and other Third World students were 
trying to develop ethnic studies departments, the block- 
ing of which provoked the strike there in 1968 and 1969 
in which community people participated. Police ha- 
rassment of teenagers w as an everyday experience in the 
Mission, so that w hen seven young Latinos were charged 
with the murder of a patrolman in 1969, local support 
rallied to Los Siete de la Raza, w ho gave their name to a 
storefront organization. It was not only occupied with 
legal defense. Vv'henlos Siete were acquitted after eighteen 
months in jail, it continued to put out a newspaper, Basta 
Ya! (Enough!), do draft counseling and college recruit- 
ment and run a breakfast program.'''' 

Artist groups also responded to the concerns of the 
Mission. One of these was the Galeria de la Raza, 
organized in 1969, which became the focus of mural 
activity. It was a storefront exhibition space run by 
Mission artists and served as conduit of public funds to 
muralists. The painting on Horizons Unlimited was its 
project and one of the first uses of federal manpower 
money for murals. Rene Yanez, codirector of the 
Galeria, made the arrangements, helped artists adapt 
suitable designs and did surveys of community response. 
Yaiiez was particularly concerned that the murals ad- 
dressed the problems of the Mission. 

The cartoon approach adopted for the Horizons' mu- 
ral was utilized by other artists in 1972, though thev 
employed different styles. Kobert Crumb, the best 
known of the "Comix" cartoonists, did a light-hearted 
panel for the facade of the Mission Rebels in Action, an 
organization that provided local youth with tutoring, job 
training, and recreation, put on cultural events, and 
offered some political education. Local artists added the 
indio motifs to the building's front. It was at this time also 
that Mike Rios painted fourteen comic-strip panels for a 
local legal-aid office, using the animal heads oi El Topo to 
compare the people of the Mission District to under- 
ground moles. 

On the strength of his part in the Horizons Unlimited 
and Mission Rebels works, "Chuy" Campusano was 
asked to assemble a team to do panels in the corridor at 
the Jamestown Community Center, w hich offered spe- 
cial classes and recreation for .Mission District youth. 
Campusano invited fellow students from the Art Insti- 




Robert Crumb: cartoon; Jerry Concha, Jesus Campusano, 
Ruben Guzman, Thomas and Michael Rios: design and 
lettering, 1972, Mission Rebels Headquarters, Mission 
District, San Francisco. 



tute and Art Academy to join him, and around the 
scaffolding tViey decided to grapple with what seemed to 
them the most important issues. In one panel Consuelo 
Mendez showed a youth wrapped in the stars and stripes 
shooting himself up, while a diabolic Aztec god and skull 
watch. Nearby with a needle are other young addicts in 
hallucinatory colors with hollow insides; three more are 
stretched in graves. All are rendered in a wiry style like 
the swelling veins in the arm of the first. In the next panel 
Campusano and Ruben Guzman found a way of express- 
ing how police harassment wrenched local life: every- 
thing is splayed out — the arms and legs of the cop, the 



128 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Consuelo Mendez: Untitled, 1972, Jamestown Commu- 
nity Center, Mission District, San Francisco. 




Jesus Campusano and Ruben Guzman: Untitled, 1972, 
Jamestown Community Center. 




Students of Santa Ana College, California, at work on the 
mural for their library. Signature corner of the mural 
directed by Sergio 0' Cadiz with the assistance ofShifra M 
Goldman. 







A 


il 


i 


n 


1 


i^n^ 


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Mark Rogovin with local youth (Public Art 'Workshop): 
Break the Grip of the Absentee Landlord, 1973, 
V^est Side, Chicago. 



Tomie Arai, director, Harriet Davis, Alfredo Hernandez, 
Cami Homann, and Phyllis Seebol (City arts Workshop): 
Wall of Respect for Women, 1974, Lower East Side, 
New York. 





Nelson Stevens: I he Black Worker (detail), United 
Community Construction Workers Labor Temple, 1973, 
Roxbury, Boston. 




Jose Montoya (left) and Juanishi Orosco (right) (Rebel 
Chicano Art Front): Pylon murals, 1975, Chicano Park, 
San Diego. 




Leo Tanguma, director, and barrio young people: The 
Rebirth of Our Nationality, 1972, Houston. 




Twenty-one Black artists: Wall of Respect 1967, some 
areas repainted 1969, destroyed 1971, South Side, 
Chicago. (© Public Art Workshop) 




Esteban Villa and art students of Sacramento State 
College: Emergence . . . , 1968, Washington Neighbor- 
hood Center, Sacramento. 




Sail I Solache, Eduardo Carrillo, Ramses Noriega, and 
Sergio Hernandez: Chicano History, 1970, Chicano 
Studies Office, University of California Los Angeles. 



















J*', 


1^ 


^m^ 


* . J 



Mitchell Caton (Chicago Mural Group): Nation Time, 
1971, South Side, Chicago. 




Carol Kenna, Stephen Lobb, and local residents (Green- 
wich Mural Workshop): Floyd Road Mural, 1976, 
Greenwich, London. 





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Mario Galdn: Crucifixion of Don Pedro Albizu Cam- 
pos, 1971, Northwest Side, Chicago. 




Susan Caruso-Green and James Jannuzzi, directors, and 
local youth, (Cityarts Workshop): Arise from Oppres- 
sion, 1972, Lower East Side., New York. 




Arnold Belkin (Cityarts): Against Domestic Colonial- 
ism, 1972, HeWs Kitchen, New York. 




Guillermo Aranda: La Dualidad, 1971-79, El Centro 
Cultural de la Raza, San Diego. 




Dewey Crumpler: George Washington Ethnic Mural 
(Black Panel), 1974, George Washington High School, 
San Francisco. 



James Dong, local artists, and students: International 
Hotel Mural, 1974, Manilatown, San Francisco. The 
scaffolding was for the hotel's demolition. 



Guillermo Aranda, Victor Ochoa, Ernesto de Paul, Abran 
Quevedo, Arturo Roman, Sal Varjas, and others: Un- 
titled, Chicano Park, 1973, San Diego. 





Development (1969/70-72) I 129 




Jesus Campusano and Ruben Guzman: Untitled, 1972, 
Jamestown Community Center. 




Tom Rios: Untitled, 1972, Jamestown Community Cen- 
ter. 



130 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Jesus Campusano and assistant: Untitled, 1972, James- 
town Community Center. 



Jesus Campusano: Untitled, 1972, Jamestown Commu- 
nity Center. 




spread-eagle limbs of a youth being frisked and the 
straining perspective of pavement and street. The artists 
put this scene next to the illusions Anglo culture com- 
pensates youngsters with: a boy who has received an "F" 
on schoolwork dreams of being a brown-skinned Super- 
man; a girl plays with a white-faced Goofy doll, and 
ano'^her dreams of being a white fairy. Culture's abuses 
are then compared with the vitality of young people 
enjoying salsa in Dolores Park. On the wall opposite, 
Tom Rios, a Vietnam veteran, painted the suffering of 
soldiers and civilians alike. Additional murals on which 
Campusano worked with Mendez and others were criti- 
cal of some in Latino community organizations v\ho 
manipulated residents, and the young people who fought 
over Neighborhood Youth Corps money. These scenes 
are set against a day in the country u here a Jamestown 
bus has transported Mission kids and panels showing 
racially mixed youngsters playing together. The James- 
town murals were the most outspoken public art yet 
painted in the Mission, and they were done with style. 

The Vietnam War also brought together a group of 
young Anglo artists — Miranda Bergman, Jane Norling, 
Andrea Cole, and Arch Williams — who were to call 
themselves the Haight-Ashbury Muralists. For a line of 
march of a 1972 peace demonstration, they painted on a 
boarded-up storefront an image anticipating it. "Unity in 
Our Community," announced a banner borne by the 
front rank. The march descended past the shops of 
Haight street, while in the foreground people of all races 
(one in a hard hat) struggled with a Nixon-headed oc- 
topus. And in the other direction music and the pleasures 
of peace were being enjoyed in nearby Golden Gate 
Park. The artists called their vision Rainbow People. The 
reworking of this mural is described in chapter 5. 



Summary 

The beginning of community murals was marked by 
images of the brutalizing of minority people, the martyr- 
dom of their leaders, and in response scenes of militant 
self-defense as well as affirmations of their historical 
accomplishments. Black and Brown Power and Pride 
were expressed by the imagery of guns and demon- 
strations along with portraits of leaders, athletes, and 
musicians and scenes of early ethnic civilizations. In the 
second stage of the murals' development, scenes of 
human suffering as the result of racism remained in the 
work of Caton, Herron, Mora, and others. But commu- 
nity armed self-defense receded as a theme as it lost 
viability as a tactic due to the retaliation of the police and 
the courts against groups like the Panthers. In addition, 
both sides' unrealistic talk about revolution and the 
media's linking of self-defense with rioting confused the 
public. However, protest against police harassment and 
other forms of social injustice continued to utilize non- 
violent, though often disruptive, demonstrations, and 



Development (1969/70-72) / 131 

this was reflected in the imagery of murals. The fist 
remained a w idespread motif, and marches persisted as a 
central subject. The demonstrators' intention of gaining 
the respect and eventual cooperation of the uncommitted 
and their opponents was emphasized by artists like 
Walker. And the need for the different races to work 
together w as stressed by many painters and communities 
both as a theme and in the actual creating of murals. 

The generalized protests against racism by the early 
painting became more specific with attacks on urban 
renewal that removed people rather than rehabilitating 
their housing for them. Murals also concentrated on gang 
violence and drugs that were understood as products of 
racism. While antiwar sentiment had for a long time been 
expressed by posters and graffiti, it appeared among the 
early murals of Black and Brou n artists who saw the 
disproportionate role of their brothers in Indochina as 
another instance of racism. As more White artists turned 
to murals, peace became a theme for only a few of their 
works, partly because it w as perceived as more a national 
than a neighborhood issue. Meanwhile the first murals on 
women's concerns were done as part of the Black Pride 
movement. 

Ethnic people turned increasingly to culture — images 
of a traditional way of life and past leaders who had 
supported the downtrodden — to strengthen their sense of 
community and their jjower to change local conditions. 
Black artists looked to both Egyptian and West African 
civilization; Chicanos drew on their resources in .Mexican 
culture; and the new groups who came to murals, Puerto 
Ricans and Asians, turned to their heritage. Moreover, 
murals began to be used to celebrate the present life of 
the neighborhood, as in the case of the Horizons Unlim- 
ited facade and the Alvarado School mosaic in San 
Francisco. 

As a form, the community mural remained a kind of 
public demonstration — one that lasted. In fact, it became 
more so. While most of the murals of the first period 
were done by professional artists, lay people became 
increasingly involved. Because murals were for and 
about the community, it came to be felt that they should 
be created by community people — not only trained resi- 
dents, but also the untrained. The empowering of ordi- 
nary people in all respects required that they be able to 
communicate on matters of common concern publicly 
and directly without the intermediary of professionals 
but with their help. It was felt that not only was this the 
only way that their real concerns would get aired, but 
that such expression was necessary for each person's 
well-being, as Judy Baca said. And techniques were 
developed to help the nonprofessional make effective 
images. 

This second period of development also witnessed the 
organizing of muralists in their own groups or their 
association with public agencies. Funding, as we shall see 
more in detail later, was divided between what muralists 
could raise locally, out of their own pockets and from 



132 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

local residents and merchants, and from more distant 
sources — federal manpower money, the National En- 
dowment for the Arts, state arts councils, city agencies, 
large corporations, and a few foundations. Some money 
that the NEA appropriated for emergency summer arts 
programs in 1968 in the wake of ghetto riots reached 
muralists. The first NEA grants earmarked for murals 
began in fiscal year 1970 (that is, 1969-70) and went to 
Summerthing in Boston and the Chicago Mural Group, 
in 1970 the NEA initiated the Inner-City Mural Pro- 
gram. And already restrictions and censorship were 
being experienced by those who depended on public 
funding, as the dwindling of money for socially con- 
scious murals in Boston after 1971 demonstrated. 

During this second period important advances in con- 
tent and function had been made; new groups of people 
particularly nonprofessionals, in increasing numbers 
turned to murals, and new methods were adopted to 
accommodate them. Community murals were ready for a 
new surge of growth. 

NOTES 

1. Cf. note 17 to chapter 7. 

2. Cockcroft, Weber and Cockcroft, p. 73 f. 

3. Ibid., p. 77, and "It .Makes You Stop and Think, The 
Way It Is Now " Second City, December 1970, p. 2. 

4. In 1979 Mclivaine, who had not done murals for years, 
was editor of the West Side Journal, a newspaper with a circula- 
tion of seventy thousand. 

5. Cockcroft, Weber and Cockcroft, p. 131 f. 

6. The tar expanded and contracted w ith the seasons so that 
in the winter of 1979 the painting's surface was cracked and 
curling, but the color was still fresh and brilliant. 

7. Tom Horowitz, ".Vluralizing in Chicago," Chicago Ex- 
press, }u\y 19, 1972, p. 5. 

8. Letter, .March 1979. 

9. Bergman et al., Puerto Rico: The Flame of Resistance, p. 
90 ff. 

10. Ibid., p. 114. 

1 1 . Pedro Pietri, Puerto Rican Obituary (New York: Monthly 
Review Press, 1973), p. 13 f. 

12. Catarino Garza, Puerto Ricans in the U.S. (New York: 
Pathfinder, 1977), pp. 36,41. 

13. "Thirteen-Point Program of YLP," quoted in Bergman 
et al., p. 127. 

14. Bergman et al., p. 52 ff. 

15. Ibid., p. 74. 

16. Ibid., p. 80 ff. 

17. Victor A. Sorell, "Barrio .Murals in Chicago," Revista 
Chicano-Riquena, Autumn, 1976. 

18. These are described by him in the book he did with the 
Cockcrofts, pp. 84-86, 100-105. 

19. John H. Mollenkopf, "The Fragile Giants: The Crisis of 
the Public Sector in American Cities," Socialist Revolution, 
July-September, 1976, pp. 11-37. 



20. "Changing Walls," Architectural Forum, May 1973, p. 
21. 

21. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities 
(New York: Vintage, 1961), p. 8 ff. 

22. Susan Shapiro-Kiok and Susan Caruso-Green, 
"Cityarts Workshop, Inc.," Summer, 1974, p. 3. Also Susan 
Shapiro-Kiok, "Cityarts Workshop," Cockcroft, Weber, and 
Cockcroft, p. 173 ff. 

23. Susan Shapiro-Kiok in Cockcroft, Weber and 
(Jockcroft, p. 179. 

24. Chicano Federation of San Diego County, 1979, p. 5. 

25. .Mildred .Monteverde, "Contemporary Chicano Art," 
Aztlan 75. 

26. Abran Quevedo, quoted by Barbara Herrera, "Chicano 
Park Needs Planning Power," San Diego Evening Tribune, Au- 
gust 8, 1974, p. D-4. 

27. Quoted by Barbara Herrera, "Barrio Idealists Face 
Strong Bamers," San Diego Evening Tribune, August 10, 1974. 

28. Reported by Stewart Dill McBride, "Mexican American 
street gangs take up brushes," Christian Science Monitor, 
October 28, 1977, p. 18. 

29. Al Goldfarb, "The Los Angeles Mural Phenomenon," 
Parks and Recreation , December 1975-January 1976, p. 9. 

30. .Martin Zucker, "Walls of barrio are brought to life by 
street gang art," Smithsonian, CJctober 1978, p. 108. 

31. Frank Del Olmo, "Chicano Gang Turns to Art," Los 
Angeles Times, September 9, 1973. 

32. Zucker, p. 105. 

33. Geronimo Garduno, "Artes Guadalupanos de Aztlan," 
in (>x:kcroft, Weber and (x)ckcroft, pp. 203 ff ,'\lso, Eric Kroll, 
"Folk Art in the Barrios," Natural History, .May 1973, pp. 
56-65. 

34. Garduilo, p. 203. 

35. Some of the details here come from Alice J. King, 
"Omowale: the Black Experience," Essence, July 1973, p. 51. 
The rest derives from an interview with the Barneses. 

36. Joan Abrahamson and Sally B. Woodbridge, The Al- 
varado School-Community Art Program, (San Francisco: Alvarado 
School Workshop, 1973), p. 9. 

37. Frederick M. Wirt, Power in the City, decision making in 
San Francisco (Berkeley; University of California Press, 1974) 
pp. 31-33. 

38. Arnold Townsend, "Townsend Talks about the 
Fillmore Center," The Fillmore Voice (San Francisco), March 3, 
1975, p. 2. 

39. Citizens Emergency Task Force for a Workable 
Housing Policy, "The Shame of San Francisco," undated. 

40. Wirt, p. 39. 

41. Marjorie Heins, Strictly Ghetto Property (Berkeley: Ram- 
parts, 1972), p. 18. 

42. Ibid., p. 26. 

43. Ibid., p. 52. 

44. Ibid., p. 164. 



SCALE (1913-15) 



If nothing else, community murals between 1973 and 
1975 were distinguished by their scale. Individual works 
were frequently much larger than before. Groups of 
muralists often worked on ensembles of outdoor wall 
paintings embracing large areas like construction sites, 
courtyards, parks, and whole housing projects. Neigh- 
borhoods came to be studded with murals, and their 
character and quality of life were perceptibly changed. 
There already had been anticipations of this, but 
these years were particularly marked by a luxuriant 
flowering of the movement. New groups of people, some 
ethnic but also White working-class and counterculture 
communities, began doing murals. Although they had 
been pioneered in a few public institutions during the 
early seventies, they now were appearing more com- 
monly in high schools and universities as well as prisons. 
In addition, new issues particularly concerned with 
labor, health, and the environment came to occupy 
muralists. The growth in scale brought with it new- 
methods of working together on the walls as well as new 
organizing by muralists locally and nationally. Also a 
major source of public funding was opened up. 

San Francisco 

The earliest works of the community mural move- 
ment were done in 1967 and 1968 mainly by different 
artists painting each his or her own panel in an ensemble 
or different areas of a wall. In San Francisco's Mission 
District this is how the first murals were done in 1971 



and 1972 at Horizons Unlimited, the Mission Rebels 
building, and indoors at the Jamestown Educational 
Center; infrequently two artists cooperated on a section. 
It was the artists who worked on these paintings and 
other artists they set an example for, who were to go on 
to do much larger projects, most of them outdoors and a 
number of them works that composed an ensemble that 
enveloped a public space. By 1975 the sheer concentra- 
tion of murals in a square mile of the Mission gave a new 
character to the whole district: a sense of community 
identity and self-respect that was important as the dis- 
trict continued to struggle with the problems of outside 
developers, unemployment, undocumented workers, 
drugs, and vandalism. 

While most of the murals in the Mission were done by 
young professional artists or art students who lived in the 
community, it was children who initiated the painting 
that began along Balmy Alley, a block-long stretch that 
lets into one of the Mission's main streets. The kids of 
Mia Galivez's Twenty-fourth Street Place, a day-care 
center, packed a wall with flowers, giraffes and airplanes 
well above the level of their heads. Susan Cervantes, an 
artist who was to do many murals in the Mission, got her 
start by helping with the youngsters. Since that begin- 
ning in 1973, artists and children, some local, some from 
the suburbs, some from distant places have come to paint 
the garage doors, fences, and walls along Balmy Alley. 
Some of the earliest work was simply decorative painting 
of a picket fence and stairway. But to these were added 
on a nearby wall indios and their deities. Artists Patricia 



133 



1 34 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Rodriguez and Graciela Carrillo painted a fantasy of 
tropical vegetation, birds, and fish on a garage door; and 
nearby, Irene Perez decorated another garage with a pair 
of boys reclining back to back playing horns. Across 
from it there is the intense stare of an indio child with face 
paint done by Anna Montana, and above it attached to 
the wall, low relief sculpture of found objects. There 
were also portraits of local artists against a Mexican flag 
by Ralph McNiel that later were replaced, and visiting 
San Diego painters offered a view of a child being born, 
suggesting the rebirth of Aztlan. 

Balmy Alley reflects an impulse that has recurred as 
community murals have appeared cross the country, an 
impulse for people to add more images to a site. Some- 
times the original artists change their imagery; frequently 
new painters do work alongside it. This occurred in 
Chicago with the Wall of Respect and the Wall of Truth 
across the street between 1967 to 1971. Similarly in 
Detroit the Wall of Dignity spawned new painting by 
Walker, Eda, and local artists nearby. The example of 
one work encourages others. The reluctance of people to 
express themselves is overcome, or they feel challenged 
to add their statement. The sense of a place for public 
dialogue emerges, or the notion of creating an environ- 
ment that is alive with images and ideas grips a growing 
number of people. The impulse to create a visual envi- 
ronment is the artist's way of trying by the means he has 
at his control to change the character of daily life. Most 
muralists know that painting is not enough, but the more 



Patricia Rodriguez and Graciela Carrillo: Untitled, 
1973, Balmy Alley. 



Children of 24th Street Place directed by Mia Galivez and 
Susan Cervantes: further section of wall, 1973; near, 
Susan Cervantes: Limpie Su Calle (Keep Four Street 
Clean), 1978, Balmy Alley, Mission District, San Fran- 




Scale (1973-75) I 135 




Irene Perez: Untitled, 1973, Balmy Alley. 



Anna Montana and assistant: Untitled 1973, Balmy 
Alley. 



% 




136 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Mario ''Torero'' Acevedo, Mam Lima, Tomas ''Coyote'' 
Castaneda, and Balazo: Untitled, 1975, Balmy Alley. 



people become involved in the actual painting or talking 
about it, change begins to occur. Muralists frequently 
talk of saturating a neighborhood with art to revive its 
spirit, and this was widely undertaken as murals gener- 
ated the impulse to more murals and a "mural move- 
ment" could be spoken of. In the Mission District this 
was experienced in what had begun as a modest project 
of day-care kids painting together. It spread along both 
sides of the alley that was secluded from the bustle of 
Twenty-fourth Street with its shops and buses but acces- 
sible to it. It was with greater boldness that some of these 
artists who painted there joined others to work on all 
three walls embracing the minipark and playground a 
few blocks away, and on additional walls on this and 
adjoining streets, including a housing project nearby. 

While some of these works were explicitly political in 
their import, more were efforts to reevoke the heritage of 
the residents and shopkeepers. But in a city where racism 
was still a means of unequally distributing wealth and 
opportunity, heritage was political. It was made political 
by those who did the hiring and decided on union 
memberships, those who granted loans and let apart- 
ments, and those who did the educating and policing and 
operated the social services. Therefore, when people 
turned to murals to reaffirm their heritage and collective 
identity, they were acting politically and seeking to draw 
strength from what the dominant society had tried to 
make a stigma. Heritage murals, by reminding people of 
the uniqueness of their way of life and the achievements 
of the past, stimulated energy for organizing to claim 
their fair share. 



The forging of community had been difficult in San 
Francisco's Mission District where the majority of people 
derive from different Latin American countries — some 
from urban, others from rural backgrounds. Four young 
artists, Irene Perez, Patricia Rodriguez, Graciela Car- 
rillo, and Consuelo Mendez, who organized a group 
called Las Mujeres Muralistas (The Women Murali.sts), 
wanted to do something about this. When they were 
commissioned to do a large wall of the Mission Model 
Cities office in 1974, they sought to honor the heritage of 
many of the national groups and also to show what they 
believed was the common focus of the diverse cultures. 
At the far left Peruvian indios weave a boat of reeds and 
play their pipes as llamas watch; Mexican women chat 
above their pottery, and closer in, Venezuelans have 
donned devil masks. At the near right a Bolivian dancer 
throws up his arms, while toward the edge Guatemalan 
women prepare food and care for a child. Below a 
modern family is shown against an allusion to the Hori- 
zons Unlimited mural that depicts the Mission District 
today. All these scenes are united by the image in the 
center. Floating over fields of maiz, maguay, and banana 
palms is an indio symbol of the sun with its short rays 
splaying out. Inside the sun a mother and father are 
shown embracing their children — imagery that could not 
fail to reach neighborhood people whose preoccupation 
was the protection of the family. But this had special 
relevance because the Mission was threatened by rising 
rents, unemployment, drugs, and school dropouts. In 
spite of the diversity of customs represented, the image 
of the family was shared and affirmed a common Raza. 
The artists called it Latinoamerica. 

The same year Graciela Carrillo and Consuelo Men- 
dez, taking as assistants Susan Cervantes and Miriam 
Olive, and working under the name of Las Mujeres 



Scale (1973-75) I 137 




Graciela Carrillo, Consuelo Mendez, Irene Perez, and 
Patricia Rodriguez (Las Mujeres Muralistas): 
Latinoamerica (detail), 1974, Mission District, San 
Francisco. 



Graciela Carrillo and Consuelo Mendez assisted by Susan 
Cervantes and Miriam Olivo: Para el Mercado (To the 
Market) (partial view), 1974, Mission District, San 
Francisco. 

V n— 




138 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Para el Mercado (partial view). 



Muralistas, completed Para el Mercado (To the Market), a 
vibrant montage of Latin American scenes of people 
fishing, harvesting, kneading dough for pastry, and sel- 
ling their wares. It was done on a wall that faced the 
parking area of a taco stand. They regarded their work as 
primarily a decoration for the neighborhood. But it did 
more: it again affirmed the common heritage of local 
residents and their uniqueness in the mixed jX)pulation of 
the city. This was topical at the time because residents 
had recently fa'iled in their campaign to prevent a 
McDonald's hamburger franchise from opening down 
the street. They had argued that only locally owned 
businesses should be granted a license so as to keep the 
money of local people in the Mission. However, pictur- 
esque murals were not sufficient for one of the painters, 
Consuelo Mendez, who left the group because she 
wanted to do more overtly political painting. 

The next work of the remaining Mujeres, Irene Perez, 
Graciella Carrillo, and Patricia Rodriguez, was a two- 
story wall in the minipark on Twenty-fourth Street in 
1975. It was a fantasy of lush jungle growth with a 



cheetah, dinosaur, and young people in loin cloths col- 
lecting food while gentle gods loom behind a volcano. 
This was one of an ensemble of murals that by then 
enveloped the park on three sides. A smaller but sensi- 
tively done piece by Jerry Concha showed a young man 
of today looking over his shoulder at two Mayan heads 
from a stele at Bonampak. This explicit connection of the 
achievements of the past and possibilities of the present is 
a theme that runs through most of the other panels that 
embrace the park. It helps a little in understanding 
Domingo Rivera's large mural that begins with two 
Toltec columns, one with a farm workers' eagle on it, 
that surround an enigmatic hall from which rises a 
transparent prism and desert scene with two figures 
reading back to back beneath febrile plants and a caption 
"psychocybernetics." 

More comprehensible is the scene of ancient craftsmen 
that Tony Machado did. It includes a music lesson of a 
dozen loinclothed youths practicing on horns, but one of 
them wears a modern white "panama" and another an 
Oakland A's cap. Next to it Mike Rios, Luiz Cortazar 
and Richard Montez offered a view of a curving earth 
from which temples rise. Atop one a man with his arm 
around the shoulder of a child points upward into the sky 
and future, and a girl reads an ancient codex. Above 



Scale (1973-75) I 139 




Left: Domingo Rivera: Psycho-Cybernetics; center: 
Jerry Concha: Untitled; right: Graciela Carrillo, Irene 
Perez, and Patricia Rodriguez: Untitled; all works, 
1975, Mini-Park, Mission District, San Francisco. 



Jerry Concha: Untitled, 1975, Mini-Park. 





Anthony Machado: Untitled, 1975, Mini-Park. 



Michael Rios, Louis Cortazar, and Richard Montez: 
Untitled, 197S,Mini-Park. 




Scale (1973-75) I 141 




Michael Rios, Anthony Machado, and Richard Montez: 
Untitled, 1975, Mini-Park. 



them a glyph of the Aztec calendar glides like a space 
ship and over it are people of La Raza today looking up 
beyond a torch one of them holds as others stride out of a 
jumble of stones of the past and perhaps the present. It is 
a remarkable visionary piece in which the artists handle 
perspective in a highly imaginative way. 

The entire right side of the Mini-Park is a series of 
murals done by Mike Rios with Tony Machado and 
Richard Montez. Here the theme of past and present is 
continued. The first shows ancient and modern workmen 
fashioning stones for squarish structures that l(X)k both 
old and new. Next, amid scenes of indio craftsmen and 
their buildings, there emerges on the side of great stone 
blocks floating above, the face of a young person holding 
draftsman's instruments, and on another the planetary 
rings of the atom and a hand holding a prism. Finally 
moving towards the street is the huge plumed serpent 
Quetzalcoatl with verdent scales among which indios 
work, learn and play — a symbol of life and its energies. 
But it is also something produced or cultivated by 
humanity itself, for about its head is scaffolding from 
which workmen give it shape. It is not merely the bright 
vividness of the Mini-Park murals that impresses, it is the 
conception that unites them and the imaginative way 
they are realized. The park is not only a place for kids to 
play and grown-ups to rest, it is an environment that 
reminds people of their roots and provokes thought about 
how to live today. 

In 1973, a year before the Mini-Park murals got under 
way, the Bank of America offered local muralists a 



commission of fifteen thousand dollars to do a twelve- 
by-ninety-foot work above the tellers' cages in their 
remodeled Twenty-third and Mission Street branch. 
The artists were Jesus "Chuy" Campusano, who did the 
design, Mike Rios, and Luis Cortazar, who were helped 
by five assistants. Emmy Lou Packard, who had worked 
with Diego Rivera on a mural in San Francisco in 1939 
and 1940, provided advice.^ The artists had serious 
doubts about painting for the Bank of America because of 
its role in agribusiness that exploited farmworkers in the 
Central Valley, but they decided to go ahead as long as 
they were left free to say what they wanted. (Of this 
more will be said later.) They painted the one thousand 
square feet of panels in an old Bank of America office and 
mounted them when they were finished. On a nearby 
wall a plaque bearing Campusano's words explains: 

We wanted to create a medley of scenes depicting the 
heritage, life and hopes of the Mission District. The 
mural is for everybody — the bank personnel, the 
people on the other wide of the teller counter, and the 
people walking outside the windows. 

In the center of the mural there is an elderly 
farmworker with a huge sack of cotton on his shoulder; 
Campusano says that it is important that other agricul- 
tural laborers besides those who work in vineyards be 
recognized. Beneath him an indio is crucified to the 
land — a symbol explained by an inscription that a man in 
the foreground extends, the words of Cesar Chavez in 
El Plan de Delano, which was signed by those who were 
about to begin their three-hundred-mile pilgrimage to 
Sacramento in 1966: "Our sweat and our blood have 



142 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Michael Rios, Anthony Machado, and Richard Montez: 
Untitled, 1975, Mini-Park. 



Mini-Park, Mission District, San Francisco. 





Jesus Campusano, Michael Rios, Luis Cortazar and others: 
Bank of American Mural, 1974, Mission District, San 
Francisco. 







Bank of America Mural (partial view). 


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144 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Bank of America Mural partial view). 



fallen on this land to make other men rich." The crucified 
figure recalls an indio on an upright cross with a U.S. 
eagle perching on top that Siqueiros had done in Los 
Angeles in 1932 and angry citizens had had white- 
washed. 

Flanking the center are a pair of scaffoldings around 
large images, one of a Zapatalike fighter, the other of a 
professional man — perhaps a scholar, because of his 
book. These appear to be offered as role models for 
viewers or their children. (The visual idea came from a 
Rivera mural at the San Francisco Art Institute, where 
the scaffolding is around a monumental worker that 
Rivera depicts himself painting.) Close by the warrior is a 
scene of .Mission High School with a humorous view of 
graduates. A teenage rock saxophonist with a street-gang 
jacket is placed near an indio with a Mayan syrinx. A 
prisoner with a jail number across his back is a reminder 
of the discriminatory justice system, and the 101 window 
refers to the familiar office in City Hall where parking 
tickets are paid. Further to the left are black children 
boarding a bus, for Mission District schools were being 
integrated. At the far left a calavera embraces Siqueiros, 
the last of the great .Mexican muralists, who had recently 
died and who holds here the symbol of an atom, which 
Campusano says represents knowledge and life. Toward 
the right of center are representations of the careers 
Latinos are seeking in medicine, engineering, and con- 



Bank of America Mural (partial view). 




struction work, suggested also by the subway train that 
snakes forward. In a humorous reference to opportunities 
in art, an older artist, resembling Siqueiros, is bending 
over a younger one's drawing of the portrait of Siqueiros 
at the far left. And at the corner two students, one 
holding a book with a .Mission High cover, look up at a 
great hand dispensing light. 

The mural was one of the most outspoken political 
statements that muralists were to make and it was made 
inside the belly of the beast. This makes the painting 
almost unique among works of the community-mural 
movement, except for some done in colleges and univer- 
sities. Aesthetically it is also impressive. It is a montage of 
scenes that are organized around a single center, and can 
be taken in as patrons wait for a teller. There is in fact a 
subsidiary center at the corner, which confronts you as 
you approach the tellers from the main entrance. The 
corner is handled like a ship's prow, but without the 
dominating emphasis of the murals of Los Artes in Santa 
Fe, which is appropriate here since the main focus is 
elsewhere. The complexity of the mural's conception, 
the clarity with which it projects its message, its mixture 
of humor and seriousness and of the local with the 
universal, and the moving quality of its central image 
render whatever awkwardness there is in drawing unim- 
portant and mark a decided advance in public art. 



Scale (1973-75) I 145 

After completing the Bank of America mural in the 
spring of 1974, Campusano was engaged to work with 
teenagers during the summer by Horizons Unlimited, 
the job-training center where he had helped paint the 
first mural of the new movement in the .Mission. There 
were about ten of them who worked out a composition 
for the main room. In the foreground is an over-size cop 
turned away from us to block a procession of determined 
young people treading on an American flag as they 
approach him. The cop is connected by painted pipes to 
real ones that hang from the ceiling, and he is squatting 
on the back of a Latino who turns the valve that inflates 
him, making clear the painters' indictment of an oppres- 
sive establishment that they believed Raza people were 
forced to maintain with their labor. A massive wall cuts 
the teenagers off from the prosperous city where high 
rises tower; their way is open only to drugs and the fields 
where farmworkers are still doing stoop labor. Further 
off are lyrical images of Raza unity and the ancient past. 
Clearly the painters were intent on urging on the young 
people who came to the center to prepare for employ- 
ment the need for political awareness and solidarity. This 



Jesus Campusano and local youth: Untitled, 1974, Hori- 
zons Unlimited, Mission District, San Francisco. 




146 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Michael Rios, Anthony Machado, and Richard Montez: 
Untitled, 1975, Mission District, San Francisco. 



was perhaps the first mural project in the city in which 
teenagers collaborated with a trained artist. 

In 1975 Mike Rios, with the assistance of Tony 
Machado and Richard Montez, undertook a complex 
work that linked politics and culture. The wall was not 
prepared for a long-lasting mural, and within two years it 
was in such bad condition that it was painted out, but it 
nevertheless was an interesting effort. It was done on the 
side of a Chinese restaurant in the .Mission after the 
victory of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong and at a 
time when South Vietnamese refugees were being relo- 
cated in the United States. It showed a group of racially 
mixed American teenagers watching a film whose large 
projected image filled much of the mural. The image was 
of a Vietnamese woman carrying a child, both with 
bandaged eyes, fleeing their flaming countryside. But 
they were cut off by sharpened red, white, and blue 
Punjab stakes. The mother's beleaguerment and clenched 
fist suggested the liberation struggles of Third World 
jjeoples against imperialism. The painters had borrowed 
the image from a Chinese poster that was widely distri- 
buted in this country; however, in the original mother 
and child were not blindfolded, and some viewers ob- 
jected to the new version because it suggested that the 



Vietnamese did not clearly understand their struggle. 
But the woman's determination was clear. .Meanwhile, 
back where the young audience was watching the film, 
the downtown highrises of big business uere quak- 
ing as if shaken by the failure of overseas ambi- 
tions. However, the space the kids were watching from 
seemed protected from the catastrophe. It was the 
portico of an ancient indio temple, and the children 
seemed to be guarded by a .Mayan jaguar. Behind them 
was the sanctuary with its images of gods beneath which 
other young people were working on new sculptures. 
These youthful artists were both ancient and modern — 
some were in indio garb; one wore an athlete's shirt with a 
number. The mural's meaning gradually emerged: the 
heritage of Raza and the arts that preserved it could lead 
to a humane world today in the face of downtown's 
oppression of people at home and overseas. What Rios 
was trying to draw his viewers' attention to was the 
connection of domestic and foreign colonialism, and the 
function of the arts and heritage to provide an alternative. 
The painting demonstrated that murals can grapple with 
complex content and make demands on viewers to think 
them through. But the problems that some conscientious 
observers had, indicated the difficulty of legible design. 

The same year, 1975, Rios again with the help of 
Machado and Montez, did a mural on a privately owned 
wall facing the entrance to a Mission District subway 



Scale (1973-75) I 147 




Michael Rios, Anthony Machado, and Richard Montez: 
Untitled, 1975, Mission District, San Francisco. 



Michael Rios, Anthony Machado, and Richard Montez: 
Bart Mural, 1975, Mission District, San Francisco. 




148 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

station. It was about BAR I, the new Bay Area Rapid 
Transit, v\ hich was a controversial issue in the Mission. 
The mural depicts a sleek train coming up from the 
dov\ ntow n skyscrapers and rushing over the heads and 
backs of local people whom it seems to weigh down as if 
they w ere pylons. (It is immaterial that the train does not 
come out of the ground at this station.) But are the 
Mission residents v\ illingly supporting it, or does the 
figure in the foreground twist off the tracks? Although 
the bearers of the rails see;m to be frovv ning and wincing, 
there is an ambiguity that leads some viewers to read the 
mural as the people of the Mission upholding BAR I. 
Rios himself says ambiguously that he wanted to show 
people simply holding up BART. "They support it by 
their fares and taxes," he adds. Rene Yanez, who has 
worked closely with Rios and made arrangements for a 
number of his paintings, says that this is w hat Rios tells 
establishment types but that his real intention was to 
show BART on the backs of La Raza. A preliminary but 
careful draw ing for the mural shows much more serene 
and classic faces on the figures that hold up the tracks. 
This may have been the design with w hich Rios sought 
approval from the city Art Commission. Although some 
of its members, he says, were not happy w ith the pro- 
posal, it was accepted. The only ju.stification for am- 
biguity in the final image could be the painters' effort to 
make a statement that they hoped would be understood 
differently by different kinds of viewers, strengthening 
local resistance to urban redevelopment, but protecting 



the painters' chances of more mural commissions with 
public funding. Rios was a CP'TA worker. 

The ambiguity or ambivalence of the BAR T mural 
reHeets the general relationship or murals to urban rede- 
velopment. Many Mission residents believed that BART 
w as not built to meet their needs. At that time it did not 
run at nights or on weekends. It w as not routed for travel 
w ithin the city but primarily to bring corporate person- 
nel and shoppers from the middle-class suburbs 
downtown. It was built for the time, many residents 
feared, when the Mission would become a tourist center 
and provide apartments for people v\ho worked in the 
high rises depicted in Rios's mural. Since the mid-sixties, 
in fact, downtown interests had been planning the re- 
newal of the Mission with a view to upgrading it as a 
residential area to attract office personnel back from the 
suburbs, build up the city's tax base and generate more 
business. BART would make two stops there and con- 
nect it with downtown with hardly a five-minute ride. 
High rises, tow n houses, and new office buildings were 
projected by the Planning Commission for the district.^ 
A plaza with Latin American restaurants, craft shops, 
and a pedestrian mall that w ould connect BAR T w ith the 
old Spanish mission were projected. When the BART 
mural was painted in 1975 palm trees were already 
planted along the main thoroughfare, and sidewalks were 
paved with Mexican tiles. New bank buildings and 
apartment houses had been built, and many of the old 
frame Victorians were being refurbished by speculators 




Gilberto Ramirez and Anthony Machado: Untitled, 
1975, LULAC (League of United Latin American Citi- 
zens), Mission District, San Francisco. 



Scale (1973-75) I 149 




Sondra Chirlton and friends: Eddy and Divisadero, 
1973, Fillmore, San Francisco. 



and well-to-do new owners. All of this "upgrading" was 
forcing up property values and rents and driving out 
increasing numbers of residents. 

Urban renewal in the Mission was slowed not only by 
the inflation and recession of the early seventies but by 
the pressure of local community groups. Also, the area's 
art centers, the Galena de la Raza, Mission Media Arts, 
and the Mexican Museum played important roles in 
educating residents and creating a sense of collective 
identity and pride. Rene Yaiiez, co-director of the Galena, 
said of the murals, "We were working to define the 
boundaries of the community, to give it character. By 
giving the community a character, a face, it would be 
harder for bulldozers to tear it down."'* 

But Yaiiez was also concerned that the murals that 
brightened the walls of the Mission District would be 
exploited by the tourist industry. Maps of their location 
were distributed, walking tours by public-spirited 
groups were available on a regular basis. This contrib- 
uted to spreading the word about community art and 
getting support for funding. But there was a danger that 
the murals would become merely picturesque like official 
fiestas and street fairs, and thereby be co-opted by the 
establishment against which they had originally been 
directed. The only way to guard against this was for 
murals to be outspoken. Whether the BART mural could 
be any more explicit in its opposition to redevelopment in 
the Mission, if that was its intention, without jeopardiz- 
ing future commissions for the artists is another matter. 



Whether it could be as explicit as Kios and the others had 
been at the Bank of America is a question that lingered. 

Meanwhile, Gilberto Ramirez, the Mexican painter 
who with local assistants had done the first important 
San Diego mural of the new movement in 1970, came to 
the San Francisco Mission District in 1975 to undertake a 
much larger work and outdoors. Anthony Machado as- 
sisted him on the two-story painting on LULAC (League 
of United Latin American Citizens), a .Mission District 
community service and job training center. The scene is 
the military-industrial inferno where chimneys spew- 
dense smoke, cannons threaten, and a metal proboscis 
snatches up a victim, while other figures are tortured by 
machinery. This is powerfully painted in a swirling, 
sooty fire-glow that borrows from Orozco. Against this a 
nude young man and woman stand in the foreground 
holding hands, apparently intended as symbols of de- 
fiance. Their bodies are brown and white, suggesting 
Raza solidarity. But they are dwarfed by the machinery 
and rendered in an academic, fine-arts style, suggesting 
hope rather than struggle, that reduces their credibility. 
The same discrepancy between weak nudes and strong 
background occurred in the panels at San Diego State 
University. It was curious that Ramirez, who learned 
much from Orozco, including his painterly technique, 
was not inspired by the powerful naked Prometheuses of 
the master. 

There were hardly any murals done by Black people in 
San Francisco between 1973 and 1975. The upheaval 
that urban renewal caused in the Fillmore District had to 
be the reason. There was by now some new housing 
there, and it was probably its newness that prevented the 
painting of murals on it. There was, however, a very 



150 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

simple and moving statement of human relationships 
done in 1973 along the bottom of a wall of an old frame 
three-story apartment building facing an empty lot 
where there were outcroppings of old foundations. 
Strung out along the wall are full-length life-sized 
portraits of local people, some Black, some Asian, some 
White, all of whom appear to have worked on the 
painting which they signed. Their own self-confidence 
and pleasure in being together overcomes the awkward- 
ness of execution and results in a strength that is sym- 
bolized by a fire-spouting dragon that rears up at the 
side. By painting its feet and claws on stones next to the 
wall the artists have given the dragon the quality of relief 
sculpture, which, together with the sharply frontal 
figures, brings them all into close contact with the 
viewer. It is as if they had stopped briefly their conversa- 
tions and basketball and turned to greet you. The way 
each assumes a particular stance characterizes them as 
much as their faces and clothes. The mural is presided 
over in good weather by an elderly gentleman, who 
moves slowly but with dignity and who uses the yellow 
cane and wears the same Army field jacket with the name 
strip to be seen in his portrait. He is Sergeant Henderson 
and explains that one of the young people had drawn his 
figure, but that he had filled in the color. 

Meanwhile, some miles to the west, Dewey Grumpier 
was at work on an ensemble of murals that grew out of 
protests begun in 1966 by students at George Washing- 
ton High School against a series of WPA murals in the 
school's entrance hall. These works done by Victor 
Arnautoff in 1935 show Native Americans and Blacks as 



servile and of little account. In one panel Washington 
orders frontiersmen into the wilderness who appear to be 
walking over the dead body of a murdered Indian. In 
another the father of our country directs plantation oper- 
ations while a slave holds his horse and other Blacks 
await his instructions or are already at work in the fields. 
Arnautoffs intentions had been ironic, but this was 
misunderstood by many of the students. Rather than 
have the paintings destroyed, as they first demanded, the 
Board of Education agreed to fund an additional set of 
murals. In 1969 a committee of students, parents, and 
educators interviewed artists before selecting Grumpier, 
who had recently graduated from another local high 
school where he had completed a mural. He had also 
done a small one at a community health center in 1967. 
He had been active in opposing the destruction of Ar- 
nautoffs murals because he understood that they had 
been intended as a satirical indictment of White racism. 
Grumpier saw that they were misread by the students, 
but he felt that positive images of the achievements of 
ethnic people were needed. He went to work with stu- 
dents to select a theme, and they decided on the struggles 
of Third World peoples. Then followed years of study 
and travel before Grumpier felt ready to begin. He 
visited artists in Chicago and Mexico, among them Wil- 
liam Walker, Elizabeth Gatlett, Pablo O'Higgins, and 
Siqueiros. He began painting in 1972 and took a year and 
a half to complete three panels comparing the liberation 
struggles of Blacks, Native Americans, Chicanos, and 
Asian-Americans, all groups represented in the student 
body. 




Victor Arnautoff: Life of Washington (partial view), 
19^5, with Dewey Grumpier'' s mural seen through the 
door, George Washington High School, San Francisco. 



The larger and central panel represents two bare- 
chested Black men whose arms and hands become 
dramatically enlarged as they come towards us in a 
Siqueiros-like perspective to break their massive chains. 
Ihese snap at bottom center, more in our space than the 
picture's, and from the break rises a naked Black mother 
in flames who holds her child above them, symbols of life 
and the future. At one side are figures of Black history 
from West Africa and ancient Egypt, w hile at the other 
are modern Black scientists, leaders, and educators. To 
demonstrate the similiarities of Third World struggles, 
Grumpier carefully worked out analogies in the design of 
the three panels. Besides portraits of leaders in each, he 
related the breaking of the chains in the Black panel to 
the Aztec eagle destroying its serpent in the Latino and 
Native American panel and a dragon rearing up in the 



Scale (1973-75) I 151 

Asian one. There an Oriental ceremonial gate parallels a 
similar structure in the Black scene and the lines of a 
pre-Columbian pyramid in its panel. In the foreground 
of the Asian mural a pair of fetuses wrapping about each 
other like the yin-yang symbol recalls the child that is 
raised high by his mother in the Black panel. The 
ensemble is skillfully drawn and executed and achieves a 
powerful representation of ethnic achievements. 

While Chicano and, to a lesser extent, Black muralists 
had been working in San Francisco in the early seventies, 
it was not until 1974 that the Asian and Filipino popula- 
tion that accounted for over 14 percent of the city's 
inhabitants was represented by a mural. But finally a 
work was done that spoke for them and came to be a 
symbol of the struggle for low-income housing in the 
city. It was the block-long painting on the side of the 




Dewey Grumpier: Latin and Native American Panel, 
1974, George Washington High School. 



Dewey Grumpier: Asian-American Panel, 1974, George 
Washington High School. 




152 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

International Hotel, a structure that dated from early in 
the century and provided a home at any one time for over 
one hundred residents of Asian descent. In 1974 there 
loomed over it the new pyramid of the Transamerica 
Corporation and the tower of Holiday Inn, which pro- 
vided one of its twenty-seven floors as the city's only 
"Chinese Cultural Center." This was not a workshop, 
but only an impersonally modern exhibition and per- 
formance space. The I-Hotel was at the point of contact 
between the city's most densely inhabited ghetto, 
Chinatown, and its highest-priced real estate, the finan- 
cial district, where in the past thirteen years more than 
fifty high rises had sprung up to make San Francisco the 
corporate headquarters of the WesV. The hotel was 
owned by a Bangkok- and Hong Kong-based Four Seas 
Investment Company and seemed doomed to replace- 
ment by another business tower. The nine-year struggle 
to save the I-Hotel was to be central to the effort to halt 
the uprooting of the poor by w hat was called ".Manhat- 
tanization." With their fifty dollar-a-month rents, the 
elderly tenants had no other place to go, for the vacancy 
rate citywide was 2 percent and in Chinatown even 
lower. ^ .Moreover, they wanted to remain together be- 
cause they had been caring for one another over the 
years. While the building was aging, it was not its 



James Dong, local artists, and students: International 
Hotel Mural, 1974, Manilatown, San Francisco. The 
scaffolding was for the hotel's demolition. 



owners but its tenants who put nearly one hundred 
thousand dollars' worth of time and money into bringing 
it up to code.® 

The I-Hotel mural helped focus this struggle and kept 
it before the public. But it was at first intended as a 
celebration of the hotel's tenants and their life together. It 
was begun in 1974 directed by Jim Dong and a core 
group of five local Asian artists operating out of the 
Kearny Street Workshop, which occupied a storefront in 
the hotel and taught art skills to local young people. 
Neither Dong nor the other core members had worked 
on a mural before. They consulted with the tenants of 
the hotel and people in the neighborhood, and Dong put 
the design together. It recalls the back-breaking farm 
work of people of Asian descent in California and by 
extension their labor in the old country. A large ven- 
tilating duct is incorporated in the composition, becom- 
ing a basket of tomatoes carried by a young man and 
elderly woman. A peasant grasps two recessed windows 
in which the artists intended to place tilting mirrors so 
that viewers could see themselves, with the implication 
that the present is borne by the labor of the past. Further 
along a grate in the wall, another window and doorway 
are transformed into factories. A great wave borrowed 
from the Japanese woodcut artist Hiroshige curls over an 
entrance. The idea of oppressive labor is further ex- 
pressed by a white bearded man in tattered garb who 
holds poisonous serpents that it was the custom in the 
sixteenth century to capture for the well-to-do because it 




was supposed that eating the snakes insured viriUty and 
long life. The mural is done in flat, muted colors and 
scalloped contours that recall Japanese graphics, as well 
as the American comic strip. Because of the large areas of 
single tones, it was possible with a little instruction for 
local young people and classes from around the Bay Area 
to join in working on the mural. Dong says that it was 
never altogether completed. The struggle to save the 
I-Hotel continued, and part of it was another important 
mural produced by Kearny Street later in the seventies, as 
we shall see. 

In 1973 three young White women from the Haight 
Ashbury Muralists, Jane Norling, Miranda Bergman, 
and Peggy Tucker, painted a relatively small mural with 



Scale (1973-75) I 153 

a big impact at the corner of the streets from which they 
took their name. It consisted entirely of a large schematic 
eye. The retina was occupied by a squatting Vietnamese 
woman holding a rifle and surrounded by the caption 
"Self Determination." Splaying out into the iris were 
small scenes of figures: one labeled "Shared Economics" 
showed farmworkers with a Huelga banner; another 
captioned "Collective Work," depicting kids with play 
blocks called for "Childcare Now" ; a scene marked 
"Creativity," showed children building sand castles and 
grown-ups playing music. "Faith" was represented by 
Native Americans sharing a peace pipe; "Purpose" by 
bars being bent open around a rising fist and rainbow; 
and "Unity" was depicted at the top by a multiracial 




International Hotel Mural. 



154 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




demonstration seeking to drive Nixon from tiie White 
House. Although the mural was criticized for expressing 
a unity that did not exist, the painters responded that it 
like the other captions were aspirations felt by many in 
the Haight. 

The district had been since the fifties one of the first 
successful interracial communities in the country. Its 
mixed population became even more varied with the 
coming of the communitarian and psychedelic era. Al- 
though this turned sour when criminal elements took 
over the drug scene, some young people stayed and 
more, though in lesser numbers, continued to move in 
Sometimes divided, it remained a highly varied commu- 
nity of people of different life-styles — young people on 
low incomes, blue-collar families, university teachers, 
and often socially conscious professionals. But there were 
also many unemployed. Neighborhood people fought an 
at least temporarily successful battle against efforts of 
downtown to impose urban renewal in the early and 
mid-seventies. 

In 1974 the young women artists, now joined by 
Selma Brown, Arch Williams, and Thomas Kunz, re- 
turned to the Rainbow People that some of them had 
worked on in 1972 for a peace demonstration and re- 
painted it because it had deteriorated badly. They also 
modified the imagery. They preserved the march, but 
now had it led by the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and 



Miranda Bergman, Jane Norling, and Peggy Tucker 
(Haight Ashbury Muralists): Unity, 1973, San Fran- 
cisco. 

the banners carried aloft read "Honor the Vietnamese 
Peace Treaty," "Health Care Is A Right Not A 
Privilege," "Women Hold Up Half The Sky," "Workers 
Unite For Our Rights," "Equal Justice," and "Rent 
Control." There was also a Puerto Rican flag with 
Liberacion inscribed above it. In the distance a large banner 
marked "People's Cultural Center" flew over a theater 
that residents were trying to secure through the 
Neighborhood Arts Program. The issues may have 
changed but the front rank still carried "Unity In Our 
Community." Personalities also changed: Ford and Rocke- 
feller's faces joined Nixon's on the octopus that local 
people were wrestling with. At the other side, residents 
were now shown tending a common garden rather than 
relaxing in the park. At the dedication of the renewed 
work, the painters said: 

This mural is about our community. It's about the 
strength and power of people of all different colors and 
cultures working together to break the economic and 
military grip that the ruling class has over the world 
and our community. We want to celebrate in our 
mural painting the real life forces within us that keep 
us struggling to overcome the division of racism, class 
and sexism.''^ 



Scale (1973-75) I 155 




Miranda Bergman, Selma Brown, Thomas Kunz, Jane 
Norling, and Arch Williams (Haight Ashbury Mural- 
ists): Rainbow People, 1974, San Francisco. 



The mural's connecting of issues and its analysis of them 
was shared by many muralists elsewhere around the 
country. While this point of views;nay not have been held 
by a majority of Haight residents, they were tolerant and 
issue-wise and could handle the mural at least as a 
stimulus to discussion. 

During 1975 a new source of funding for murals was 
developed through the pioneering work of two San Fran- 
ciscans who pressed for the application of the Com- 
prehensive Employment and Training Act to artists. 
CETA had been passed by Congress two years before as 
an on-the-job training program to prepare workers for 
permanent positions in the private sector, but, as a result 
of the recession of 1974/75, it was extended to provide 
public-service employment to the jobless. It was mainly 
in this latter capacity that it was adapted to the needs of 
artists. As a group they had not been foreseen as 
beneficiaries by Congress, and it was the research of 
Rene Yaiiez of the Galeria de la Raza with the later 
assistance of John Kreidler, who was then working with 
San Francisco's Neighborhood Arts Program, that dem- 
onstrated that federal manpower funds could be used for 
artists. Yafiez already in 1971 had secured federal money 
from STEP (Supplemental Training and Employment 
Program) for the doing of the first Raza murals in the 
city. 

One of the first uses of CETA funding in San Francisco 
was in conjunction with the local housing authority. 
CETA artists were assigned to public housing in differ- 
ent ethnic areas to do murals like those that had been 



under way since 1973 in the projects of East Los Angeles. 
One of the important features of the San Francisco 
undertaking was that it resulted in professional artists 
drawing untrained residents on a large scale into the 
creating of murals. At Bernal Heights housing in the 
Mission District, Susan Cervantes, Patricia Rodriguez, 
and Graciela Carrillo discussed designs for the outdoor 
walls with tenants in public meetings. A woman resident 
worked out the composition of one by herself, while 
children drew designs for another that the artists trans- 
ferred to the higher sections while the kids painted 
directly on the lower area. The walls included motifs 
from Raza and Black ethnic heritage as well as a whole 
range of children's imaginings. At Valencia Gardens at 
the other end of the .Mission, Jack Frost painted a pair of 
hot-air balloons with a farm-worker eagle on one and a 
.Mexican flag on the other floating over a Photo-Realist 
canyon. And on a nearby wall George .Mead did a Tower 
of Power depicting a cone made up of community people 
projecting toward you from the wall. They also did a 
series of Afro-American portraits. 

Meanwhile the dearth of expression by the Black 
community in the Fillmore was finally relieved in 1975 
by CETA funding when a belt of murals were done by 
ten-to-twelve-year-olds along the base of another housing 
project. Under the guidance of Caleb Williams and 
Horace Washington, the children painted scenes of Afri- 
can villagers and a dragon-headed fishing boat. 

At the same time CETA also made possible murals at a 
project largely occupied by Asian- and Black Americans 
near Fisherman's Wharf. There Carol Nast, Perci Ches- 
ter, and Pamela Remkowicz did a three-story wall de- 
picting a nude dark-skinned girl playing a horn that 
charms a serpent and a whole lush jungle, which borrows 



156 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Perci Chester, Carol \ast, and Pamela Remkowicz: 
Untitled, 1975, public housing. Fisherman's Wharf, San 
Francisco. 



from The Dream of Henri Rousseau. This work encour- 
aged young and adult residents to embellish other walls 
with similarly romantic fantasies, as well as a scene of a 
basketball game that ingeniously uses decorative port- 
holes as balls. 

With this start in San Francisco, CETA funding was 
rapidly adopted by muralists in cities throughout the 
country. 



San Jose 

With more than half a million people San Jose in the 
mid-seventies was the fastest-growing city in the United 



States, but it was paving over some of the deepest, most 
fertile topsoil in the world. Once prosperous orchard 
country, it had become with the boom that began during 
World War II a center of aircraft, electronics, the manu- 
facture of business and food machines, then microcircuit 
equipment. The Santa Clara Valley was by now better 
known as "Silicon Valley." Its large Chicano population 
dated from the time when agriculture and canneries 
absorbed local life, but more people of Mexican heritage 
continued to come, some displaced by agribusiness 
elsewhere. And increasingly engineers, mostly Anglo, 
arrived. Chicanos had relatively little share in the 
economic growth, although some were hired to do the 
unskilled, low-paid labor in the new plants. .Most re- 
mained confined to the barrios near downtown and on 
the East Side. At the same time as they were pioneering 
the state's bilingual program in public schools, they were 
turning to murals to press for additional change and 
affirm their ethnic identity. 

Perhaps the first work in San Jose was the frieze 
painted over a neighborhood legal-aid office by 
Malaquias Montoya in 1972 in which a brawny, bare- 
chested man plunged forward like the female New De- 
mocracy of Siqueiros. In one hand he bore a book with the 
farm workers' black eagle on its cover, while the other 
was a fist of faces. With these symbols of Raza organiz- 
ing, he seemed to persuade armed guerrillas at the edges 
to await these peaceful means to improve the condition of 
local people. 

During the following years, increasing numbers of 
murals appeared in the barrios, and in 1974 at the 
Washington Elementary School a major project was un- 
dertaken by staff, students and parents, most of whom 
were Chicano. Already three years earlier an innovative 
open classroom building was completed which had in- 
volved teachers and parents in the design process. One 
result was the Aztec motifs molded into the concrete 
walls. These made the building which was the site of 
after-school community activities that much more a part 
of the barrio. Now with the help of artist Bill Wagner 
and the donation of tiles by a local firm, the parents laid 
in a large Aztec calendar as the pavement of the school 
patio and above it a twenty-foot-high mosaic Quetzal- 
coatl mural with flanking serpent heads. On weekends as 
many as one hundred parents would turn out to work 
with regular and broken tiles that had the robustness and 
color of ancient murals. During the following years addi- 
tional mosaic murals and pavements were constructed with 
increasing participation of the children using the school's 
new kiln to make their own tiles. There was a Bicenten- 
nial Plaza with portraits and scenes of local history, then 
two more plazas with imagery of the carnival and solar 
system. Wagner added a tile mural with the faces of all 
the presidents and spaces for more. Although the whole 
student body had been designated "educationally disad- 
vantaged," teachers became convinced the children were 
artistically gifted. But funding cutbacks in the later 
seventies brought the mural work to an end. 




Bill Wagner, director, students, parents, and staff: Un- 
titled, 1974, Washington Elementary School, San Jose. 



Regelio Duarte: Untitled, 1974, Chaparral Supermarket, 
San Jose. 




158 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

In 1974 nineteen-year-old Regelio Duarte from Los 
Angeles suddenly appeared in San Jose and offered to 
paint without a fee murals at the Chaparral Supermarket 
and the Mexican-American Graduate Studies building at 
the State University. On a big wall of the grocery facing 
its parking lot, he created an exuberant mix of images 
from Mexican history and culture that is monumental. 
There are portraits of Father Hidalgo and Zapata, an- 
cient indios and a dreamy Chicana with a rose, and they 
are enveloped by a sacred pyramid, a guitar-playing 
calavera, the Virgin of Guadalupe, bits of landscape, and 
scenes of struggle. Done in spray paint, the wall has the 
feel of the street, while the details are rooted in the 
.Mexican heritage. The composition as well, while owing 
something to modern photomontage, harks back to the 
packed figuration of many Mexican murals and yet 
further to the dense luxuriance of Spanish Colonial and 
indio walls and ceilings. Duarte shares his images and 
design with other Chicano muralists who borrowed their 
details from the past and were therefore also likely to 
have been affected by old forms of composition. 

At San Jose State Duarte airbrushed a two-story wall 
of a formerly sedate Victorian frame house with a 
proudly naked indio raising a torch in one hand and 
touching off a sunlike explosion with the other as stars 
sparkle about his head. Standing astride the Mexican 
eagle and a large opened book the pages of which are like 
its wings, the indio seems to exult in the prospect of Raza 
education. His corazdn expressed not only by the heart 
painted on his chest but by his total spiritedness, is 
strong enough to make any "incorrectness" of drawing 
negligible. In a nearby panel Duarte painted in varied 
colors what appear to be barrio graffiti, but they read 
"Benito Juarez," "Emiliano Zapata," "Pancho Villa," 
"Cuauhtemoc," "Los Batos Locos" (street dudes), "San 




w 



'S., 



ES S 



Regelio Duarte: Untitled, 1974, Mexican-American 
Graduate Studies building, San Jose State University. 



Regelio Duarte: Detail of mural, San Jose State. 







RK1-*K 




Jo," "Chicano Power," "La Raza," and "This is Aztlan." 
Some authorities at San Jose State were embarrassed by 
the brash, unacademic art, but it became a reminder of 
the barrio and its cultural vitality on a campus that was 
training the personnel of Silicon Valley. 

In 1975 forty-six students and two professors at the 
campus began a Bicentennial mural, which will be de- 
scribed in detail later. 

San Diego 

On Chicano Park Day, 1973, the third anniversary of 
the takeover, three hundred local people and Raza artists 
from around the county began painting the gray cement 
of the Coronado Bridge that still hung oppressively over 
the barrio, an undertaking that was to continue for the 
rest of the decade. Their intention was to make the 
columns and abutments expressions of their new energy. 
Funds had been raised by the Centro Cultural, which 
since 1972 was directed by Victor Ochoa. Fifty dollars 
was donated by La Hermandad Mexicana, a Barrio 
Logan storefront concerned with strengthening Chicano 
participation in labor unions. That first day of painting is 
remembered by locals as "an attack" on two retaining 
walls on either side of Logan Avenue. On one, Quetzal- 
coatl rises up against an image of the bridge. (Later his 
head was changed to the three faces of the mestizo race 
blazing like the sun.) Close by are crowded depictions of 
a Mexican village street and large faces of a Native 



Scale (1973-75) I 159 

American and campesino. A rush of symbols envelops a 
central pyramid; there are zcorazon, anindio swastika, the 
jaguar of Chichen Itza, a Catholic rose, a Chinese yin and 
yang, a farm workers' thunderbird, and a calavera. The 
symbols recall graffiti, but they are on their way to 
becoming a narrative scene. Among the artists who 
worked on the abutment were Ochoa, Guillermo 
Aranda, Salvador "Queso" Torres, .Mario "Torero" 
Acevedo, Fomas "Coyote" Castcfieda, Arturo Roman, 
and "Crazy Lion" Cervantes. 

On the retaining wall across the street people again 
began doing their individual images with no overall plan. 
But in the days that followed some of the artists tried to 
pull it together. These included Aranda, Ochoa, Roman, 
Ernesto "Neto" de Paul, Abran Quevedo, and Sal 
BaFajas. When it was completed, the background was 
painted in tones of blue from which there advances a 
wedge of barrio people in brilliant reds and yellows. 
Their faces seem real because they derive from a news- 
paper photo. Carrying their children, farm workers' 
banners, and a Virgin of Guadalupe, they come down at 
you out of California croplands where in the distance 
campesinos are at work. An arc of faces also looms over- 
head with Cesar Chavez in the center and an ancient 
Olmec head below. Strung out across the sky to the right 
are the paler portraits of the leaders of the Mexican 
Independence and Revolutionary movements. To the left 
stretch the faces of Che Guevara and modern Latino 
artists — Orozco, Siqueiros, and Picasso, joined by rock 




160 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Chicano residents and artists of San Diego: Untitled, 
1973, Coronado Bridge abutment , Chicano Park. 



star Santana and an unnamed child — a promise of future 
Chicano artists. Below them is a protest of the discrimi- 
natory hiring practices of Coors Beer. Then as the re- 
taining wall tapers there is a montage of pre-Columbian 
scenes and finally a hellish conflagration oicalaveras in the 
helmets of conquistadores, local police and astronauts. 

In 1974 artists and residents began painting additional 
abutments and moved on to the pylons. On a low wall 
the school children of Lowell Elementary School were 
assisted by Ochoa in doing a graffiti mural that is a rich 
mix of thunderbirds, swastikas, and frets, a Pachuco 
cross, an ancient indio and the names of the young artists. 
About this time .Mario "Torero" Acevedo painted the 
Cosmic Clowns, which seemed to be a celebration of drugs, 
delighting some viewers and troubling others. 

.Meanwhile during the summer of 1974, Los Toltecas 
began painting the exterior of the Centro Cultural in 
Balboa Park with a bold composition in varied styles 
which in time encompassed the walls. There were a great 
ear of maiz, a pyramid, the legendary Aztec eagle 
struggling with the serpent, an indio woman soaring 
among the stars, a calavera in monk's robes clutching a 
dagger and cross, an angel garbed in a rainbow trying to 
revive a despondent skeleton, a family welcoming people 
at the entrance. It was painted by .Mario Aguilar, Guil- 
lermo Aranda, Sal Barajas, Arturo Roman, Neto del Sol, 
David Avalos, Antonio de Hermosio, Samuel Llamas, 
and Antonia Perez. However, the black-robed calavera 
and bare-breasted woman that faced the Naval Hospital 



Chicano artists and residents: Untitled (detail), 1973, 
bridge abutment, Chicano Park. 




across the street produced protests. The artists saw this 
as another instance of racism, since there were nudes 
aplenty in the municipal art gallery nearby and the 
calavera was a cultural symbol that Anglos should have 
understood. The skeleton was finally painted out. 

Torres and other artists were now talking about an 
enormous project — painting all 1 50 pylons, some of them 



Scale (1973-75) I 161 
seventy feet high, that led down to the bay. The Chicano 
Park Steering Committee decided to invite Raza painters 
from around the state to help. The Grupo de Santa Ana 
painted sheaves of maiz springing from a pyramid, while 
a great womblike sun above carries an embryo. At the 
base of the pylon next to it Los Ninos del Mundo, a 
group ot young artists directed by Charles Felix, who 




Left: Grupo de Santa Ana and, right: Los Ninos del 
Mundo, directed by C. W. Felix; background: left; Jose 
Montoya and right: Juanishi Orosco (both Rebel Chicano 
Art Front): All untitled, 1975, Chicano Park. 



Mario Aguilar, Guillermo Aranda, Sal Barajas, Arturo 
Roman, Neto del Sol, David Avolos, Antonio de Her- 
mosio, Samuel Llamas, and Antonia Perez (Los Toltecas 
en Aztldn): Untitled, 1974, Centra Cultural de la Raza, 
Balboa Park, San Diego. 




162 / COMMUNITY MUR AI S 



were doing murals at Los Angeles's Estrada Courts, 
depicted a huge mushroom suggesting either drug abuse 
or the ancient indio culture that depended on hallucino- 
gens. From it an arrow points upward to books and the 
rediscovery of Raza culture as its patron QuetzalcoatI 
divides into two big heads. Another pylon painted by a 
Los Angeles artist connects the overthrow of the demo- 
cratic government of Chile with a police attack on pro- 
testing marchers in the United States carrying placards 
marked "Allende" and "Justicia." In 1975 members of the 
Rebel Chicano Art Front came down from Sacramento to 
paint additional columns, which will be described 
shortly. 

One of the particularly strong works done by a local 
artist was Tomas "Coyote" Casteneda's homage to farm 
workers. On a squat pylon he showed two couples facing 
each other. Joining them is an indio braid of blood vessels 
that passes through a corazdn, symbolizing the brother- 
hood and sisterhood of La Raza. 

As Torres says, the murals of Chicano Park are means 
of "transforming the bridge into a work of art." The 
bridge in fact does have its own beauty. Torres himself 
describes the succession of supporting arches under the 
main span as portales (porticos). Walking among them 
you have the illusion of being inside an uncompleted 
cathedral. The intention of the local artists to do murals 
on them all would create a new kind of community 
gathering place. It would humanize and make "appropri- 
ate" the impersonal technology. The murals of Chicano 
Park are an expression of residents' will to preserve their 
attachment to their barrio by reviving their culture. 



Thomas ''Coyote" Castaneda: Untitled, 1975, Chicano 
Park. 



Local people had sold their blood to a blood bank to raise 
funds for paint and brushes. The murals were also an 
assertion of the solidarity of Raza people of the county 
and state. 

In 1975 Victor Ochoa became director of art and 
recreation in the park and shared offices with the Chicano 
Federation in the neighborhood center alongside the 
pylons. The park is a place where kids play, local work- 
ing people eat their lunch and on weekends come to 
picnic. Annually April 22, the anniversary of the day 
people stood off the police and bulldozers, is celebrated 
with speeches, music, and feasting. At the 1977 fiesta 
three couples thought it was the right occasion and place 
to be married.* To carry out the objectives that the artists 
and activists had been working on, residents throughout 
the seventies were trying to make their Barrio Logan 
Planning Association the official planning agency for the 
area. It had received official recognition, but to sustain its 
authority was an ongoing struggle. It had drawn up a 
local master plan (rendered by Ochoa) and was working 
with the City Council for enforcement. 

More than anything else the murals had contributed to 
the survival of Barrio Logan. They brought people to- 
gether in shared work when the community seemed 
doomed to dispersion. They became the visible symbols 
of their collective identity and proof of their ability to 
prevail against the establishment. The murals by them- 
selves of course could not save the barrio. At mid-decade 
drugs continued to be pushed in Chicano Park, and there 
were killings. The barrio continued to be inundated by 
junkyards; local shops were not flourishing; and un- 
employment ran high. But the murals provided a daily 
reminder to residents and Chicanos elsewhere in the 
county of their life in common and the need to struggle 
for it if it was to continue. As long asthere were the will 




and means to keep adding new murals, the community 
was intact. 

Rebel Chicano Art Front (Royal Chicqno Air Force) 

The RCAF had done its first wall art in Sacramento in 
1968, and this work was almost the only one that re- 
mained of its early murals a decade later, although it was 
responsible for more than twenty-five during these ten 
years. Most had been painted out when the ownership of 
buildings changed. Esteban Villa's bringing of his stu- 
dents from Sacramento State College to paint in the 
barrio set the pattern for the subsequent activities of the 
teachers and students who continually expanded the 
RCAF's community involvement. In 1970 one of them. 
Villa's friend from college days, Jose Montoya, organized 
an "Art in the Barrios" program at Sac State with the 
intention of allowing students to do accredited course 
work in the community. They began by doing silk- 
screen posters for demonstrations against racism in the 
schools, and serigraphy was to remain one of their basic 
media when they turned to announcements for fiestas, 
weddings, and public meetings. Montoya himself had 
been raised in the mountains above Albuquerque where 




\.!mndo Cid: Untitled, 1973, La Raza Bookstore, 
'fl amento. 



Scale (1973-75) I 163 

Reies Tijerina later sought to revive the traditional com- 
munal village life. .Montoya says his mother was a 
"primitive artist" and his father ran contraband, for 
which he served two years in Leavenworth. .Montoya 
himself worked in the fields, served on a minesweeper off 
Korea and afterward studied art. He went on to teach in 
elementary schools in California's Central Valley and 
participated in the farm workers' 1966 pilgrimage to 
Sacramento where he acted as one of their spokespersons. 
He did his master's work at Sac State and was teaching 
there when he joined with Villa and others to organize 
the RCAF in 1968. 

In 1972 about twenty of them decided to broaden their 
activities and established a public-service corporation, 
the Centro de Artistas Chicanos, which became the focus 
of Chicano cultural activities in the city. They saw 
culture as a crucial means to the survival of the Raza 
community if it was not to be ground under by racism 
and economic exploitation. Besides murals and silk- 
screening, there were classes for children, teenagers, and 
seniors in weaving, ceramics, beadwork, and the prepara- 
tion of costumes and dances for the .Mexican national 
holidays and indio ceremonies that they revived. There 
were Independence Day, the Cinco de Mayo, the Dia de Los 
Muertos, Dia de Las Madres, Fiesta de Maiz, and Fiesta de 
Colores. The last was a spring rite for Tlaloc, the Aztec 
god of rain. They operated a La Raza Book Store and a 
free Breakfast for Ninos program for low-income chil- 
dren of the area. On a trip to Seattle in 1974 they burned 
out the engine of their van and were helped by an 
American Indian .Movement group that ran an automo- 
tive co-op. When they returned, they borrowed the idea 
and created the Aeronaves de Aztldn in Sacramento. This 
"Airships" was a car-repair co-op to which members paid 
a small monthly fee and received regular auto care. Later 
it would be embellished. 

One of the muralists associated with the RCAF and 
the Centro was Armando Cid, a former student of Villa 
and Montoya, who in 1973 painted the facade of the 
bookstore and did a handsome mosaic based on indio 
patterns for the Zapata Park public housing. But the 
largest body of the RCAF's work of this period that 
survives are the pylons they painted in nine days at 
Chicano Park in San Diego in 1975. The artists had just 
come from a United Farm Workers' convention where 
they had served as security, and they say that the experi- 
ence affected what they painted in San Diego. On one 
of the columns Montoya created a very impressive image 
of a farm worker family with the father spreading his 
arms cruciform across the pylon capital, suggesting 
both sacrifice and an embrace of the whole park and 
viewers. Beneath him are his wife in overalls and a child 
holding a book of laws, and below him is the thick stump 
of a grapevine. The composition recalls images of the 
Holy Family and Mary's mother, each encompassing the 
other, but equally important is the connection of the 
family to the land through the vine. This veneration of 



164 / COMMUNITY MURALS 



the earth and the human relation to it was the central 
tenet of the Sacramento muraiists, v\ hose religious feel- 
ings were closer to those of the indios than to Christianity. 

This is made explicit in the pylon next to Montoya's, 
which was painted by his son-in-law, Juanishi Orosco. 
(The "-ishi" part of his name, which refers to the "last 
California Indian," was once jokingly added by Ricardo 
Favela, the director of the Centro, because of Orosco's 
absorption with Native American lore, and the name 
stuck.) The mural shows a naked couple rising from a 
stalk oimaiz and a cultivated field that correspond to the 
vine in the other column. The bodies twist like an ollin, 
an indio knot that symbolizes movement and unity. (The 
painters also see a connection of this with the Chinese yin 
and yang.) Between the two figures is a "god's eye" of the 
Huichol indios. Orosco says that the cross overhead is not 
Christian but formed by the intersection of farm workers' 
thunderbirds and also suggests the vortex of a pyramid 
seen from above. 

This mural in particular exhibits the indio spiritualism 
that occupies the RCAF. Montoya says that they began 
turning to it in 1970 especially after the shootout of 
Blacks and Chicanos in Sacramento in a dispute over 
poverty funds and the attack of police on peaceful civil- 
ians at the Chicano Moratorium in Los Angeles. While 
many of them had previously supported the militant 
tactics of Brown Power, the sight of children being 
separated from their parents as police lobbed tear-gas 
grenades among them compelled them to reassess their 
strategy. They sought inner strength by searching 
through their indio heritage, and art came to be their 
"medicine," their "healing power" and "weapon" rather 
than direct confrontation. They read Frank Waters's 
Mexico Mystique and Carlos Castaneda's Teachings of Don 
Juan. They studied indio ceremonies and attempted to 
re-create them, including peyote rites. They placed great 
confidence in the .Mayan ritual of purification in sweat 
lodges, where they submitted themselves to extremely 
hot steam which only special methods of breathing made 
it possible to endure. People of all ages joined together in 
these rites and dances, which deepened their bonds to each 
other and the land. Their Indianism taught them collec- 
tive work that reinforced the ecological and .Marxist 
inclinations of some members. .Montoya says that while 
others talked about socialism, they had found a way to it 
through their heritage. On another occasion Ricardo 
Favela said they sought to treat their ordinary work as 
art. In general, they attempted to link up their sense of 
the sacredness of human life and the land with their 
politics, economics, and art. 

This provided the collective stamina to continue to 
fight their everyday battles, such as the city police chief's 
effort to build a Crime Suppression Unit and investigate 
street gangs. They campaigned against gentrification and 
sought to persuade people not to sell their homes to 
speculators or the redevelopment agency, which would 
erode barrio life. They lobbied successfully to get Sac- 




Jose Montoya (RCAF): 
San Diego. 



Untitled, 1975, Chicano Pa 



ramento to adopt an ordinance that would require the 
construction budgets of all public buildings to set aside 
two percent for art. And they supported the efforts of 
farm and cannery workers to organize. 

On the other side of the pylon where Orosco painted the 
couple rising from a field, Esteban Villa depicted a giant 
Mujer Cosmica, inspired, he says, by the idea that 
"women hold up half the sky." Her body is tattooed, he 
explains, with the names and images important to 
him — Che, Allende, Tio Ho (Uncle Ho Chi Minh), and 
his own father, Antonio. There is also a sickle with the 
hammer missing that suggests a question mark, which 
reflects Villa's mixed feelings about Communism. The 
C/S, an abbreviation of Con Safos, is a kind of protective 
charm that graffitists use to warn viewers that any harm 
to the inscription will return to the offender. 

During the RCAF's brief stay in San Diego, one of 
their number, Rosalinda Balaciosos, returned from the 
International Women's Conference in Mexico City and 
inspired her fellow artists Antonia Mendoza and Celia 
Rodriguez to join her in doing a mural about women 



Juanishi Orosco (RCAF): Untitled, 1975, Chicano Park. 



around the world. The pylon shows representative 
figures from different countries and at the bottom two 
naked women playing flutes. The genitals of one are 
exposed, and the whole composition is a lyrical celebra- 
tion of womanhood. The Chicana artists clearly intended 
to break through inhibitions of their own people and raise 
consciousness, but they also provoked protest from the 
barrio. There was some resentment that the mural was 
done by a group of nonresident painters who imposed 
their imagery and could pick up and go. What is unique 
about this mural is that women treated the female body 
with the pride and forthrightness with which previously 
only male artists had depicted the human body. One of 
the recurring characteristics in the murals of Chicanos 
had been their affirmation of their flesh, their strength 
and sexuality, but almost exclusively in the works of 
men. The nearly naked indio was a frequent motif. 
Esteban Villa in his first mural of 1968 had used naked 
female and male figures in order to dramatize the struggle 
against racism, and Ray Patlan in Chicago used primarily 
male figures for the same purpose. Gilberto Ramirez 
sought to convey hope by rather academic nudes, and 
Guillermo Aranda showed an alluring nude woman es- 
caping the monsters of the military-industrial machine. 
Here at Chicano Park Juanishi Orosco celebrated male 
and female bodies equally, but it was the women artists 
who affirmed themselves with a confidence for the first 
time equal to men. 

On the adjoining surface they added a commemoration 
of Joan Little, the Black inmate of a North Carolina jail 
who had killed a White guard who had sexually abused 

Left: Esteban Villa: La Mujer Cosmica; right: 
Rosalinda Balaciosos, Antonia Mendoza, and Celia Rodri- 
guez: Women's Mural, both RCAF, 1975, Chicano 
Park. 





166 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

her. This mural also generated some local irritation, 
because as one local Chicano painter put it, Joan Little 
had been adopted by the liberal press, while Olga 
Talamante, a politically active Raza woman from 
California who was being tortured at the same time in an 
Argentine prison, was neglected. This kind of comment 
reflects the raw sensibilities of people who have long been 
victims of racism, and both murals illustrate the con- 
troversy that muralists are willing to provoke and regard 
as educative. 



After the completion of the first murals, tenants 
formed their own organization, Residentes Unidos, and re- 
quired that the murals be "positive."'^ While it 
monitored copyrights, F"elix oversaw the design and 
placement of the murals. Between 1973 and 1978 over 
two hundred young people and professional artists did 
nearly sixty murals, and Felix planned to complete the 
remaining seventeen end walls. These were linked by 
low brick walls around the lawns that were also vibrant 
with indio stepped frets, meanders, and plumed serpents. 



Los Angeles 

There are by far more murals in Los Angeles than any 
other city in the United States. In 1978 there were more 
than one thousand throughout the city.** Two reasons for 
their number are the Mexican mural tradition and the 
two million people of Mexican descent w ho live there, 
which makes it the largest population of that heritage 
outside Mexico City. Half live in East Los. Probably the 
largest single concentration of murals in the country is at 
Estrada Courts, a public housing project for two 
thousand people in East Los facing Olympic Boulevard 
along which trucks and buses roar. Across it are old 
factories and warehouses. In 1973 unemployment, 
drugs, vandalism, and teenage gang killings were com- 
mon. Charles "Gato" Felix, who was building a national 
reputation with high-relief sculpture made of nails, now 
decided to turn his attention to his own turf.'" With 
Goez Gallery he had already done a few murals, and 
there was the example of wall paintings nearby at the 
Costello Recreation Center that Las Vistas Nuevas had 
produced a few years before. Felix gathered around him 
local young people and Vietnam veterans, and with the 
permission of the housing authority started out with the 
intention of doing no more than three murals on the end 
walls of the two-story barrackslike apartment houses. 
But the undertaking developed momentum. Although 
the first year the only funding was eight hundred dollars 
for paint and brushes, they did seven murals. The fire 
department lent ladders and scaffolds. The teenagers 
were unpaid at first, but when they decided to go on to 
more walls, wages from the Neighborhood Youth Corps 
were secured, and Felix was paid by it after two years of 
volunteer work. Felix was joined by other professional 
artists. Some painted walls by themselves, some directed 
crews of young people. Adult residents were suspicious 
at first, for the teenagers who were now painting were 
often the same gang members who had formerly van- 
dalized Estrada. It was not until after the first six months 
that the painters were offered their first cup of coffee, 
says Ismael Pcreira, an Estrada veteran who helped get 
the murals going." Each summer between 1975 and 
1979 PY-lix worked with about 125 kids; Los Nifios del 
.Vlundo they called themselves. Additional funding came 
from his lectures, car washes run by Los Nifios and 
donations of individuals and companies, like Olympia 
Beer. 

Rosalinda Balaciosos, Antonia Mendoza, and Celia Rodri- 
guez: Untitled, 1975, Chicano Park. 





Manuel Gonzalez: Tlalbc, 1973, Estrada Courts, East 
Los Angeles. 



Alex Maya: Tribute to the Farm Workers, 1974, 
Estrada Courts. 




He hoped to see all this art presented to the city for its 
bicentennial in 1981 and that Los Angeles would then 
maintain it. 

Manuel Gonzalez did one of the first murals trans- 
forming a sculpture of the Aztec rain god Tlaloc into an 
equally large painting. Another early two-story mural, 
Tribute to the Farm Workers by Alex Maya, shows a 
variation of the Marines planting the stars and stripes on 
Iwo Jima. Here the thunderbird banner is being raised 
over cultivated fields by campesinos, a soldier of Cortez 



and an indio who is stepping down from an ancient 
pyramid as a sunlike Virgin of Guadalupe radiates light 
above snow-capped mountains. 

A cartoonlike mural by Robert Chavez on two adjoin- 
ing end walls depicts the festivities of the Day of the 
Dead. There are calaveras playing tricks, fireworks, bal- 
loons, a flying plumed serpent, masks, a pinata, farm 
workers, and their flag, all done in a rollicking way. 

In the style of popular illustration David Botello's 
Dreams of Flight pictures a boy swinging toward you on a 



168 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Robert Chavez, director, and students of East Los Angeles 
College: Fiesta, 1974, Estrada Courts. 



David Botello: Dreams of Flight, 1974, Estrada 
Courts. 




hanging tire, another with a model plane, Pegasus, a 
winged indio, an astronaut, and a paper airplane. 

Bathers lounge in a wall by Gil Hernandez and their 
feet project from the surface in the manner of Siqueiros, 
whose face is there as well — a copy of a self-portrait that 
shows his fingers ripping through the surface of his own 
canvas. Hernandez like other artists added his telephone 



number to his signature. Other walls offer views of the 
wilderness and wild animals. One is an abstract super- 
graphic in the earth tones of the Southwest, and yet 
others offer decorative patterns of serpents, flowers and 
indio masks. There is also an ingenious set of comparisons 
of Lincoln and John Kennedy spelled out between their 
portraits. One wall shows addicts with an American flag 



for a backdrop. Another is a memorial for a "homeboy" 
who was killed in gang warfare. 

Felix, who directed a number of the murals, did one 
that enlarged to two stories in bright red and green an 
ancient stone relief from El Taj in that is actually no more 
than three feet high. The scene depicts the ritual sacrifice 
of a ball player by priests in elaborate regalia. While 
drawing attention to heritage, the mural seems to cele- 
brate the sacrifices of the heroes of La Raza, for one 
theory of the ripping out of the heart of the pelote player is 
that it was the winner who offered himself for the welfare 
of the community. 

Frank Ferro began a wall in 1974 that was impressive 
from the start, but was only completed in 1979. As if 
repeating its caption of Orale Raza (Raza — All right!), it 
multiplies its image of a man raising his arm in exultation 
while a child smiles and a rose drops a petal. 

For the people who lived at Estrada Courts, the murals 
were to be seen just outside their windows, as soon as 
they went to the door or came back from work. The 
variety, quality of rendering, and sheer outpouring of 
ideas and feelings and imagination were remarkable. In 
1973 when the murals were begun there, only a few had 
been done at other public housing projects, notably at 
"the Smith" in Lower Manhattan and at Cabrini Green 
in Chicago. But never before had there been undertaken 
the transforming of every large outdoor wall of a 
neighborhood by paintings specifically for the residents 

C. W. Felix, director, and Los Ninos del Mundo: Un- 
titled, 1973, Estrada Courts. 



Scale (1973-75) I 169 

and often by them. Here was an effort of local people to 
shape not only their visual world but also their 
psychological space and social relations. There was a new 
neighborliness at Estrada, and the police reported that 
vandalism declined.'^ Local talent was drawn out and the 
tenants organized. The project was frequently visited by 
Anglos, and residents saw their murals on TV behind 
the credits of "Chico and the Man," all of which must 
have contributed to their self-respect. But it would be a 
mistake to overestimate what the murals could achieve 
and the extent they could affect the basic problems of the 
barrio — gang warfare, drugs, and unemployment. 

While the early Estrada murals were being done, 
others were under way at Ramona Gardens, another 
public housing project in East Los. These were done by 
residents with the help of Mechicano Art Center pain- 
ters. Between 1973 and 1977 fifteen paintings were com- 
pleted. The impact of cultural heritage is demonstrated 
by most of them. One shows twice-life-size full-length 
portraits of four young toughs, two in undershirts, 
glancing in a sidelong uncertain way as they lounge on 
simulated steps, while alongside are ghostly images of an 
indio warrior, a conquistador, and a Zapatista — each with 
the features of the young men. The self-consciousness of 
their glances, which may have been taken from a photo, 
is oddly shared by their shadowy forebears as if all of 
them were only just getting used to the resemblances. 
Titled Ghosts of the Barrio, this is the work of Wayne 
Alaniz Healy, who was not a resident but was a member 
of the Mechicano Art Center. 




170 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Wayne Alaniz Healy, Ghosts of the Barrio, 1974, 
Ramona Gardens, East Los Angeles. 



Manuel Cruz: Untitled, 1974, Ramona Gardens, East 
Los Angeles. 




Scale (1973-75) I 171 



Traditional imagery is employed in other ways also at 
Ramona Gardens. One wall, painted by Manuel Cruz in 
1974, shows an indio priest holding out to us the corpse of 
a youth killed in gang warfare. Alongside a girl is weep- 
ing, and a car speeds off to the towering city. The 
caption reads: "To ace out a home boy from another 
barrio is to kill La Raza . . ." The priest in his regalia 
implies what they all share, their tradition, their common 
flesh and blood, their camalismo. The design of this mural 
is particularly interesting, for it is the very inexperience 
of the artist that has freed him from the three- 
dimensional modeling of the early academic murals that 
often neglected the surface of the wall and lost its power 
to order material in a forceful way. Here the artist has 
responded to the surface and arranged the content fron- 
tally or in profile and laid in the colors flatly. Even the car 
speeding in the distance is seen squarely from behind. 
Everything is managed for maximum legibility, and 
there is a heraldic, even a hieratic symmetry. In spite of 
the awkwardness of the drawing and execution, the artist 
made absolutely clear what he wanted to say and pre- 
sented it in a spare, moving manner. 

Next to this wall is another that shows a desert and 
barricaded road receding in deep perspective. .Much of it 
is desiccated like the mountains in the background, but a 
flash flood suddenly brings water and bright indio sym- 
bols. The style of the work by Ismael Cazarez recalls the 
Surrealism of Dali. A wall nearby depicts local people 
and ancient indios contemplating a rainbow vision of a 
pyramid and cross together. The exploding and flaring 
forms of other murals at Ramona Gardens, some bor- 
rowed from low-rider and van decoration, take on a 
visionary quality as they tend to become almost total 



Left: Manuel Cruz, right: Ismael Cazarez: Both untitled, 
1974, Ramona Gardens. 




Frank Martinez: Homage to Ruben Salazar, early 
1970s, East Los Angeles Doctors' Hospital. 



abstractions except for cultural nationalist symbols. 
Another end wall is painted with a large image of the 
Virgin of Guadalupe in her golden veil. Thinking back 
over many of the murals here and of Chicano art in 
general, you realize that the visionary is a central element 
in it, with roots in Catholic miracles and the induced 
hallucinations of the indios. The magic mushroom is an 
occasional symbol. The deprivation of contemporary 




172 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

Chicane life also explains why artists and their com- 
munities understand as a kind of visionary experience an 
art that formulates and projects their hopes and dreams. 
Serious change \\ ould be a transfiguration. 

The Mechicano Art Center, w hich coordinated many 
of the murals at Ramona Gardens, also contributed to the 
art that in 1974 filled the walls of the East Los Angeles 
Doctors' Hospital a few doors from the studio. The halls 
and offices were crow ded with local easel art, some of it 
sponsored by other groups like Goez. In the cafeteria 
there was a sweeping mural on the significance of medical 
research to the Raza family by Bill Bejerano of San 
Fernando Valley, and at the emergency entrance was the 
mosaic mural memorial to Ruben Salazar by Frank Mar- 
tinez. .Mechicano organized a competition for the im- 
aginative painting of benches inside and outside the 
hospital which resulted in an abundance of Mexican 
designs. 

Willie Herron did important work at both Ramona 
Gardens and Estrada Courts during 1973 and 1974. 



William F. Herron III: My Life in the Projects 
(detail), 1973, Ramona Gardens. 



Inside the recreation center at Ramona he created a room 
of intense pain and horror with a crucifixion sharing 
walls with monstrous faces and bodies and a calavera 
w rithing in flames. Sneering figures beat and knife each 
other, and crouching inflated naked women that fill a 
wall from floor to ceiling clutch their children in a 
moonlit graveyard. Herron called this My Life in the 
Projects. ' * 

At Estrada on an outdoor wall he and "Gronk" painted 
a black-and-white Photo-Realist montage of the 1970 
Chicano Moratorium organized to protest the Indochina 
War and all forms of racism against Chicanos. It was 
there that Ruben Salazar had been killed by a police 
tear-gas grenade fired into a cafe. The mural is like a 
sequence of images that come at you from the TV and in 
just as incongruous an order: the face of a chimpanzee, 
but with the long light tresses of a Hollywood doll; a 
Chicana; a helmeted soldier with fixed bayonet; boys 
behind bars; an L.A. freeway at night; a room in the 
projects crowded with mothers and kids; a boy carrying a 
picket sign calling for an end to police brutality; a long 
strip of a "street disturbance" with more cops than 




Scale (1973-75) I 173 




William F. Herron III and ''Gronk": 
Moratorium, 1974-79, Estrada Courts. 



Chicano 



civilians; a screaming Chicana; a painted hand holding a 
sacred heart beneath the unseen face of Jesus; a body 
splattered with blood, like an upside-down crucifix; a 
man shouting; a pair of masqueraders; two pairs of eyes 
staring from behind barbed wire; a tear-gassed street 
encounter; a pair of bewildered children. This much was 
completed in 1974, and in 1979 Herron returned to it, 
adding images of his wife and the two of them embracing 
— as if against the violence around them. 

In 1973 the first large organized Los Angeles mural 
project involving many panels and using racially mixed 
artists was undertaken at the Venice Pavilion. Venice is a 
Los Angeles community that was created along a short 
stretch of Pacific beach in 1904 as an independent town, 
which its founder. Abbot Kinney, hoped to make a 
cuftural center by building canals and collonaded 
porticos, importing gondolas and gondoliers as well as 
artists and scholars.'* Even when it deteriorated into an 
amusement park and was incorporated into Los Angeles 
in the twenties, it retained its unique character. In the 
sixties its modest rentals made it a haven for the counter- 
culture, impecunious artists, independent professional 
people, and Blacks and Chicanos. There developed a 
tolerance of different life-styles and a sense of collective 
self-help that had produced community operated free 



legal and medical services, a senior citizens' center, pub- 
lic concerts, festivals, and street theater. This spirit also 
created the murals that grace garage doors and outdoor 
walls and finally the decoration of the Venice Pavilion on 
the beach, which had been intended by the city fathers as 
an open-air shelter with picnic tables and a small stage. 
However, before the murals were added to the bare 
concrete walls, the pavilion was a three-million-dollar 
white elephant that was hardly used. Community people 
decided to do something about this, and Judy Baca, who 
was employed by the Recreation and Parks Department, 
agreed to coordinate the local artists and amateurs who 
volunteered. The core group decided to do a history of 
Venice with a large panel devoted to each decade on the 
inner walls. 

Each panel runs from seven to fifteen feet high, and 
some are three times as long. There are stylized views of 
Venice in its early days as a cultural center in the 
Renaissance style. These are followed by a Pop art scene 
of local residents working in an aircraft plant during the 
forties. For the next decade Arthur Mortimer used snap- 
shots of a beach party from a high school yearbook of 
1954, rendering them in a brown and orange high- 
contrast Photo- Realist style that he was working in at the 
time. His intention was not to make them look like faded 
photos although that is the effect. The more recent era is 
represented by a scene of young people enjoying them- 
selves along the Venice canals with congas and guitars, 
picnicking and practicing karate. Other murals show 



174 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Arthur Mortimer: Venice High School, Class of '54, 
Venice Pavilion, Venice. 



elderly couples in suits and dresses strolling in the sun 
and among the arcades. There are also picketing strikers 
and a group carrying Israeli flags. One wall is devoted to 
children's work. Other panels offer perspectives of the 
Pacific coast viewed from succeeding altitudes, cul- 
minating in a perspective from outer space. There are 
also visual jokes like painted trunks of palm trees on the 
walls that merge with real trees beyond. The murals 
create an ambiance of nostalgia, leisure, and good 
vibes — a mood that local people clearly cultivate. The 
project involved two hundred community people from 



five years old to over sixty and could only have been done 
with warmth and neighborliness. Once the pavilion was 
adorned with murals, it came to be widely used, and in 
1975 paintings were added along the outside. 

The pavilion murals are comparable to those in ethnic 
neighborhoods that celebrate the identity and heritage of 
residents, although those at Venice emphasize the plea- 
sure of collective leisure rather than the heroes and 
struggles of their past. The people who worked on the 
Venice murals did not have to lay claim to dignity 
because most were not victims of racism. But their 



Judy Baca, Christina Schlesinger, and local people: Un- 
titled, 1974, Venice Pavilion. 




Scale (1973-75) I 175 




murals are important because they demonstrate that 
community painting is not limited to the special experi- 
ence of any ethnic group or class. 

The pleasure and gentleness depicted in the Venice 
Pavilion murals were not to last. The developers had 
already turned their eyes on the community and had 
built luxury highrises around a yacht harbor at nearby 
Marina del Rey. Venice had been designated an urban- 
renewal area, and its cottages were due to be replaced by 
upper-income housing. All this had raised property val- 
ues, taxes and rents, driving out long-time residents. One 
of these was Emily Winters who in the summer of 1975 
coordinated a mural project of a women artists' coopera- 
tive, Jaya (Sanskrit for nonviolent victory), on the side of 
a neighborhood food market.'* Standing alongside the 

Jaya Collective and City wide Mural Project: The People 
of Venice vs. the Developers, 197S, Venice. 



Judy Baca, Christina Schlesinger, and local people: Un- 
titled, 1974, Venice Pavilion. 



mural, you look up the street and over a series of canal 
bridges and cottages to the ranks of highrises closing in 
on Venice. At one side of the painting there are people of 
all races and ages working vegetable gardens, playing a 
guitar and flute, chatting, passing a joint, and dancing. In 
the windows of a house others are painting at an easel, 
embracing, or just gazing out on the street. But at the 
other side wrecking equipment is demolishing a cottage 
which community residents are lined up to resist, and 
one of them sprays on the wall "Stop the pig." 

With her success of organizing paint crews in the 
barrios and large numbers of community people at Ven- 
ice behind her, Judy Baca turned back to her native East 
Los in 1974. There she, a five-member staff, and thirty- 




176 / COMMUNITY MURALS 







Barrio Artistas de Aztldn, directed by Judy Baca, Chris- 
tina Schlesinger, Manuel Cruz, Sylvia Morales, Bernardo 
Saucedo, and Joe Hernandez: Untitled, 1974, Little 
Sisters of the Poor Convalescent Home, East Los Angeles. 



five street youths, some of them gang members and ex- 
junkies, calHng themselves Varrio (Barrio) Artistas de 
Aztlan, painted 450 feet of murals along two sides of the 
wall surrounding the grounds of a convalescent home for 
the elderly operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor. 
Some of the sisters also came out to paint. Some scenes 
affirm the Raza heritage of the young people with crisp, 
bright pre-Columbian imagery, but there are also 
Japanese panels, including one black and white Photo- 
Realist piece showing a child waiting next to family 
luggage and a poster ordering the evacuation of persons 



of her ancestry from their neighborhoods during World 
War IL Although so long a series of panels does not have 
the concentrated force of a single design, the themes of 
oppression, liberation and ethnic pride run through them 
all, imparting a kind of unity. There is also a remarkable 
consistency of handsomely executed work. 

This was to be a pilot project for City wide Murals, 
which Judy Baca after a year of proposal writing and 
lobbying finally saw funded by Los Angeles in 1974 as an 
office that was to arrange for community-based mural 
painting throughout the city. It was different from other 



Nuns of Little Sisters of the Poor Convalescent Homt 
Untitled, 1974. (Photo SPARC) 




Scale (1973-75) I 177 







Pa«e/ of Little Sisters mural. 



mural organizations because it was a muralist-managed 
public program that invited the participation of compe- 
tent neighborhood artists and directed to them funds 
with which they could paint either by themselves or with 
untrained local residents. The artists had to get two 
hundred signatures from their neighborhoods approving 
their proposed designs. This provided the means for both 
local autonomy and the necessary resources. And it was 
under this arrangement that the largest number of 
paintings produced by any mural organization in this 
country was made possible. Citywide was operated by a 
small staff of muralists directed by Judy Baca, none of 
whom presided over the mural designs of others but left 
this to each artist and his neighborhood. These details 
will be examined latter, but what is important here is to 
observe that this framework facilitated the spreading of 
murals throughout Los Angeles. There were other pub- 
licly funded projects there and volunteer groups that 
survived out of the pockets of artists and what they could 
collect locally. But Citywide provided a beneficial com- 
bination of resources, consultation, freedom for the art- 
ist, and supervision of his responsibility to his neighbor- 
hood. 

In its first year Citywide Murals sponsored more than 
forty walls throughout the city done by artists of diverse 
associations, and about thirty-five were painted each 
succeeding year until 1978 when funding came to an end. 



The variety of its work in 1974 and 1975 is suggested by 
a few examples. There was the Great Arm of Friendship, 
imaginatively conceived by Kamol Tassananchalee, a 
Thai, for a San Fernando Valley Mexican restaurant. It 
shows a fifty-foot-long arm made up of a crowd of faces 
of different nationalities, some with TV sets and tele- 
phones for eyes and ears, suggesting how technology can 
serve human needs. All of this is spliced together in a 
richly painted Cubist manner and reaches out with 
flowers to other faces across the wall. Meanwhile, the 
misuse of technology is represented by a small missile in 
the center with a trajectory much shorter than the ges- 
ture of the arm. Another handsome work depicted the 
mythical origin of the Philippine Islands with a great 
albatross skimming over the waves toward native people 
in their varied costumes. This was done by the 
Eighteenth Street Gang, Faustino Caigoy, and Pat 
Morales at an outdoor Filipino cafe. There was also the 
work of Joe Funk, a former WPA painter, who with the 
help of fellow regulars at the Westminster Senior Citi- 
zens Center in Venice, filled a wall in their social room 
with jjortraits of themselves and scenes of the beach 
community. When the hall is filled with people, they 
seem to continue into the painting. And in' another 
Citywide project that year, the Classic Dolls, a Chicana 
women's gang, painted their self-portraits in subtly 
muted tones beneath a brightly colored Mayan priestess 
who was truly monumental. 

There were other large-scale mural projects in Los 



Kamol Tassananchalee (City wide): Great Arm of 
Friendship, 1975, Los Angeles. (Photo SPARC) 



Faust ino Caigoy, Pat Morales, and Eighteenth Street 
Gang (Citywide): New Emergence, 1975, Los Angeles. 




Joe Funk and members (Citywide): Untitled, 1975, 
Westminister Senior Citizens Center, Venice. 



Scale (1973-75) I 179 



Angeles during this time. The county sponsored nine- 
teen works in an Inner-City Mural Program between 
1973 and 1974, which ranged from Frank Romero's 
graffiti mural Un Corazon por la Gente to Kent Twitchell's 
Old Woman of the Freeway and other artists' supergraphics. 
Fwitchell's benignly smiling grandmother wrapped in a 
crocheted afghan, presumably of her own artistry, seems 
to be edging out of the picture while a gray moon hovers 
behind her — a recurring image in his work that suggests 
the isolation and mystery of personality. The old woman 
is in fact Lillian Bronson, a TV actress of the Perry 
Mason program. The view of her is limited mainly to 
drivers in the further lanes of the Hollywood Freeway, 
which makes it impossible to catch the carefully worked 
New Realist technique — almost a crocheting of color 
patches. Repeated passes may confirm a rather senti- 
mental image of the aged rather than an impression of the 
energy that they more commonly want to maintain. 

Besides supporting work at Estrada Courts, Goez 
Gallery made further contributions to large scale mural 
projects in East Los. In 1974 four of its artists, David 
Botello, Robert Arenivar and John and Joe Gonzalez, 
saw mounted on the facade of the First Street Store 
eighteen panels that they had designed and that Joel Suro 
Olivares executed as tiles in Mexico. They called the 
sequence A Story of Our Struggle. It depicted issues such 
as the betrayal of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, the 
farm workers' strike, and the entangling of workers in 
machinery, but the vignettes in the style of old fashioned 
magazine illustration and commercial art were not strong 
enough for the subject. This, the Goez artists' charac- 
teristic manner was most elaborately worked out in a set 
of murals, La Vida Breva de Alfonso Fulano (John Doe) for a 
county neighborhood center in 1975. These are three 
well-painted scenes from the locality's early rural life to 
the present. Packed with representative details, the 
scenes are picturesque summaries of the past that recall 
only pleasant memories. 

Also that year Goez announced a plan by which it 
hoped to involve fifty thousand people doing 1,530 mu- 
rals throughout Los Angeles over the next years to cele- 
brate the city's bicentennial in 1981.'^ Although the 
project finally did not receive funding, it indicates the 
kind of ambitious plans that were contemplated at the 
time. 

It was a destructive technology and culture that David 
Botello attacked in 1975 in a relatively small but tren- 
chant work on the side of a cleaners where traffic pounds 
along boulevards and freeways in East Los. It shows a 
Chicano worker who has been uprooted from the cam- 
pesino's way of life and is chained to machinery and 
tangled in cables like Laocoon while his heart is being 
monitored. He is also cautioned about signing contracts. 
Alongside him his family, eating non-union grapes and 
turning away from a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe, 
is absorbed by a huge TV screen with Anglo lovers 
against a background of the flag and blazing rifles. En- 




Kent Twitchell: The Old Woman of the Freeway, 
1974, Los Angeles. 

gulfed by wires and appliances, the Chicanos are also 
subjected to surveillance by cameras and the "bugging" 
of an actual public phone which stands against the wall, 
triggered the imagery, and became part of it. In the 
center Quetzalcoatl flies down to encourage a boy w ho is 
reading the history of his people. The title of the mural. 
Read between the Lines, urges viewers to break through the 
deceptions and entanglement. Carefully drafted and im- 
aginatively summing up much of what Chicano murals 
had been saying up until this time, this was the most 
compelling work Botello was to do during the decade, 
although he was to undertake more elaborate composi- 
tions. 

In 1974 Carlos Almaraz and members of the Third 




Robert Arenivar, designer, and Joel Suro Olivares, 
ceramicist;Jose Gonzalez, project director, assisted by John 
Gonzalez and David Botello: A Story of Our Struggle 
(partial view) 1974, First Street Store, East Los Angeles. 



A Story of Our Struggle (partial view) 




Robert Arenivar assisted by David Botello, Jose and John 
Gonzalez: La Vida Breva de Alfonso Fulano (John 
Doe), 1975, Brooklyn Avenue Neighborhood Facility, 
East Los Angeles. 



Scale (1973-75) I 181 




David Botello: Read between the Lines, 1975, East 
Los Angeles. (Photo David Botello) 

Street gang did an ensemble of works in support of the 
farm workers and undocumented immigrants from 
Mexico. (Almaraz had created a banner-mural that hung 
behind the first national United Farm Workers Associa- 
tion convention two years earlier.) The combination of 
professional painter and street youth now created a se- 
quence of murals on the buildings of the All Nations 
Neighborhood Center. Beneath a caption No Compre Vino 
Gallo ("Don't Buy Gallo Wine"), they showed in a rau- 
cous cartoonlike style picketers breaking the chains of two 
farm workers. On another two-story wall they painted an 
even wilder cartoon of undocumented workers bound by 
barbed wire and chains who cry out. No somas esclavos de la 
Migra. . . . Huelga. . . . Con el trabajador venceremos ("We 
are not slaves of the immigration authorities and border 
patrol. . . . Strike. . . . With work we will overcome"). 
A wolf marked Explotacion de la Raza indicts the low 
wages paid "illegals" by bosses who could threaten to 
turn them over to la Migra if they protested. The vehe- 
mence of the caricature is something that only Chicanos 
have dared in murals. Almaraz and a few others, follow- 
ing Orozco, have used the distortions of cartoons to 
create a monumental rhetoric of denunciation. The 
spiritedness of the gang painters also was expressed by 
the big bright graffiti signatures by which they signed 
themselves on the entrance staircase: Flaco . . . Conejo 
. . . Cholo ... El Shorty . . . Santos ... El Dopey . . . 
Huerito ... El Nicho . . . Beaver . . . Chuey ... and 
others. 



The cartoon murals of Robert Chavez are different 
from the big, boisterous caricatures of Almaraz. Chavez 
uses much smaller, wiry figures that look like jottings in a 
notebook, but he extends them over enormous surfaces 
which become dense with witty detail. With Bill Graves 
he covered a three-story wall of Alice's Restaurant in Los 
Angeles's Westwood Village near UCLA about 1972. 
Facing a parking lot, it shows Humpty Dumpty, who 
wears a cook's hat, welcoming to his "lib" restaurant a 
truckful of striking farm workers while Jesus, dressed in 
a red robe marked with a big "1", is about to make a toast. 
Meanwhile the whole affair is being shot by Hollywood 
cameramen. Don Quixote trots across the foreground on 
Rocinante, and the rest is packed with the extravaganza 
of the L.A. scene — starlets and bathers, pet birds and 
animals, while sausages trail down from above. The 
crowded details remind you of a cityscape of Brueghel or 
Bosch, but its ironies are gentler. 

Chavez, working with others, did another work on a 
long roofing company wall in 1972 in an East Los 
Angeles barrio. It is made up of line drawings again 
like notes from an artist's sketchbook. There is no domi- 
nant center, but a sequence of images, among them a 
crucified Jesus with a hip mustache and blue swim 
trunks. Around him are a grim Norse warrior with a 
swastika between horns on his helmet, a tiny helicopter, 
dogs, and flowers with human faces. A dollar-eared 
plutocrat in top hat cranking an engine appears to drive 
two hulks of rickety war machinery battling each other. 
All stand knee-deep in skulls, and picket signs and 
banners carry the messages "Men love war because it 



182 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




^"™'="*M«.:' . % ^mH.^ZVr 



Carlos Almaraz and Third Street Gang: No Somos 
Esclavos de la Migra . . . (We Are Not Slaves of the 
Immigration Service), 1974, East Los Angeles. 



Carlos Almaraz and Third Street Gang: No Compre 
Vino Gallo (Don't Buy Gallo Wine), 1974, All Nations 
Neighborhood Center, East Los Angeles. 




Scale (1973-75) I 183 







^' 






^■1 






A- 




'i^r ^• 



"^wi^m^ 







Robert Chavez: Alice's Restaurant Mural, 1970, West- 
wood, Los Angeles. 



Robert Chavez: iPorque Se Pelean? Que No Son 
Carnales. (Why Fight Each Other? So There Will Be No 
Brothers.) 1972, East Los Angeles. 




184 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

allows them to look serious" and Porque se pekan? Que no son 
carnaks ("Why fight each other? So there will be no 
brothers"). 

During 1974 and 1975 Chavez, who was teaching at 
East I>os Angeles City College, directed a very large 
mural with the help of his son-in-law and a few student 
assistants across the convex facade of the school au- 
ditorium. It is an incredible fantasy, a vision of the 
heaven and hell that mankind has made of this world. In 
the center dominating the entire phantasmagoria is the 
face of a bountiful Mother Earth, w reathed in leaves and 
ripe and rotting fruit. Chavez says he used his daughter 
as model. She wears a skeptical expression as she con- 
templates what she has brought forth. To the right in an 
act of supreme overkill, a huge tracked gun carrier- 
bulldozer scoops up a child in its metal claws while a 
bomber circles above and a little gnome propels an 
improbable mechanized scooter nearby. There is also a 
paper dragon that raises itself to snarl above bound 
human figures of different races. A pyramid and eye 
from the Great Seal on the dollar bill turn out on second 
glance to be two flats in front and behind a barren tree. 
Below an indio mother cuddles her mustachioed infant 
between a dozing tiger and garden statuary. At the far 
right a calavera contemplates a rosy inferno crowded with 
naked sinners. Chavez says they represent those who 
have given up the struggle for knowledge. This is bal- 



Robert Chavez and assistants: The Land of Laputa 
(partial view), 1975, East Los Angeles College. 



anced at the far left by an ironic pastel blue vision of 
heaven: other naked figures striving to soar upward 
around the college president standing in a shriveled chili 
and bearing a Mexican flag with a dollar sign where the 
eagle and serpent should be. Originally he was being 
peed on from above, but Chavez agreed to modify that. 
However, the figures around him are being fired on from 
a masked gun emplacement. Nearby a giant ant carries a 
false face, while a sun shatters behind another eye and 
pyramid from the Great Seal (which is painted with a 
magnified hand print). Coming back toward Mother 
Earth, there is a crowded freeway ramp that breaks off in 
midair while beneath a guitarist performs with a dancing 
girl who is also a bearded penis, and old folks seem none 
the worse for wear as they pose on a giant tortilla. There 
is much more ironic detail, and beneath this main area 
there is a smaller frieze peopled with figures that suggest 
a comic spectrum of academic studies. Below it is a band 
of leaves and roots. Again the imagery suggests an up- 
dated Brueghel and Bosch with several assists from Dali 
and Ernst. But the whole Surrealist vision is distinctly 
the wry humor of Chavez. The title he gave it was the 
Land of Laputa, an allusion to the misguided intellectuals 
who live on the island in the sky that Gulliver visits. Seen 
from the broad lawn, where hundreds could lounge, the 
mural offered endless commentary on the civilization 
they were studying. But by the end of the decade a 
Hbrary occupied this site and made it impossible to take 
in the mural as a whole. Only sections of it could be seen 
at a time and then by craning your head upward. The 
mural became an additional example of its irony. 




Scale (1973-75) I 185 




John Alvarez and friends: 
Angeles. 



Untitled, 1973, East 



Another cartoon work was done a few years earlier in 
1973 by Johnny Alvarez and friends on two sides of 
The Dip, a corner tavern that marked the division of two 
E^st Los gang turfs. They filled one wall with an indict- 
ment of the Anglo system by painting a pair of white 
hands manipulating the strings of marionettes attacking 
each other in a gang rumble, while another figure, with a 
hypo smiles in his stupor. A plumed serpent rises in 
defiance. In contrast the other side of the establishment 
invites you to the wholesome atmosphere of the bar. Its 
images propose that the right thing for the heirs of indios 
and conquistadores is to hop into their low-rider and speed 
down to take in The Dip's marimba, congas, and guitars. 

By the mid-seventies it was difficult to walk any 
distance in East Los and not see a mural. Judy Baca 
observed at this time that every barrio, every block, 
wanted a wall painting. Many of these were not funded 
by any official program; it was the shopowner, church 
group, local residents or the artist's own pocket that 
financed these walls. Among these works was Jesse 
Navarro's draftsmanlike view of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec 
capital, and well-drawn portraits of Mexican leaders 
against a raying sun on the side of a grocery to be seen in 
1974. And the following year on a dry cleaner's Ismael 



Cazarez painted a Quetzalcoatl returning to Mexicans, 
and the forces of earth and sky burning away the shackles 
that bind them. The caption reads: 

Of breaking chains 

And sacrificial fires 

Of Spirit and color 

And men of culture 

Of respect for life 

And the true form of knowledge. 

Across the street from Lincoln High School in East 
Los Carlos Callejo, John Orona and Art Zarate had 
nearly completed a large, well-drawn mural in 1974 that 
showed the battling of street gangs against each other and 
gas-masked police moving in. Above them at one side 
was a figure of a Hollywood beauty blindfolded by an 
American flag and holding the scales of justice. (She was 
reminiscent of a similar figure in the Chicano History 
mural at UCLA.) Another figure was shooting himself 
up with heroin. In the center a pair of enormous hands 
were sharing a handshake of carnalismo, and beneath two 
members of previously hostile gangs were greeting each 
other. Meanwhile at the right a Chicana amid striking 
farm workers raised her fist in contrast to blind, blond 
Justice at the other side. 




Jesse Navarro: Untitled, 1974, East Los Angeles. 



Ismael Cazarez: Of Breaking Chains, 1975, East Los 
Angeles. 




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^MOTMCTRUC r»>Mo(KlKW 
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Scale (1973-75) I 187 




Carlos Callcj'j, Juta Uruim, and 
Justice, 1973, East Los Angeles. 



Art 'Aarate: Blind 



Although the Black population in the Los Angeles 
basin is large, and it was among it that the first major 
urban riot of the sixties occurred when Watts exploded in 
1965, murals came relatively late. One of the early ones 
was an extensive undertaking begun in 1973 on a long 
retaining wall on Crenshaw Boulevard. There local 
adults and teenagers painted more than thirty panels 
extending 250 feet and celebrating the heritage and 
modern culture of Black people. Coordinated by Alonso 
Davis of the nearby Brockman Gallery, they chose this 
additive form because of the difficulty of organizing a 
single composition when they had irregular free hours. 
They called their work The Wall of Visions. One panel 
shows an ebullient young woman with blow ing hair and 
a multicolored scarf flying behind her with a caption on 
it, "To know you care makes one try." It is done in a 
high-contrast Photo- Realist style like many of the others, 
which show portraits of Black leaders, musicians, and 
local people. Next to one of these the painter wrote in 
large letters that fill the panel: "Dedicated to my daugh- 
ter Shauna, and her loving mother, Wynona, 'Our love 
however strong may it grow stronger and last til death 
for death is but a rebirth of life.' My love to you both. 
Howie 74." Nearby figures by Alonso Davis glance dream- 
ily in their imaginatively textured garb. There is a care- 
fully rendered Black easy rider astride his chopper, Big 
Fred, with a caption encouraging viewers to excel 
beyond their wildest dreams. And also: a portrait of guru 
Mahararish; an imaginative sequence of faces emerging 
out of blobs of color with positive and negative space 
growing out of each other; a bare-chested Black man 
suspended by chains from the trees above the wall; a 
scene of African warriors and the seven headed cobra of 
the Symbionese Liberation Front. A portrait of an 
elderly Black woman is accompanied by the words of 
Susan B. Anthony: "Although woman has jierformed 



much of the labor of the world her industry and economy 
have been the very means of increasing her degradation." 
These are all statements of individual painters, but they 
were made in public, next to one another and done with 
care and respect for the whole project, which is the mark 
of community. By 1979 all of these had been replaced 
by a new set of images that were perhaps more "artistic" 
but less socially relevant. 

While murals in Black neighborhoods were slow in 
getting started in Los Angeles, a major exception was 
Saint Elmo's Village. In 1974 the "village" consisted of 
five families that occupied ten cottages and workshops. 
Rozzell Sykes, one of the leaders of the undertaking, 
shows you around. The sides of the houses are red, 
black, and brown, the roofs green. The grounds are 
lushiy planted; there's a pond in back shaded by slats 
overhead. Around it hanging plants and walls painted 
with faces contribute to the impression of a tropical 
compound. Rozzell's nephew, Roderick, has been espe- 
cially successful in drawing out the talent of young 
people, who come from all over to do art at Saint Elmo's. 
The sidewalks along the street and those that run be- 
tween the houses and open into a large common concrete 
yard in back are painted in brilliant colors with figurative 
and abstract patterns. The backyard is crowded with 
painted cable drums which children use as work tables 
for their art. Hanging on all the walls inside and out are 
works of children and adults — portraits, landscapes, 
abstractions, and small murals. There is an abundance of 
junk sculpture. Children come from the local elementary 
school and neighborhood to work here, and it is not 
surprising to find that they have transformed a long 
retaining wall that runs the length of the school grounds 
into a mural. Buses from more distant schools bring 
additional classes. Especially on weekends the village is 
flooded by visitors from all over the city. At first it 
survived by contributions and the sale of its art, but in 
the mid-seventies received substantial NEA funding. 




Alonzo Davis, director, Rudolph Porter, Joe Sims, 
Jonathan Clark, Audobon Lucas and others: Wall of 
Visions, 1974-79, Los Angeles. 



''To Know You Care Makes One Try,'' Wall of Visions, 
1974. 



All i I J 




• ' ajR lcve HnwEve« strops' - 

^^A> rr GROW smnNoEfl, 
AND UiT Til DEATT* FOa 

CEATH rs ear A rebirth Qf 
iTi> LcvE TTJ you B( 



Howie: ''Our love however strong . . 
Visions, 1974. 



," Wall of 



Scale (1973-75) I 189 




Alonzo Davis: Untitled, Wall of Visions, 1974. 



One of the inscriptions on the pavement seems to de- 
scribe its aim: 

If we put forth our efforts, use our abiUties along these 
lines, It will make a chain that's boundless. For it is we 
people that make things, and if we people use our 
natural abilities, we make many things. 

Another nearby reads: "If you live in a shoe box, 
brighten it up. This will destroy slums, ghettos and inse- 
curityl" Saint Elmo's Village offers an attractive example 
of self-help and a challenge to a society that compels 
people to live in shoe boxes. 

In Watts itself a few murals had begun to appear by 
1974. One by Robert Curry and students from Lake 
Junior High School offered portraits of Mayor Tom 



Bradley and other Black leaders beneath the tower of 
City Hall. Next to it are a large red silhouette of the 
African continent with a native family in the foreground, 
and further along local kids posing proudly against the 
fragile loops of the Watts towers, Simon Rodia's 
homemade sculpture of crockery and concrete, which 
over the years had become a community monument. It is 
impressive that although Rodia was Italian, Black people 
here identified with his art, not only because it was done 
in the midst of the ghetto, but also because it was a 
vernacular art, the work of an untrained but imaginative 
man who shaped something beautiful from the debris of 
everyday life. 

Compton 

Another example of how people came together to do an 
ensemble of murals was offered by the Communicative 
Arts Academy in Compton, a newly incorporated city 



B. Anthony Panel, Wall of Visions, 1974. 





ALTHOUGTPit^ 

WOMAN WAS To 

PERFORMED .. , 

MUCK OF the: l. 

L/VBOR OF THE '' ' 



BUSTRY AMD ^1 

HAVE BECK 
THE VERY 

MEA^fS OF , 
imcreasikgI 

HER T^C-^ 

s a sXi 




Sidewalk and wall painting (photographed in 1974), St. 
Elmo's Village, Los Angeles. 




Robert Curry: Untitled (photographed in 1974), Watts, 
Los Angeles. 



between Los Angeles and Long Beach. It was a large 
community arts workshop financially supported in part 
by its Black membership. Its main building was a refur- 
bished warehouse, and on, the facade were a series of 
assemblage murals of human figures and a cityscape 
made from found objects by John Outterbridge, the 
academy's director in 1974. With wit and tenderness 
they united the forms of African sculpture and modern 
Western art. Passersby called the panels Something from 



Nothing. Inside the walls were enveloped by murals by 
different painters. One by Elliot Pinkney bore the cap- 
tion: "Lend a hand to your brother, help him off the 
floor. . . ." and the work depicted just that. Others dis- 
played athletes and dancers and symbols of Black libera- 
tion. In 1975 the building had to make way for urban 
renewal, but Pinkney continued to do murals in Comp- 
ton, and in 1975 Outterbridge became director of the 
Watts Art Center that was to spawn more public walls. 

Santa Ana 

The largest population of Chicanos between Los 
Angeles and San Diego is in Santa Ana. At the commu- 
nity college there in 1974 a mural stretching along two 



John Outterbridge: Something from Nothing, 1974, 
Communicative Arts Academy, Compton. 





Sergio 0' Cadiz, director, assisted by students and coor- 
dinated by Shifra Goldman: Untitled, 1974, Santa Ana 
College, Santa Ana. 



sides of the library reading room was undertaken by the 
students, outside artist Sergio O'Cadiz and Shifra 
Goldman, a professor and writer on Mexican and 
Chicano murals. Originally O'Cadiz proposed a big 
Posada-like calavera leaning on the ground with a cup in 
its hand. The students protested because this seemed to 
them a "lazy Mex," the stereotype they most wanted to 
free themselves from. It was also difficult for them to 
grasp the complex significance of the figure of death, 
which south of the border is treated with both irony and 
affection. Finally they agreed to turn the skeleton into a 
stalking guerrilla with a rifle, a bandolier of cartridges, 
and a pachuco hat, who is pointing a bony finger past a 
dollar bill to a farm worker's banner and demonstration. 
The design takes advantage of the corner of the library 
by placing the calavera's elbow at the angle and turning 
his gesture dramatically. Beneath the dollar on which the 
scales of justice are awry is a crucified indio, an allusion to 
the similar figure which Siqueiros had painted in Los 
Angeles and which had been whitewashed. On the far 
edge of the mural, above their signatures, the painters 
painted themselves working on the panels outdoors. The 
mural is handsomely drafted and executed in a crisp 
graphic arts style. 

New Mexico 

On one of the few occasions when Los Artes 
Guadalupanos de Aztlan worked outside of Santa Fe, 
they did an elaborate project in 1973 on two sides of a 
patio in the high school of Las Vegas, New Mexico, a 
small agricultural town about fifty miles away. One wall 
was entirely devoted to an indictment, as a caption 
painted into the mural says, of 75,000 Cbicanos muertos en 
Vietnam jYa Basta! A line of calaveras garbed in battle 
dress rush forward at you clutching weapons that fire 
from the ceiling and a tank blasts away, while Jesus and 



his mother, symbolic of the mothers of all the dead, flail 
their arms in a shared crucifixion. The mural is a ritual of 
arms and fists. A teenager carrying a flag emblazoned 
"Chicanos Against Fascism" and a column of others 
holding out symbols of learning — pencils and a ruler — 
rush forward, reminiscent of The University to the People, 
the People to the University of Siqueiros. A second wall at 
the high school connects the use of Chicanos in Vietnam 
to the history of U.S. exploitation of Mexicans. A bald 
eagle crushes a green, white, and red snake, an ironic 
allusion to the national emblem of Mexico. But the bird 
of prey is attacked by an indio in Aztec regalia, while an 
ancient god lifts his hands to show fresh green plants 
growing from them as he bends over a modern mestizo 
couple tilling a field. 

Los Artes also did a few works in Denver and Phoenix, 
and back in their barrios in Santa F6 they painted their 
bold images on the walls of a clinic, school, legal office 
and their own headquarters in a cottage where they also 
made music. Together with other local Chicanos they 
were talking about reshaping the barrio's way of life 
rather than trying to become integrated into the com- 
petitive White society which had oppressed them for 
years. With the example of villagers elsewhere in New 
Mexico trying to revive old institutions, Santa Fe 
Chicanos were discussing how to update the communi- 
tarian society of the old pueblos based on agriculture. To 
carry forward this purpose Los Artes helped organize in 
1973 an alternative school and called it Tonantzin after 
the mother of the gods, who had appeared in their 
murals. Included was a mural workshop. There were 
seventy-five regular students and one hundred more who 
came when they could. In Septembei* two young men 
fled into the school pursued by police who claimed they 
had stolen a car. The police demanded the right to enter, 
but the teachers said that classes were going on and 
refused. Over one hundred police reinforcements were 
called up, and shots fired. One student was killed and 
others were wounded. Barrio residents were charged 



Scale (1973-75) I 193 




Los Artes Guadalupanos de Aztldn: Untitled (detail), 
1973, Las Vegas High School, Las Vegas, New Mexico. 



Los Artes Guadalupanos de Aztldn: Las Vegas High School 
mural (detail). 




194 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Joseph Gomez (Los Artes Guadalupanos de Aztldn): Un- 
titled, 1974, Dental office, New Clinica de la Gente, 
Santa Fe. 



with wounding the poHce and a trial followed in 1974. 
The defendants were so confident of their case that they 
chose not even to present a defense, and all were 
acquitted. The police, it appeared, had shot one another. 
But the trial took its toll. It became harder than ever for 
the muralists to raise either public or private funds to 
carry on. The following year Samuel Leyba, leader of 
Lx)s Artes, was optimistic about painting again; some 
members were less confident, and other barrio friends 
talked about getting started on their experimental farm. 
But as a muralist group, nothing more was heard from 
them. 

Albuquerque 

The first mural of the community movement to be 
done here was Walter Boca's work in 1973 on the outside 
of the South Broadway Cultural Center, which depicts 
the creation of the solar system, the flourishing of Native 
People's culture, and the destruction of life on earth by 
modern science and cities. It was a related theme that 
Francisco LaFebre and a group of local people presented 



on the facade of the North Valley Community Center in 
1975. Posed against the high rises of booming Albuquer- 
que and an astronaut are the big, bold faces of ancient 
and modern dark-skinned peoples, a fist as big as they, a 
farm workers' thunderbird, and the grim stare of an 
Indian threatened with crucifixion. LaFebre also embel- 
lished the inside and outside of the Chicano Studies 
Building at the University of New Mexico with indio and 
Mexican imagery. 

El Paso 

Next to the Rio Grande here is the Segundo Barrio, 
ranks of cheerless two-story red brick tenements that had 
been allowed to deteriorate. Urban renewal threatened, 
but residents organized. They also painted their walls 
with indio motifs and identified their community. On a 
school building in 1976 Carlos Rosas and Felipe Gallegos 
did big faces of mestizo children with an assertive brown 
eagle gazing out with the tenements behind them. They 
signed their work with a cucaracha. On Tays Street a 
tenants' association painted an image of their efforts and 
over it in block lettering their "struggle against the 
disappearance of the barrio." In the end they succeeded 
when the juthorities were persuaded that the area should 




Francisco LaFebre: Untitled, 1975, North Valley Com- 
munity Center, Albuquerque. 



Local residents: Secundo Barrio, 1975, El Paso. 



Carlos Rosas assisted by Felipe Gallegos: Entelequia, 
1976, El Paso. 





196 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




be refurbished as an act of historic preservation and that 
the tenants should be allowed to stay. Local culture was 
also reaffirmed by Ernesto Martinez at the Bowie High 
School, where he did a mural with indio motifs in intense 
streaming colors in 1975, and the following year opposite 
it students did an accomplished montage of past and 
present El Paso. 



Cipriano Cisneros, Enrique Garcia, and Carlos Aguirre: 
300 Tays [Street] Residents Pledge to Struggle ■ 
Against the Disappearance of the Barrio, mid-1970s, \ 
El Paso. 



Ernesto Martinez: Untitled, 1975, Bowie High School, 
El Paso. 




San Antonio 

Jesse Trevino lost his painting hand in Vietnam in 
1967 and says it took him two years to learn to paint with 
his left. The bitterness with which he returned still 
shows in the oversized images that press out of his 
bedroom wall. There is an attractive girl's face bigger 
than the shadowy portrait of himself in combat gear. 
Covering one of her eyes is a Purple Heart held by his 
stainless steel claw; and there are glimpses of a beer can, 
coffee, bread, a car, and pills to complete the Photo- 
Realist M Vida of 1972. He became a student at the local 
Our Lady of the Lake University and during the Raza 
activism of 1974 filled three sides of the student lounge 
with La Historia Chicana, monumental airbrushed vig- 
nettes of indigenous peoples contending with conquista- 
dores, a Zapata-like figure lifting his rifle to the ceiling, 
and farm workers and a young family against their 
thunderbird banner. Since then he has concentrated on 
large canvases in which he records the persons and places 
of the Westside that are close to him: a snowcone man at 



Jesse Trevino: Mi Vida, 1972, San Antonio. (©Jesse 
Trevino) 



Scale (1973-75) I 197 

his stand. El Progresso drugstore, a shop window with 
religious articles. With such work he has had one-man 
shows and built a successful career. 

San Juan 

Here in the lower Rio Grande Valley the United Farm 
Workers began organizing in 1967, providing social ser- 
vices and undertaking job actions in the fields for better 
working conditions, but as late as 1980 there were still no 
contracts with growers. However, the union spread to 
colonias on both sides of the border, and members built 
their own Centro Campesino Miguel Hidalgo on the 
Texas side, inviting Mexican painter Artemio Guerra 
Garza to depict their struggle in its large meeting hall. 
There on two long walls in 1974 and 1975 he showed 
men and women, black, brown, and red, who if they 
could stand to their full height would burst through the 
ceiling. Instead they are bent over by enwrapping vines 
and stoop labor with the short hoe. But finally a farm 
worker's eagle seems to give strength to one to break the 
crucifix he is bound to. Here for conferences in 1978 and 
1980 Adolfo Martinez and Chip Jeffries painted banner 
murals depicting the signing of the longed-for contract; 
Martinez's bears the caption. En Texas, Si Se Puede (It can 
be done). 





Jesse Trevino: La Historia Chicana, 1974, Student 
Lounge, Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio. 

(©Jesse Trevino) 



Artemio Guerra Garza: Untitled, 1974, Centro Catn- 
pesino Miguel Hidalgo, San Juan, Texas. 




Scale (1973-75) I 199 




Artemio Guerra Garza: Untitled, 1975, Centra Campes 
sino Miguel Hidalgo. 



Tucson 

In 1975 the first mural to be painted in Tucson was 
unveiled on the front of the El Rio Neighborhood Center 
to mark its third anniversary. •» Chicanos in El Rio had 
campaigned since 1970 for a facility because there was a 
municipal golf course but nothing that served most of 
them. Finally the city built the center on a two-acre site, 
and Antonio Pazos, a twenty-two-year-old art student 
from Hermosillo, some two hundred miles to the south 
in Mexico, was commissioned for one thousand dollars to 
do the painting, which produced some complaints that a 
local Chicano should have been given the job. However, 
he worked with the help of local barrio youth from the 
center. The result was an extensive composition on two 
sections of the facade, one showing Chicano and indio 
families above a pair of miners working the earth, while 
in the background a hand reaching for a book set among 
Raza symbols, indicates the desire to learn about their 
own culture. On the other section a demonstration of 
residents approaches carrying a banner that reads "El Rio 



Belongs to the People," and above dark-skinned hands 
clasp while an Aztec war god dances and an indio woman 
lifts her unchained arms to the sky. All of this is rendered 
in big, bold forms that combine the flat images of silk- 
screen posters with indigenous art. 



Chicago 

Painters in the Midwest and East also sought by large 
murals and clusters of works to transform the spaces 
where people spend their daily lives into environments 
that were truly their o\&n. Break the Grip of the Absentee 
Landlord, directed by Mark Rogovin in 1973 and de- 
scribed in the Introduction, filled the entire side of a 
three-story apartment building and was larger than most 
murals in Chicago at the time. 

Already in 1970 while warning against violence in Rip 
Oj^ Mitchell Caton had begun to change the dreariness of 
the ghetto into something that expressed his love of color. 
The area on the South Side had been the scene of 
murders and rapes, but the alley where he painted had 
been for years a neighborhood gathering place. Every 
Sunday afternoon "Pops" Simpson, the local impresario, 




Antonto Pazos: Untitled, 1975, El Rw \eighborhood 
Center, Tucson. (Photo Margot Panofsky) 



opened a red garage door for a "jazz battle" while people 
congregated to listen to the discs or hear a live set. 
During the week also they gathered there to meet friends 
and do a little gambling. In 1974 Caton enlivened the 
scene further by extending his mural with musical imag- 
ery. Down the wall from roof to ground cascades a piano 
keyboard with a pair of lilting hands. A friend wanted to 
do a pair of blue wings of the Egyptian sun god over the 
red door, and then Caton continued with Satchmo 
blowing swirling colors from his horn. A combo envelops 
him, and sheet music, bubbles, glasses, and African 
textile patterns stream down the brick. The opposite wall 



Mitchell Caton (CMC): Universal Alley (partial view), 
1974, South Side, Chicago. 



is embellished with lilting abstract shapes, and both sides 
create Universal Alley, a refuge of beauty where people 
can join together for a little pleasure. 

During these years members of the Chicago Mural 
Group were also doing extended works inside the long 
Illinois Central viaducts on the South Side that were 
bleak tunnels through which walkers had to pass. These 
had to be composed with a view to pedestrians passing 
alongside them rather than taking them in all at one time 
because of the narrowness and thick pillars that inter- 
fered with a viewing of any long stretch. Overcoming 
these difficulties Caryl Yasko with local young people 
already in 1972 at Fifty-fifth Street did a procession of 
nearby residents weighed down by city streets, smoking 
factories and a military tank. And with the images the 
bitter words of James Agee's poem, "Under City Stone," 
follow the viewer. In another long underpass at Fifty- 
seventh Street in 1973 Astrid Fuller, also with young 





Caryl Yasko, director, and local youth (CMC): Under 
City Stone (partial view), 1972, Hyde Park, Chicago. 



Astrid Fuller (CMC): 
view), 1973, Chicago. 



Spirit of Hyde Park (partial 





Astrid Fuller and local people (CMG): Rebirth (partial 
view), 1974, Hyde Park, Chicago. 



Rebirth (partial view). 




assistants, did the Spirit of Hyde Park, in which they 
described the struggle of local people for decent housing 
and against the usual devastation of redevelopment. 

In 1974 in an underpass at Sixtieth Street Fuller 
unreined her imagination to deal with the causes and 
solutions of urban decay. Turning to animal allegory, she 
showed a hospital operating room with crocodiles at- 
tending the Black, Brown, and White patients (one of 
whom is another crocodile) while hornets nest above. 
Goat and rabbit relatives watch helplessly and a toad 
politician stands by with seeming concern. Outside in an 
alley a hyena arsonist is at work while a black panther is 
about to leap on him. And sitting among the garbage a 
young Black man reads in the paper that there are no jobs 
to be had. The remaining panels illustrate the coopera- 
tion of the authorities and residents that is necessary and 
that gives the mural its title — Rebirth. This wall drew out 
the distinctive qualities of Fuller's style: a flat legibility 
and stiffness associated with so-called "primitive art" and 
a biting fantasy in the service of social analysis. 

In 1975 Fuller returned to the IC underpasses with 
Women^s Struggle, using the structure itself to illustrate 



Astrid Fuller (CMG): Women's Struggle (partial 
view), 1975, Hyde Park, Chicago. 



Scale (1973-75) I 203 

Harriet Tubman's helping slaves escape the South by 
way of the Underground Railroad. To this she added 
a scene of the sweatshopping and tenement life of 
women and their families caught inside a huge cobweb. 
Then followed details of women's professional achieve- 
ments, their struggle for the vote, and finally their cut- 
ting down a totem pole of masculine fetishes. 

At the same time that the CMG was undertaking 
larger projects, they were also anxious to attempt collab- 
orations between their trained muralists, which had been 
prevented by funding that allowed for only a single artist 
and untrained assistants. Already in 1973 Jim 
Yanagisawa had painted with Santi Isrowuthakul (a Thai 
art student) Nikkeijin No Rekishi (History of Japanese 
America), in which figured largely the U.S. concentra- 
tion camps where American citizens of Japanese descent 
were interned during World War II. Isrowuthakul had 
also worked with George Stahl on The Wall of Generations 
at the Christian Fellowship Church in 1972, where Oscar 
Martinez and Yanagisawa in 1974 did a second set of 
murals. Their painting. Latino and Asian American His- 
tory, is significant because it was one of the CMG's first 
murals that concentrated on the theme of labor. It also 
called for interracial cooperation in a neighborhood with 




204 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




James Yatiagisaiva and Santi Isroivuthakul (CMC): Nik- 
keijin no Rekishi (History of Japanese America), 1973, 
North Side, Chicago. 



Oscar Martinez and James Yanagisawa, directors, with 
assistants (CMG): Latino and Asian-American His- 
tory, 1974, Christian Fellowship Church, North Side, 
Chicago. 




a volatile mix of Japanese, Puerto Rican, and Chicano 
working-class people. The church had been able to meld 
a mixed congregation, and it wanted to reinforce this 
with murals. The artists involved young people and 
undertook two large panels that covered a two-story wall 
on the outside of the church's community house. On one 
side of the wall's central window, they depicted the 
immigration of Japanese to this country and their strug- 



gle to eke out a living from the fishing industry, field 
work, and sweatshopping. The other side traces the Raza 
experience: agriculture in the days before Cortez, 
present-day farm labor organizing, migration to the 
cities, and factory work. As each era of human effort 
rises above the other on each side of the mural, the 
figures move together toward a center of illumination 
that radiates from the peak of the building's roof — not 



necessarily a religious aura so much as the glow of a 
better life that can be won by cooperative effort. This 
was acted out by the artists themselves, who in the 
course of the painting worked on one another's 
panels — Martinez on the Japanese side and Yanagisavv a 
on the Latino. Other such collaborations by CMG artists 
were to follow and developed a number of new themes 
during this period which will be discussed shortly. 
William Walker, who Weber says, had been a mentor 
to all of them and carried great moral weight, left 
the group in late 1974. However, the following year he 
painted with two CMG muralists, Mitchell Caton and 
Santi Isrowuthakul, Daydreaming and Mans Inhumanity to 
Men, which w ill be turned to in a later chapter. 

.More extensive projects were also being undertaken by 
Mario Galan and the Puerto Rican Art Association be- 
tween 1973 and 1974 with their painting of the three 
sides of the courtyard of the Puerto Rican Congress. 
There, scenes of the homeland — cutting cane, Morro 
Castle, a thatched hut surrounding the main entrance — 
alternate with portraits of leaders and silhouettes of 
political struggle, as well as semiabstractions of musi- 
cians, masks, and indio sculpture. 



Mario Galdn and assistants: Courtyard murals of the 
Puerto Rican Congress, 1972-74, Northwest Side, 
Chicago. 



Scale (1973-75) I 205 

The instinct of people of Mexican heritage to use art to 
create an environment that is their own was demon- 
strated by the residents of Pilsen from the time that Ray 
Patlan began covering the walls of the auditorium at Casa 
Aztlan in 1970. The following year .Mexican imagery 
spread out the main entrance to the exterior and then to 
the walls of the community. By 1974 the murals that he 
guided together with the earlier walls of Castillo and 
work by additional artists like .Marcos Raya were giving a 
new character to an area of smallish, gabled red brick 
houses that dated back to the nineteenth century and that 
were hedged in by hulking factories and railroad em- 
bankments. While one team was extending Reforma y 
Libertad along the streetfront of a woodwork plant in 
the summer of 1974, another was painting the outside of 
the day-care building across the street from Casa Aztlan 
and yet another group was doing a wall in a neighbor- 
hood playground. And along the retaining walls of a 
railway embankment children had painted their own 
trains. 

As early as 1971 artists on the West Side began 
painting walls along the railroad on Hubbard Street, and 
by 1975 they had completed a large part of what they 
hoped would be a mile-long sequence.'" Ricardo Alonzo 
with the aid of students began it with a series of panels 
titled Stop Now Gallery and extended them as Chicago 
Gallery I and //in 1973. Their subject was wildlife and 




206 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

the endangering of the environment. In 1975 the West 
Town Community Youth Art Center with funding from 
Model Cities and local business sponsored a Bicentennial 
sequence of thirty-two additional panels that came to be 
called Ethnic Culture: U.S.A. Eight of these under the 
direction of Jose G. Gonzalez, chairperson of MARCH 
(Movimiento Artistico Chicano), and with the help of 
additional Raza artists were devoted to Central American 
indio cultures. Anibal Rojas led the team that painted 
eight more concerned with North American Indians. 
Another eight, "The Museum of American and Euro- 
pean Folk Art," were done by a team directed by Rose 
Divita. And Terry Irwin of Richmond, Virginia, coor- 
dinated the remainder, which were occupied with Afri- 
can cultures and were titled "Upendo Ni Pamoja" (Love 
Is Together). Altogether they were the outgrowth of an 
impulse not merely to bigness but to create a humanly 
expressive habitat in the inner city. 

During the 1974/75 school year the Public Art Work- 
shop coordinated murals in twenty city and suburban 
schools.'^" One of these at the College of DuPage in- 
volved nineteen students under the direction of Mark 
Rogovin who painted a history of the area and the 
college's contribution to it. The history of Rockford and 
the need for cooperation of all who live there was the 
subject of boys from a local home for delinquents who 
were assisted by Rogovin. And in Joliet, Kathleen Farrell 
of the PAW and Valerie Krakar, a local artist, worked 
with a summer youth program, women from construc- 
tion firms and other residents on the city's first mural. 
Downtown Is Our Town, a call to rebuild and humanize 
the decayed urban center. 

Baltimore 

Outdoor community murals came to artistically con- 
servative Baltimore in 1974 as a result of Mayor 
Schaefer's announcement the previous year of an open 
competition to select ten designs that were judged by a 
professional panel and funded by the NEA. Predictably 
the designs were largely abstract and decorative with the 
exception of a Bicentennial work done by Bob 
Hieronimus, which fused occult art and social commen- 
tary. In 1975 CETA funding for the arts made possible 
the beginning of the "Beautiful Walls for Baltimore" 
program that commissioned ten murals each year and 
was still continuing in 1979. Its purpose, says Monique 
Goss, who directed it for two years, is "to bring art back 
to 'the people' and to support local artists." It too in- 
volved the selection of artists and screening of their 
designs by a municipal panel, but the approval of the 
neighborhood where the work was done was also neces- 
sary. 

Once again supergraphics and ornamental works were 
most common, but there were important exceptions. 
One was an abstraction that was done by Goss herself in 
1975. It was designed for the end wall of a line of row 



houses in a Polish and Lithuanian neighborhood, and she 
researched the folk art of these cultures to come up with a 
composition that would be locally meaningful. When she 
showed residents that she had drawn her motifs from 
their heritage, they readily approved them, she says. 

During that year also a pair of artists, Pontella Mason 
and James Voshell, one Black, the other White, collabo- 
rated on three projects. The largest was a series of five 
panels for the waiting room of the Department of Social 
Services in Johnston Square, where, as Voshell describes 
it, women with hungry babies and the elderly whose gas 
and electricity have been cut off come for help. There the 
artists offered a series of draftsmanlike genre scenes of 
the inner city — people marketing, street repairmen at 
their work, a woman and child waiting at a bus stop, 
children scrambling over a jungle gym, a jazz combo. 
One panel shows with great attention to their glances and 
gestures, Black folks chatting and sunning themselves 
along their doorstoops. Yet another titled "Arabs — 




Monique Goss assisted by Robert Maddox (Beautiful 
for Baltimore): Untitled, 1975, Baltimore. 



Walls 




James Voshell assisted by Pontella Mason: The Gather- 
ing, 197S, Department of Social Services. (Photo James 
Voshell) 



James Voshell and Pontella Mason (BWB): Lobby murals, 
1975, Department of Social Services, Johnston Square, 
Baltimore. (Photo James Voshell) 




James Voshell: Arabs— Refuse Market, 1975, Depart- 
ment of Social Services. 



208 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

Refuse Market," done by Voshell alone, depicts men 
picking over the scavengings of peddlers as kids peer at 
the goods abandoned by those who could afford to do 
without them. The "A-rabs," as Voshell says they are 
pronounced, are not Arabs at all but Blacks who sell their 
wares at customary curb sites in the poorer neighbor- 
hoods. The two painters worked six months in the Social 
Services lobby. People would come up to them and say 
that they knew the folks in the picture, knew the street. 
Voshell observes that "They were joyous with recogni- 
tion and many barriers were transgressed with paint and 
brushes." 

One of the other works that Voshell and .Mason did in 
1975 showed Black men absorbed in a sidewalk checker 
game, and the other, a racially mixed group of kids with 
their tricycles and wagons on a wall opposite a recently 
integrated school. Voshell says about their murals: 

On the walls of a neighborhood an image becomes a 
constant intrusion into the lives of the people in the 
immediate environment. I tried to project an accurate 
reality; one that touches or communicates ethnic and 
social pride or recognition. I tried in these murals not 
to slap the people in the face but to generate acceptable 
feelings and thoughts about themselves. 

Although these projects were the only murals Voshell 
has done, his easel scale work deals with the same 
inner-city material. Painting from candid photos he takes 
with a 200-mm lens, he describes his work as "social 
documentary realism." He had given up a promising 
career as an art teacher, moved into a warehouse in the 
inner city that was his subject and survived by small sales 
of his art. Characterizing himself as a "hard-core roman- 



yNayne Cambern assisted by Susan Earle (BWB): Un- 
titled, 1975, Baltimore. 



tic," he believes that his painting life in the streets will 
make things better for the people who live there. He says 
about his murals that "It was like putting something back 
from where I had derived so much." 

A community celebration is treated with affection and 
humor in a very long mural that Wayne Cambern did in 
an Italian neighborhood in 1975 as part of Beautiful 
Walls. It is a scene of a church festa painted on the gable 
end of a three-story building and continues along an 
adjoining wall. Cambern transformed the higher section 
into the facade of a church with dignitaries, including 
Mayor Schaefer, standing on its steps and joining in a 
street procession led by choir boys, flag bearers, and 
priests carrying the statue of a saint. Locals watch from 
the sidewalk, a pizza cook gleefully flings his pie dough 
into the air, and w ine is poured at an outdoor table. All of 
this occurs against Baltimore's brick rowhouses, some of 
them the beneficiaries of efforts to dignify them with 
artificial stone. The celebrants are rendered in a gentle 
cartoon style that approximates the light-hearted mood 
with which many of them seem to enjoy the event. 

Philadelphia 

The Walls of Respect that made their first appearance 
in Philadelphia in 1972 became more elaborate in suc- 
ceeding years. Clarence Wood of the .Museum of Art's 
Department of Urban Outreach designed them in a 
decorative way often against a background of stripes and 
rays on the outside walls of schools and recreation cen- 
ters. The youngsters filled in the color. At the West 
Philadelphia Girls and Boys Club there were larger than 
life portraits of King Tut, .Malcolm X, Ameer Baraka 
(Le Roi Jones), Jomo Kenyatta, Haile Selassie, Aretha 
Franklin, and Harriet Tubman. At' the James Rhodes 
School against the Black liberation colors were Marian 




Anderson, the Jackson Five, Shirley Chisholm, Adam 
(>layton Pouell, Muhammad All, and more. 

On a visit in 1974 with Wood to the Greenway Rec- 
reation Center decorated with the faces of Malcolm, 



Scale (1973-75) I 209 

King, and Jesse Jackson, 1 listened while he was asked 
by the youngsters if he would help them do another wall 
they had already primed. They wanted to paint a portrait 
of one of their friends who had been killed in gang 




Clarence Wood and Gary Smalls, directors, with Icoal 
youth and artists (DUO): Untitled, 1973, West Philadel- 
phia Boys and Girls Club. Wood is examining the surface. 



Wayne Cambern assisted by Susan Earle: detail. 




2 10 /COMMUNITY MURALS 




S barton Lowe and the Chinese Youth Coalition, coor- 
dinated by Don Kaiser (DUO): The Dragon Wall, 
1973, Chinatown, Philadelphia. 

warfare. This presented a serious problem to Wood, for 
he wondered whether he should help reinforce the teen- 
agers' idea that the dead young man was also a hero to be 
admired and emulated. Later Wood decided to go ahead 
with the mural, and three previously feuding gangs 
cooperated in creating it. 

When in 1973 the proposal for a ramp to the Ben 
Franklin Bridge that crosses the Delaware River 
threatened to slice another corner from Philadelphia's 
already ravaged Chinatown and to destroy the oldest 
Chinese Catholic church in the country, local people 
contacted DUO. Don Kaiser came out and provided 
technical assistance to the Chinese Youth Coalition that 
designed and executed an imaginative mural showing a 
dragon rising up against the curve of the ramp and 
wrecking equipment. Sharton Lowe was the principal 
artist, and the work came to be called The Dragon Wall. 
Kaiser also secured a hot-air balloon and helped the 
neighborhood send it aloft to draw public attention to the 
issue. Together with political pressure the mural helped 
block the ramp and keep the community intact. 

In 1974 the well-to-do residents of the old red brick 
houses along Philadelphia's narrow Hicks Street became 
exasperated with the graffiti that confronted them on a 
hotel wall, and they got permission to do a mural on it. 
One of them did the abstract design, and they sought 
technical advice from DUO. The neighbors did the 
painting in four days and celebrated its completion with a 
party beneath it at which they glowingly described how 
the painting had brought them together. 




James Kirk Merrick and residents, coordinated by Clarence 
Wood and Don Kaiser (DUO): Untitled, 1974, Drake 
Hotel Ballroom, Philadelphia. 

The Friendly Talking Wall was the result of students and 
teachers taking advantage of a construction-site fence 
around an extension of the Friends Select School in 1974. 
It was divided into a series of panels on which they did a 



free copy of The Peaceable Kingdom of Edward Hicks, the 
nineteenth-century Quaker leader who painted nearly 
one hundred versions of what he beHeved was WilUam 
Penn's fulfilling of the biblical vision of wild and domes- 
tic animals dwelling amicably together. To the left Penn 
is making what is sometimes regarded as the only fair 
treaty between Whites and Indians. The design of this 
Hicks had borrowed from the earlier Quaker painter 
Benjamin West, and the students did a linear rendering 
of this and a portrait of West further along the fence. 



Scale (1973-75) I in 

Another panel displayed a great sailing ship with the 
caption "Those who would mend the winds, shouldst 
FIRST MEND THEMSELVES." There was a portrait also 
of an Indian with the incantation: "Cover my earth 
Mother 4 times with many flowers. ..." To these were 
added some psychedelic designs and a pair of enormous 
eyes gazing back at you. Altogether the wall evoked a 
sense of heritage, personal uplift, and generous feelings 
characteristic of many young people from comfortable 
homes. 




Students and faculty: Friendly Talking Wall (partial 
view), 1974, Friends Select School, Philadelphia. 



Friendly Talking Wall (partial view). 




212 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

New Jersey 

One of the feu college-based groups to remain to- 
gether to do murals over a number of years were the 
People's Painters, organized by Eva Cockcroft at 
Livingston College, a branch of Rutgers University, in 
Piscatavvay, New Jersey. Their story is told well by 
Cockcroft in Towards a People's Art, but a few points 
about it are worth emphasizing. The group came into 
being as a result of Cockcroft having spent a summer in 
Chile in 1972 where she met and painted with the 
Brigada Ramona Parra, politically progressive young 
people averaging seventeen years old, who had organized 
themselves into painting teams to support the election of 
Salvador Allende three years earlier. The brigades came 
into existence because his Popular Unity coalition could 
not match the public relations effort mounted by the 
incumbent Christian Democrats, the party of the corpo- 
rate establishment which dominated the media. A 
brigade of no more than a dozen members would go out 
at night and paint their slogans and increasingly more 
elaborate imagery on walls. To elude the police and 
opposition, they had to work quickly and developed an 
effective guerrilla mural technique of one member 
painting the prearranged design in bold black outlines 
with other members following to fill in the spaces, each 
with his own color. They borrowed the simple, bold 
manner of Fernand Leger, the French painter, who 
depicted working people in forms that combined ancient 
classicism and the modern machine. After Allende was 
elected, the brigades continued to paint subjects of 
popular struggles, but now they could work more lei- 
surely, invite community people and workers to paint 
with them and do more complex designs.^' 



Brigada Ramona Parra: Untitled, early 1970s, Santiago, 
Chile. (Photo Eva Crockcroft) 



Cockcroft, who was a teaching assistant at Rutgers 
where she was working on a master's degree in art 
history, brought back to nearby Livingston College her 
enthusiasm for these murals, showed slides and formed a 
group of women's painters who wanted to work collec- 
tively. Their first mural was for the Women's Center on 
campus. ^^ Calling themselves the People's Painters, they 
later welcomed men to their collective. In 1973 they did 
murals for the Sociology Department, the Student 
Union, and then a series of guerrilla works on outside 
walls to speak out quickly on issues like a local incident of 
police brutality or the overthrow of the democratic gov- 
ernment in Chile. 

Hardly more than a month after the Chilean coup in 
1973, members of the People's Painters and New York's 
Cityarts Workshop joined with other artists, some Latin 
American, to protest publicly the atrocities committed 
by the junta, including the whitewashing of the Ramona 
Parra Brigade murals. They recreated from photos one 
hundred feet of a mural that had been painted in Santiago 
along the Rio Mapocho, reproducing it on eight-foot 
laminated panels that were painted with the help of 
passersby on a street in Soho, lower Manhattan's gallery 
district. Later they carried them up to midtown and 
displayed them in front of a Chilean airline office on Fifth 
Avenue. ^^ 

Cockcroft remarks on the continuing enthusiasm of the 
People's Painters in spite of the harassment from univer- 
sity officials and the difficulty of keeping a student group 
together. In 1974 members began doing murals in the 
community, and by the following year most of them had 
graduated. 

The murals of the People's Painters and the Ramona 
Parra Brigades are important because they illustrate 
again that the making of effective public statements need 
not be denied lay persons. Here is one, among a number 
of techniques, by which they can directly voice their 
concerns with the help of one or two persons with at least 
some experience. And they can learn on the job. These 
muralists also demonstrated a method of overcoming the 




Scale (1973-75) I lU 




obstacles of getting permission, which has seldom been 
taken advantage of by community muralists. Thi 
People's Painters also found that once the murals were up 
that it was important to get quick news coverage so that 
they could get maximum visibility before they were 
removed or, if possible, mobilize public support to pre- 
vent this. 



People's Painters: The Livingston Experience, 1973, 
Multipurpose room, Student Union, Livingston College, 
Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo Eva Cocker oft) 



People's Painters: Unite to End Police Brutality, 

1973, Livingston College. (Photo Eva Cockcroft) 




2 14 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

J 





New York i 

A work that was hailed by the press as the "largest 
mural in New York City" may not be that, though it is 
very big — 27 X 1 16 feet — but it is more. Painted in 1973 
on a wall of the Wright Brothers High School facing a 
major uptown intersection, it shows monumental 
portraits of neighborhood adults of the different races 
looming over a school building and reaching down to 
encourage young people. Among them is a teacher read- 
ing with a child, and a player who seems to be not only 
tossing a basket but also waving on a line of students 
moving toward careers. The design is very simple and 
the scale enormous, but what is moving are the portraits 
of all the figures that are generalized in a manner that 
draws out their dignity but treats what is personal in 
their faces with unusual tenderness. Its title is Let a 
People, Loving Freedom, Come to Growth. The painting was 
directed by Lucy .Mahler who was assisted by her fellow 
artists from the Freedom and Peace Mural Project that 
was organized to do murals in Washington Heights, a 
largely working-class district. After getting the approval 
of what they thought was all the necessary adminis- 
trators, they manned a table in front of the school 
displaying a draft sketch. They sent letters home to 
parents asking their views and collected over one 
thousand signatures endorsing the project. Hardly had 
the artists begun work with the students on the wall, 
when an unsympathetic custodian had them arrested for 
cleaning graffiti off it; and only months after the finishing 
of the work was community pressure strong enough to 



People's Painters: Allende Mural, 1973, Livingston 
College. (Photo Eva Crockcroft) 



persuade the school to pay at least for the materials to 
embellish its building, to say nothing of fees for the 
artists. 

On Manhattan's East Side, downtown and uptown, 
the nationalist flags of Puerto Rico appear again and again 
on the brick of tenements facing empty lots where 
buildings have been torn down and people linger. Di- 
rectly opposite the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine 
one of these lots with Plaza Caribe painted on a wall was 
circled in 1974 with these flags, peeling murals -and 
inscriptions such as Mr. Barret no tiene nada, esso es nuestro 
sacraficio, lucha. . . . Proletarios del mundo unios, la lucha 
continua (.Mr. Barret gives nothing, this is our sacrifice, 
struggle. . . . Proletarians of the world, unite, the strug- 
gle goes on). The struggle seemed to refer to either a rent 
strike or squatters occupying a condemned building. At 
the base of one wall was a simply painted mural of about 
7X12 feet showing a mother and child pointing to the 
sun while friends follow their gestures with their gazes. 
It was captioned jLiberacion! In another vacant site a few 
doors away where a small garden had been planted, the 
brick wall was whitened and the faces of Albizu Campos 
and Guevara were carefully painted in. The caption read 
Libertad Pa' Los Presos Politicos (Free Political Prisoners) 
and then Todos al Garden Oct. 27. It was signed PSP 
(Puerto Rican Socialist Party). The prisoners the painter 
must have had in mind were Lolita Lebron and her 
companions who still were in prison since their assault on 
Congress in 1954. The rally at the Madison Square 




Utcy Mahler, director, artists of the Peace and Freedom 
Mural Project, and students: Let a People, Loving 
Freedom, Come to Growth (detail) 1973, Wright 
Brothers School, Washington Heights, New York City. 



Scale (1973-75)/ 215 

Garden brought together twenty thousand people to call 
for Puerto Rican independence. 

In the early seventies a long frieze recalling joyous 
fiestas in Puerto Rico spanned the entrance to the Museo 
del Barrio, an art school and gallery in a public housing 
project in Spanish Harlem. 

In 1973 Hank Prussing, who was not Puerto Rican 
himself, began painting the side of a four-story tenement 
in Spanish Harlem with portraits of local people whom 
he had photographed. There between the windows they 
lounged, held a kid brother or played a ukulele. Bigger 
than life there were a middle-aged woman in her apron, a 
crooner pouring his heart into a mike, a girl in shorts and 
high wedges, a cop and resident chatting. After a fire in 
1974 the building was to be torn down, but the mural's 
sf)onsor, Hope Community, Inc., a neighborhood or- 
ganization that does housing rehabilitation and maintains 
a local center and art program, succeeded in saving the 
structure and its painting. Prussing added more portraits 
including a group of old-timers playing dominoes. One 
of them who had been a regular spectator of Prussing's 
work died three years before his portrait was completed. 
Manuel Vega painted the ground level with a flag and 
what appeared to be signs and advertisements pasted 
over each other which were intended to accommodate 
real posters and graffiti. In the doorway the artists added 
silhouettes of the fellows who helped with the scaffold- 
ing. Finally, in November 1978, The Spirit of East Harlem 
was dedicated, and Hope was trying to purchase the 
building and arrange for murals across the street at 
Public School 72. 

In 1973 Jame^ Jannuzzi of Cityarts worked with 
Puerto Rican and Black teenagers of the Lower East Side 
where there was an interracial coalition which he wanted 
the mural to reflect.^'* They set up a workshop in the 
basement of a neighborhood artist where other artists, 
who lived nearby because of modest rentals, dropped in 
and began to contribute to the design. The resulting 
composition represented the power of murals to draw 
together people of varied skills and interests. It was on a 
big wall of a market and showed the Black heritage of 
Egyptian pyramids and a jungle drummer, a portrait of 
the Puerto Rican patriot Ramon Betances, and a ukulele 



Local tenants: Plaza Caribe Murals (photographed in 
1974), Momingside Heights, New York City. 




'^ff"£?WA[<itiS 



216 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Local tenants: jLiberacion! (photographed in 1974), 
Plaza Caribe, Morningside Heights, New York City. 



Unsigned: 'Tree Political Prisoners," 1974, PSP (Puerto 
Rican Socialist Party), Morningside Heights, New York 
City. 




Scale (1973-75)11X1 




Unsigned: Museo del Barrio Mural (photographed in 
1974), Spanish Harlem, New York. 



Local youth and artists directed by James Jannuzzi (City- 
arts): Ghetto Ecstasy, 1973, Lower East Side, New 
York. 




218 / COMMUNITY MURALS 



player. Local gangs were acknowledged by their colors 
on the spears around a door. And thrusting forward 
through prison bars was an image that embodied its 
t'\t\c— -Ghetto Ecstasy. 

Cityarts murals had always been large. From 1972 and 
Arise from Oppression its works became among the largest 
single panels in the community-based movement. They 
seemed to be trying to make a statement that could have 
some impact in spite of the scale of the city, and the 
artists v\ anted to involve large numbers of young people 
on their teams. On a 1974 project that Alan Okada 
directed, seven stories of scaffolding were necessary and 
veterans of previous murals were employed. It looked out 
across a schoolyard to a major crosstown street. Okada 
described the w all as an effort to be outspoken about the 
relation of American imperialism to neighborhood 
people. When the scaffolding came down, what was to be 
seen was a life-size tenement in cross section. On each 
floor succeeding generations of Asian-Americans are 
shown struggling to break out, from the time of coolie 
labor on the railroads to confinement in U.S. concentra- 
tion camps during World War II. White hardhats resist 
their efforts to escape from the ramshackle structure, 
while a mother inside is making payments to a gray- 
suited arm that becomes one of the tentacles of an 
octopus that tangles an American flag. Finally the young 
generation breaks through the roof with gestures of 
liberation as their counterparts from the other races join 
them. The title is Chi Lai — Arriba — Rise Up! 

In 1975 Okada led another Cityarts workshop that 
produced a mural that was large even by their standards. 
The painters were mostly Asian and had tried to get 
other walls before they received permission to work on 
the side of a tenement overlooking a parking lot and 
Delancey Street. This was a Puerto Rican neighborhood 
where people were divided, Okada recalls, between sup- 
porters of statehood and independence. The artists de- 
cided to design a work calling for Puerto Rico Libre, as one 
of its banners proclaims. Portraits of Lolita Lebron were 
joined by those of Ho Chi Minh, Malcolm X, and Angela 
Davis. But the owners of the parking lot were Vietnam 
vets and objected to the image of Ho; finally the muralists 
removed all of the portraits. The completed work looks 
even higher than its six stories because of the tilt-back 
perspective, which begins with residents at the ground 
supporting a nationalist flag that curls upward and be- 
comes a red banner born by triumphant figures at the 
top. This was intended to suggest support for Puerto 
Rican socialism in general rather than for any particular 
party, Okada says. Caught in a lower furl are local people 
drawing each other up out of the slums and joining a 
march. Above are workers directing their own mill 
where the windows ray out from a dynamo. A similar 
sense of energy is conveyed by the splaying rows of 
cultivated fields and paddies nearby. At the top a bare- 

Local youth directed by Alan Okada (Cityarts): Work, 
Education, and Struggle: Seeds for Progressive 
Change, 1975, Lower East Side, New York. 




Scale (1973-75) I 2\9 



chested worker swings a sledge hammer out of the wall 
while a colleague holds out a Little Red Book and other 
demonstrators carry placards with the mural's message 
and title: Work, Education and Struggle: Seeds for Progressive 
Change. Drawing on the enthusiastic imagery of Chinese 
Socialist Realism, the mural risked credibility because it 
adopted conventions wholesale that were either unfamil- 
iar or could be lightly discounted by local viewers as 
rhetoric. This was clearly intended as a visionary mural, 
the dream of a future worth working for, but the problem 
was to make it plausible. Technically, the mural is 
interesting for its melding of multiple points of view and 
its dramatic perspectives borrowed from Chinese illus- 
tration. 

That summer Alfredo Hernandez directed another 
C>ityarts project that was almost as large, the Puerto Rican 
Heritage Mural on the outside of the Rutgers Pool build- 
ing in "Loisaida," a recent coinage referring to the Lower 
East Side and Loiza Aldea on the island. The mural rises 
with vignettes of the Tainos, the native people, the 
Spanish conquest, and nineteenth- and twentieth- 
century leaders. There are also a piraquero (snowcone 
.seller) and his cart and Roberto Clemente, the Puer- 
toriquefio Pittsburgh Pirates star who had been killed in 
1973 during a flight to bring aid to earthquake victims in 
Nicaragua. All are capped with a rainbow. 

To celebrate International Women's Year another 
Cityarts team directed by Tomie Arai painted Women 
Hold Up Half the Sky on the seventy-foot-high wall of P. S. 
63 nearby. The claim of the title is driven home by a 
huge image of the Statue of Liberty pushing up out of the 
school yard. Her arm is alive with scenes of women's 
labor, care and struggle. From her eye a woman peers out 
between bars, and the statue's crown has become a chain 
whose links are marked Poverty, Prison, Last Hired First 
Fired, Prostitution, and Racism. Liberty's torch lights up 
the sky from which women of all colors appear, breaking 
their chains, taking one another's hands and waving back 
at us, as one holds out a book inscribed with the names of 
Harriet Tubman, Rosa Luxemburg, Rosa Parks, Lolita 
Lebron, Joan Little, and Ramona Para. The work was 
designed and painted by twenty-one local young people 
ranging in age from fourteen to twenty-six who worked 
three months at it. 

Also in 1975 Cityarts took on one of the busiest corners 
in the world, Forty-second Street and Eighth Avenue, 
with one of its largest murals at a cost of fifteen thousand 
dollars, but its message does not come through clearly. 
The artists led by James Jannuzzi sought to project what 
appears to be an image of humanity struggling against 
manipulation, which is symbolized by hands in the sky 
controlling the strings that yank at mankind and seem to 
determine its self-images, its masks, gods, and culture. 
Meanwhile a bird of rebirth hovers overhead, which 
gives the mural its title. Phoenix. 

A unique transformation of a pompous public monu- 
ment into people's art by community residents is the 




Local youth directed by Alfredo Hernandez (Cityarts): 
Puerto Rican Heritage Mural, 1975, Lower East Side, 
New York. 

undulating bench covered in mosaic figures that wraps 
for three hundred feet around Grant's Tomb in uptown 
Manhattan. There sculptor Pedro Silva of Cityarts 
Workshop instructed neighborhood people in the 
techniques of Barcelona's Antonio Gaudi and Simon 
Rodia of Watts Towers, then left them free to design and 
set the mosaics. The concrete core itself does not main- 
tain the sedate form of park benches but loops and arches 
and snakes around the monument, exhibiting mosaic 
dragons, lions, palaces, autos, dancing nudes, flags, and a 
portrait of Grant. The project was intended by the 



220 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




National Park Service to discourage graffiti. However, 
because the mosaics came to draw more people to Grant's 
Tomb, there were more graffiti on the tomb itself than 
before — a kind of success, said Alan Okada, codirector of 
Cityarts at that time. The project, started in 1972 and 
completed three years later, is a model for the unstarch- 
ing of traditional public art and assimilating it into the 
community. 

Massachusetts 

In 1973 Nelson Stevens and Dana Chandler painted 
the long mural on the street front of the Black construc- 
tion workers' union hall in Roxbury, described in the 
Introduction. The following summer Stevens, who was 
teaching in Afro-American Studies at the University of 
Massachusetts in Amherst, wanted to give undergradu- 
ates experience in community art and began directing 
student murals in Springfield. During the summer of 
1974 they painted / Am a Black Woman and Black Music. 
The following year they were responsible for twenty 
more large works there, and by the end of 1977 there 
were thirty in all.^' 



Local youth directed by Tomie Arai (Cityarts): Women 
Hold Up Half the Sky, 1975, Lower East Side, New 
York. 



Cityarts team directed by James Jannuzzi: Phoenix, 
1975, Midtown, New York. ^ 




Scale (1973-75) I 22\ 



Local people directed by Pedro Silva (Cityarts): Grant's 
Tomb Benches, 1972-75, New York. 





222 / COMMUNITY MURALS 



Summary 



What marked this third period of the new mural 
movement was that enough experience had been gained 
by isolated projects to stimulate artists and community 
people to large-scale undertakings that advanced sub- 
stantially early muralists' intention of reshaping their 
social environment. During the first stages of the move- 
ment, urgent messages had to be gotten out, and they 
were soon followed by amplifications nearby. These 
murals were a collective art addressing social concerns, 
and they created spaces around them that invited serious 
exchanges of ideas, some of which materialized as addi- 
tional murals. The dialogue in the street that the ex- 
tended process of doing a mural stimulated and it was 
hoped the finished image would continue, made for a 
new kind of social space. When this was discovered, 
efforts were made to extend it in the same and other 
places. The initial intention of Charles Felix at Estrada 
Courts was to do only three murals, but they grew to 
sixty as people realized the power of cooperative expres- 
sion to affect their lives. Between 1973 and 1975 this 
experience widened around the country, and the idea of 
undertaking from the beginning a project of many con- 
nected murals began to take hold. The muralists also 
sought new kinds of collaboration and more integrated 
ways of working on the same painting, reaching beyond 
add-on kinds of composition. The idea of reshaping an 
environment by an ensemble of murals was not merely an 
aesthetic ambition, it reflected a further development of 
the will to community and the discovery of one means 
towards it. While murals by themselves could not alter 
underlying social conditions, they gave people experi- 
ence in social action and cooperative work that they could 
control and express themselves through. The murals 
could serve as a beginning of more fundamental change. 



NEW ISSUES 

Labor Murals 

During this period new issues began to occupy 
muralists. The most widespread opening was made by 
the theme of labor. This theme had been implicit from 
the first of the murals that protested racism and affirmed 
Black and Brown Power, since discrimination in educa- 
tion, hiring and advancement was a large part of their 
grievance. Labor organizing was the explicit subject of 
the farm workers' mural at Del Rey that Antonio Bernal 
did in 1968. And Chavez and workers had figured in the 
indoor murals of Ray Patlan at Casa Aztlan in 1970 and 
1971. But the concerns of farm workers and other labor- 
ers did not become a primary subject for murals until a 
few years later. This can be partly understood because of 
the preoccupation of the early murals with mounting a 



response to racism in general. Labor emerged as a major 
theme not as the first specialized topics of racism, like 
urban renewal, drugs, and gang violence, began to draw 
muralists' attention, but only after these themes that are 
associated with where people live had been dealt with. 
The early labor murals however also appeared as protests 
to the racism to which both farm and urban workers had 
been subjected. 

Already in 1972 Carlos Almaraz did a large banner on 
canvas measuring sixteen by twenty-four feet that was 
hung behind the rostrum at the first convention of the 
United Farm Workers of America in Fresno. It was in 
fact a big, boisterous cartoon. Cesar Chavez, who com- 
missioned the work for $150, "sees things simply and 
dramatically," Almaraz says. "He wanted to show the 
farm workers attacked by Teamster goons, growers and 
the Kern County Police."^® And that is what the artist 
did with giant caricatures of the antagonists and sym- 
pathetic renderings of a farm-worker family with a 
Huelga picket sign. Two years later Almaraz working 
with local youth painted the ensemble of caricature 
murals on behalf of the farm workers on the East Los 
recreation center. These murals and others supporting 




Carlos Almaraz and M. T. Bryan: Banner, 1972, 
United Farmworkers Convention, Fresno. (© Carlos 
Almaraz) 



Scale (1973-75) I 22-i 




Jose Guerrero assisted by local youth: ''Yes, it can be done 
Pilsen, Chicago. 



I 




UFW were the result of its strategy to carry their strug- 
gle to the big urban market of grapes and wine by way of 
consumer boycotts, which are credited with having been 
as important as picketing in the fields. Another was 
painted in 1973 by a militant city worker, Jose Guerrero, 
in Chicago's Pilsen Barrio under the sponsorship of Casa 
Aztlan and the Chicago Mural Group. Done at the end of 
an alley just as it let out into a main street, it showed a 
throng of marchers with fists aloft and a farm workers' 
banner next to the Mexican flag, snapping in the wind. It 
is inscribed: Si Se Puede — Yes, It Can Be Done. The 
communitarian character of the farm workers' organiza- 
tion is referred to in a lower corner: Dedicado a esta gran 
communidad La U.F.W. 

Murals were being done for the labor organizing of 
other minority groups as well, like Nelson Stevens and 
Dana Chandler's 1973 Black Worker for the Construction 
Workers' labor temple in Roxbury, described at the 
beginning. 

One of the most moving of labor murals was done on 
the side of an abandoned and boarded-up tenement in 



Unsigned: "And he [the boss] gets rich with our labor!' 
(photographed in 1974), South End, Boston. 



224 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

Boston's South End and was probably repeated the mural movement. Cry for Justice, in 1972. He called 
elsewhere. The imagery is extraordinarily condensed, '^ The History of the Packinghouse Worker and depicted 
the draw ing elementary. A worker is shown at a series of the early struggle of the union to organize. Management 
w heels that spill gold coins into the bulging pockets of a '^ ranged against employee representatives with a chess- 
golden figure marked patron (the boss). The caption board between them. On it police, a judge and a thug 
below reads ■ . . y el se hace rico con nuestro trabajo! serve as chess pieces for the owners, and already some 
(. . . and he gets rich on our work) — similar to (Chavez's workers are knocked over on the board or are lifted 
words repeated in the Bank of y\merica mural. The into the air by the bosses, who are much larger. In the 
image came from "Movement" literature and ultimately background police are trying to break up a demonstration 
from one of the posters produced by the Parisian stu- outside a plant. The grim eyed participants and somber 



dents during their strike that was joined by ten million 
industrial workers in 1968. 

Another mural already discussed that contains an im- 
portant labor component is the 1973 Jewish Mural at 
Bialystoker House in the Lower East Side that com- 
memorated the pioneering work of the International 
Ladies Garment Workers' struggle for the eight-hour 



tones are familiar from Walker's previous scenes of con- 
frontation, and this painting shares with Black Love a 
formal ordering of profiles and overlapping figures that 
dramatizes the pointblack conflict. Monumental but not 
heroic workmen more than fill the three smaller panels at 
the right. They go about their jobs with a quiet dignity 
which is reinforced by the sober black-and-white tonality 



day. The Wall of Respect for Women, which Cityarts did and relieved by their lemon yellow aprons and the pink 

the following year, illustrated the kinds of work that of the beefs. The color harmony could have come out of 

women had done for the past century and the profession Velazquez, Goya, or Manet. Throughout, the episodes 

they were trying to break into. are complex, but details are generalized. The stocky 

In 1974 the artists of the Chicago Mural Group de- figures have big and expressive heads. There is a classical 

cided to focus on the achievements of workers in building simplification of form, the contours rounded and 

the nation and their own unions. One result was the smoothed out in the manner of Rivera, and the whole 

mural on which Oscar Martinez and Jim Yanagisawa remains legible and bold. The union local is in the heart 

compared the struggles of Latino and Asian workers. At of a Black ghetto, and Walker has shown that workers of 



the same time William Walker was engaged on a mural 
for the South Side local of the Amalgamated .Meatcutters 
and Butcher Workmen, who published the first book on 



all races have played their part in labor struggles. Mark 
Rogovin has said that the union hoped for a mural that 
would generate more rank and file participation; if any 
mural could, this one should, 
iirii- iir i» /^ir^i TT- r 1 r> 1 • 1 Earlier in 1974 John Weber and Jose Guerrero com- 

Willtam Walker (CMG): History of the Packinghouse j^.^j , ^^^j^^ ^f ^^^^^1^ ^^ ^he entrance hall and stair- 
Worker (partial vtew) . 1974. Amalgamated Meatcutters 
and Butcher Workmen local, South Side, Chicago. (Photo 
Tim Drescher) 




well of the United Electrical workers labor temple also in 
Chicago. The two painters were at the murals for a year, 
researching union history, interviewing labor officials 
and visiting a plant. The panels show workers at the 
forge, on the picket line and in negotiation, with some 
portraits of union leaders. UE has remained one of the 
few unions to be active on broad social issues, and the 
murals show its struggles not only against big business 
but also the military-industrial complex and the Ku Klux 
Klan. The picket signs the workers carry protest 
speed-up and urge solidarity in Spanish as well as En- 
glish. 

During the same year, 1974, Barry Bruner painted 
Work Force, a mural honoring construction workers on a 
wall of the firm that donated the use of its scaffolding to 
the Chicago Mural Group. It was a frieze of laborers 
pouring cement, unwinding cable and setting brick. One 
of the crew was a woman. Their forms were echoed by a 
cement-mixing truck and factory chimneys, vents and 
cooling towers in the background, once more a borrow- 
ing from Rivera. When the mural was damaged by water 
seepage, Weber started afresh the following year with 
workers astride steel beams in the manner of Leger. 



John Weber and Jose Guerrero (CMG): Solidarity Mu- 
rals (partial view), 1974, United Electrical Workers 
hall, Chicago. 



Scale (1973-75) I 225 

In 1974 other murals celebrating work were done by 
members of the CMG. There was Ray Patlan's con- 
tribution to a mural in Blue Island, near Chicago, that 
depicts Chicanos operating heavy industrial machinery. 
(This will be described in the discussion of censorship.) 
It was through the theme of labor that Caryl Yasko 
introduced murals to a White working-class neighbor- 
hood in Chicago. She describes how, when she first 
broached the idea of doing a mural to the families of 
Polish, German, and Scandinavian factory workers, 
many of them first generation, in Chicago's Logan 
Square, they were reluctant because they associated wall 
paintings with Black ghettos. In time their doubts were 
overcome, and the mural was completed in the fall of 
1974. Its imagery is bold and simple, depicting a woman, 
man and child turning a machine belt that propels the 
earth and a large wheel that contains symbols of food, 
shelter, and clothing. The motion is then passed to 
smaller wheels with images of work, education, religion, 
and recreation. It is to maintain control of these, the 
artist says, that local residents, whose memory of "au- 
tonomous villages" in the old country is still fresh, must 
remain vigilant against urban mechanized society. ^^ 
Megalopolis is suggested by a huge, dark figure, backed 
by waves of tumbling high-rise buildings, who resists the 





Barry Bruner (CMG), Work Force, 1974, Chicago. (© 
Rosenthal Art Slides) 



Solidarity Murals (partial view). 








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ef^ ^ 








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iH 


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Caryl Yasko assisted by Celia Radek and James 
Yanagisawa (CMG): I Am the People, 1974, North- 
west Side, Chicago. 



symbolic family's efforts to turn the earth to meet their 
needs. The mural is accompanied by a plaque and poem 
that reads: 

i am the people 
who learn 

who worship 
labor and recreate 
it is from me 
from my efforts 
the obstacles 
within my life are overcome, 
i am the people. 

The painting and poem's affirmation of the power and 
unity of working people was not irrelevant to the cus- 
tomers who stopped at the McDonald's beneath it. For 
many were members of local labor unions and others 
belonged to the neighborhood association with which the 
muralists worked. There was a strong organized effort, 
Yasko notes, to preserve the neighborhood by buying up 
aging homes, refurbishing them, and reselling them to 
local people at low prices. Residents who had left Logan 
Square were returning, and the mural became part of 
people's efforts to redevelop their community.^* 

In 1975 Yasko with the help of her parents and local 
people painted a Bicentennial mural for Lemont, a 
Chicago suburb, in which she showed workers quarrying 
stone years before. An old quarryman modeled for the 
worker with the hammer. The yellow tonality of the 



Caryl Yasko assisted by Walter and Joe Nelson and local 
youth (CMC): Lemont Bicentennial Mural, 1975, 
Lemont, Illinois. 



Scale (1973-75) I 111 

mural is similar to the color of the local limestone, which 
was used in Chicago's famous fire tower and late- 
nineteenth-century churches. The woman lifting the cut 
stone, Yasko says, does not represent actual labor women 
performed, but the support they gave their men during 
the 1885 strike when wages were cut and quarrymen and 
their wives were killed. Writing about the mural, Yasko 
said: 

... we also have to remember that the history of 
America is the history of the American people, like 
those depicted in the mural. .Men who worked in the 
mines, women and men who struggled for justice for 
the working people. Men who drove the barges, who 
worked in the quarries, who hammered, cut, and 
hauled the stone to build the cities of .Midwestern 
America. 

In public art we try to portray the true spirit of the 
American people, rather than the slick portraits of the 
political and economic elite. I have emphasized the 
spirit of labor of men and women at work, the men and 
women who built the town of Lemont. ^^ 

Similarly the muralists elsewhere around the country 
who painted scenes of farm and industrial workers 
stressed that it was the daily work of ordinary people that 
had created civilization — its physical apparatus for living, 
its cultivated land, a meaningful way of life — in all, its real 
culture. These muralists saw this as a vast creative 
activity that they wanted their art to be a part of. In 
particular they wanted to help the common makers of 




228 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

this human artifice become aware of their own achieve- 
ments and conscious of their abihty to shape the human 
world according to their values and purposes rather than 
the priorities of others. Hence the muralists sought to 
work with progressive trade unions. They also came to 
speak of the identity of their art with all productive labor. 
Consuelo Mendez, one of the Mujeres .Muralistas in 
San Francisco, has said: 

I feel it is really important to work, and since it seems 
that I can do it the best through painting, that is why I 
paint. I feel rriyself not really an artist, but an artist- 
worker. It is extremely important that art be put in the 
streets, in the communities, to the sight of everyone. 
Mural painting helps to add life and color to the drab 
environment that surrounds us. Our people, the work- 
ers, can identify readily with our work because it is 
there for them to see and enjoy. Our images are our 
people and our cultures, full of color, life and strength 
to keep on struggling.''** 

Mendez felt uncomfortable with the separation that con- 
temporary society makes between the artist and worker, 
especially the prestige and privilege that attached to the 
former. She understood her skill as part of the work of 



Caryl Yasko, Celia Radek, Lucyna Radycki, Justine De 
Van, and local people: Razem (Together) (partial view), 
1975, West Side, Chicago. 



the ordinary people she painted for. She wanted to work 
where they were and see the products of her labor used 
by them. Other muralists, feeling similarly, began to 
speak of themselves as "cultural workers," adapting the 
usage of Social Realist artists that was common during 
the 1920s and 1930s. Like them the new muralists fre- 
quently spoke of moving their art out of their private 
studios and into the streets.'" What they had in mind was 
giving up the detachment of an art of individualist self- 
expression and becoming instead spokesmen and 
educators of their communities, and hence technicians 
and working people like their viewers. 

The significance of labor was also an important com- 
ponent of the second mural that Caryl Yasko did in a 
Polish neighborhood in Chicago, which has in fact the 
largest Polish population of any city in the world after 
Warsaw. The success of the CMG at Logan Square in 
doing the first mural in a largely Eastern European 
working-class district had opened the way to this second 
project in 1975. Urged by the franchise holder of the 
McDonald's facing / Am the People, Yasko now joined by 
Celia Radek and Justine DeVan pursued a wall opposite 
another McDonald's on the West Side. With the assist- 
ance of artists from the community, Lucyna Radycki and 
John Kokot, and the local Polish American Congress, which 
helped the muralists with their research, the painters did 











^Mi^ -1 -s/X k 



Scale (1973-75) I 229 




Kent Deming, Tad Hunter and others: Untitled (partial 
view), Carlo's Transmission Service, 1975, San Rafael, 
California. 



a zestful work celebrating what they described as "the 
living heritage of Poland which survives in America." 
The composition includes a much enlarged wycinaka, an 
elaborate paper-cutout form of folk art that the muralists 
designed to depict symbols of the careers that Poles had 
excelled in — music, writing, and art, as well as chemis- 
try, medicine, and the construction industry. The wy- 
cinaka treats with the same esteem skilled labor, the 
professions, and the popular and fine arts. Next to it is 
the figure of Janochik, a Polish Robin Hood, who rises 
from the ground and displays a sapling in his palm 
suggesting the transplanting of Polish culture to 
America. The composition is concluded by four dancers 
in brightly striped traditional costumes w ho kick up their 
heels and stretch their arms to one another's shoulders. 
The bright flat colors of the mural allude to the recent 
popular art of Poland — its posters, and the dedication 
ceremony brought out dancers costumed like those in the 
painting, which had been titled /?aze7« — together. ^^ 

The themes of heritage and labor, art and work were 
impressively melded here, which reflected the current 
rise of white ethnic consciousness among working-class 
people, particularly of Polish, Slavic and Italian origin, 
often of second- and third-generation immigrants, al- 
though an additional wave of Poles had come to Chicago 
since the Second World War. The revival of this con- 
sciousness, not only in Chicago but in other northern 
industrial cities, has been partly laid to the fact that many 



working-class "ethnics" were employed in work of de- 
creasing prestige, low worker autonomy, and little op- 
portunity for advancement, such as steel- and auto- 
making.*^ In response, it has been suggested, these 
workers and their families turned to their ethnic groups 
and heritage to restore their self-respect. This kind of 
analysis invites the comparison of White ethnic con- 
sciousness to Black and Brown Pride. 

A mechanic and his friends brought art to the worksite 
in a striking way at Carlo's Transmission Shop in San 
Rafael, twenty miles north of San Francisco in 1975. 
Kent Deming, one of the ow ners. Tad Hunter, and seven 
young women worked for eight days using whatever 
paint that came to hand to create a six-foot-high frieze of 
brightly painted pistons, drive shafts, and gears that 
swung around tw o interior walls of the garage. Inspired 
by abstract painting, the artists adopted the schemati- 
cally flattened diagrams from an old motor manual, 
enlarging the engine parts and making them dynamic by 
emphasizing diagonals and gear teeth and using brilliant 
hues. Afterwards the employees agreed that the painting 
gave the workshop a charge. It is as if a mechanic had 
found something artful in his work that he wanted to 
bring into focus and share. 

Addressing the community muralists in their first 
National Murals Newsletter, Anton Refregier, one of the 
still active Social Realists of the New Deal era, described 
the new painters' work as a "continuation, even if un- 
planned and unconscious, of the spirit of public com- 
mitment of the artist" of that earlier time.*'' He spoke of 
the older and newer murals as "evidence of the energy 
and basic humanism so typical of progressive America." 



230 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Anton Refregier: If There Is No Struggle, There Can 
be No Progress, 1970, Headquarters, District 1199, 
National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, 
Mid town. New York. 



And in passing he referred to one of his own recent 
works, a large mosaic mural completed in 1970 over the 
entrance of the new headquarters of District 1 199 of the 
National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees 
just off Times Square. In it union members are shown on 
the job, picketing, and at leisure. In the center are the 
same words of Frederick Douglass that Weber and Guer- 
rero added to their UE mural: "If there is no struggle 
there can be no progress." As you enter the foyer of the 
union hall, the first thing that meets your eye is a 
commodious art gallery, likely the only permanent one 
now maintained by the American labor movement. It is 
operated by retired workers and has frequent exhibits not 
only of members' work but also of artists from across the 
country and abroad whose art relates to the progressive 
social concerns of 1 199. Displayed outside the entrance 
of the gallery was what is believed to be the first painting 
of workers' agitation by a major artist — The Strike, done 
by Robert Koehler in 1 886. And one of the gallery's early 
exhibitions was a showing of protest posters in 1973. 
Thus the new murals were forging connections not only 
with the labor movement but also with traditions of 
working people's culture. 

White Middle-Class Murals 

At the same time in the mid-seventies that muralists 
were identifying with the working class and the small 
business people of the neighborhoods, they began doing 
works with a few middle-class groups. For instance. 



when in 1973 the owner of a filling station and car wash 
in Chicago, who had been a long-time member of the 
American Civil Liberties Union, suggested a mural on its 
activities, the Chicago Mural Group responded by 
painting a billboard on his premises calling for the sup- 
port of the liberal organization, which has mainly a 
White middle-class membership. The racially mixed 
muralists were John Weber, Oscar Martinez, Heidi 
Hoffer, and Jae-hi Kim. Beneath the caption "Defend the 
Bill of Rights. . . ." the mural was a bold Pop Art design 
of comic-strip-style faces that crowded the space — brown 
faces behind bars, the head of a hooded Klansman, and a 
blue-visaged wheeler and dealer. A green general held a 
microphone attached at one end to his earphones and at 
the other picking up the sound of money talking. Mean- 
while a dollar marked bag and oil derrick weighed down 
one side of the scales that blindfolded Justice held. 

It was in 1974 that the students of the Friends Select 
School in Philadelphia and the affluent residents of Hicks 
Street painted their murals. But in that and the following 
year murals by and for middle-class communities were 
rare. Judy Baca observed that the only middle-class 
groups that took advantage of the services of Citywide 
Murals were schools and organizations like the 
Westminster Senior Citizens Center in Venice. 

Murals on Environmental Themes 

What is often identified as a middle-class concern, the 
environment, is not only more oppressive in the inner 
city, it also can have special meaning to minority people. 
In 1972 a remarkable work that connected ecology with 
racism was done by Albert Zeno, a Black Chicago artist. 



Scale (1973-75) m\ 




John Weber, Oscar Martinez, Heidi Hoffer, and Jae-hi 
Kim (CMG): Defend the Bill of Rights, 1973, North 
Side, Chicago. 



h extends for over a hundred feet through one of the 
city's Illinois Central viaducts. Alewives and Mercury Fish 
is an indictment of the pollution of the Great Lakes by 
industrial runoff of the poisonous metal and the sucking 
of alewives (a saltwater fish) into the fresh water lakes 
where they die and pile up on Chicago beaches, as a 
result of the construction of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. 
Zeno treated this environmental issue as one affecting the 
lives of ordinary people as well as an event upsetting the 
whole natural order. In the mural fish erupt out of the 
lake like a volcano. But then the subject suddenly 
changes as you reach the darkest part of the viaduct. In a 
remarkable leap of the imagination, Zeno saw a connec- 
tion between this example of human interference in 
nature's processes and the imprisoning and exploitation 
of Black people. He took advantage of the barred gates 
and turnstiles of the train station to paint his people in 
shackles behind them and then breaking their chains to 
liberate themselves. He concluded with a scene of 
mothers of all races nestling their infants while fish swim 
gracefully again in the background. 

In 1973 Tony Rodriguez of Cityarts Workshop 
painted the Destruction of Nature on a building directly 
beneath one of the bridges that link Manhattan's Lower 
East Side with Long Island, an area dense with chim- 
neys and cars. The mural shows one large flue and the 
buildings around it overwhelming and polluting human- 
ity and the countryside; burning coals rain down like 
meteorites. Mankind's protest and identification with the 
natural world are illustrated by a green human figure 
who inhabits a huge cabbage from which four hands of 
different colors reach out in appeal. 

Pollution, meaningless production, and the waste of 



resources came under attack from another Cityarts mural 
in 1974 in a neighborhood of the Lower East Side that 
knew the blight and poverty associated with this inti- 
mately. The painters led by James Jannuzzi posed 
against uncontaminated nature and native people and 
their culture, an assembly line with small pyramids of 
gold, a limousine leaking oil, derricks jetting raw pe- 
troleum, chimneys spewing smoke and a pipeline cutting 
through a landscape. An indignant dragon rears up in 
opposition, and in the center naked figures of the differ- 
ent races seem to be awakening and washing themselves 
in a waterfall. The artists called their work New Birth. In 
spite of the awkwardness of the drawing, it was clear and 
outspoken. 

In 1974 Eva Cockcroft, who had guided student 
murals at the Livingston campus of Rutgers University, 
carried the idea beyond the suburbs deep into the 
countryside — to Warrensburg in the Adirondack Moun- 
tains. No one there had ever heard of murals before, 
but persisting she involved local young people in 
a large work on the pollution of the river that runs 
through town, and this project stimulated others in 
neighboring communities.^' 

Environmental Response was a 1975 work of On the Wall 
Productions in Saint Louis that encouraged urban ag- 
riculture by presenting in monochrome people cultivat- 
ing furrows in the foreground that converge toward a 
mammoth heap of colorful vegetables on the horizon. 

Murals by then were also expressing a concern about 
open space, which was an interest not only of the subur- 
ban people who wanted to keep it nearby but also of city 
people who wanted it within range. In Lucas Valley 
among the hills north of San Francisco, where the sub- 
divisions and highways are penetrating, Hilaire Dufresne 
painted a mural on the pavement of a barnyard. It can 



232 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Zeno: Alewives and Mercury Fish {partial view), 
1972, Hyde Park, Chicago. 



only be seen by walking up the slopes above it — precisely 
what he hoped people would want to do in the future 
also. The painting shows a bold semiabstraction of the 
landscape he hoped would be preserved. Dufresne did a 
similar landscape on a vertical surface, the wall of a 
movie house in nearby Fairfax, the following year. 



Alewives and Mercury Fish (partial view). 





Alev\ ivcs and Mercury Fish {partial view). 



Tony Rodriguez (Cityarts): Destruction of Nature, 
1973, Lower East Side, New York. 




234 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Local youth directed by James Jannuzzi (Cityarts): New 
Birth, 1975, Lower East Side, New York. 



Hilaire Dufresne: Lucas Valley View, 1975, Lucas 
Valley, Marin County, California. (Photo Hilaire Duf- 
resne) 




Health Murals 

The third stage of the mural movement's development 
was marked by additional community-based organiza- 
tions finding in wall paintings a means of publicizing 
their services. Neighborhood clinics as well as people- 
oriented legal offices, model-cities agencies, and settle- 
ment houses commissioned murals. 

In the city of Washington the streetside walls of the 
Shaw Community Health Center were covered by large 
panels done by muralists of the predominantly Black 
area in 1972. Three painted by James Arthur Padgett 
show the busy activities inside in bright patchwork pat- 
terns. He was able to transform the naive stiffness of his 
drawing into style and to order the incidents of the 
w aiting and examination rooms by keeping his figures flat 
and emphasizing the roundness of their heads, the de- 
signs of their clothing, and the rhythm of their gestures. 
This has something of the crisp, bright pattern-making of 
Jacob Lawrence but nevertheless is fresh. On additional 
panels other young artists likewise did imaginative in- 
terpretations of medical care for people in Africa and 
America. The project was sponsored by the Wall Mural 
Program of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and the 
Department of Environmental Services. 

In 1973 on an outside wall of the People's Health 
Clinic in a Black neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, 
Caryl Yasko and Douglas Williams with the assistance of 
students from the King Urban Progress Center painted a 
ten-foot-high mural in warm reds, browns, and oranges 
showing parents and medical aides inside caring for 



Scale (1973-75) I 235 
children. It has a classic simplicity of design, reminiscent 
of Walker's Black Love, that imparts a quiet dignity to the 
scene. On a wall of the depicted clinic is a chart describ- 
ing prenatal care that offers encouragement to passersby 
to seek out medical advice. Next to the mural a panel 
identifying it adds a political dimension: "The Health of 
the People is the Foundation of their Happiness and 
Power." 

Two years later Yasko joined with other members of 
the Chicago Mural Group, Mitchell Caton, Justine 
DeVan, and Celia Radek, to deal with a related theme 
relevant to people of all races and incomes — the issue of 
proper health care that all can afford. The mural is an 
indictment of the American health establishment. It is 
painted on the side of a one-story building easily seen 
from a main thoroughfare, and takes as its ironic title 
Prescription for Good Health Care. It shows the profile of a 
huge head symbolizing American medical practice, for 
its one visible eye is marked with a star and stripes. But 
the head is drained blue and is being gorged with pills, 
drugs, and tubes. We get an X-ray view of its brain 
cavity, which is like a yellow-white furnace where a 
supine patient is caught in a tangle of medical parapher- 
nalia, beams of light, and radiation. Outside on the nose 
another small patient is desperately trying to put some 
heart into the system by means of a bottle that contains 
that organ. But he is being reined back by vicious-looking 
characters, who one of the muralists says were suggested 
by the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The nearest is a 



Caryl Yasko and Douglas Williams (CMC): The Health 
of the People, 1973, South Side, Chicago. 




236 /COMMUNITY MURALS 



doctor in whites whose vision is constricted by horse's 
Winders. Another suggesting the drug industry has the 
head of a capsule and transparent Hmbs. The third 
Hterally has buildings on his brain and symbolizes real 
estate investors. And the last is all red in flesh and 
clothing and has rolled up plans projecting from his 
pocket, suggesting perhaps the system or its planners 
who have drained the blood from the blue head. Over the 
four loom as commentary a huge skull and a transparent 
hundred-dollar bill as big as they. The transparency and 
images that slowly emerge from other images are clearly 
the style of Mitchell Caton. But he and the other artists 
were able to meld their individual manners. The project 
was also important because its team included both Black 
and White artists, and the site was in a White working- 
class neighborhood where Martin Luther King had been 
stoned years before. It was now becoming integrated, 
and the painters were demonstrating one result of racial 
cooperation. 

Prison Murals 

During this period when murals were being utilized by 
an increasing variety of groups and institutions it oc- 
curred to a number of painters to turn to prisoners. 
Muralists had worked in ghettos, barrios, and slums 
where jail was a familiar fact of life, minority people 
being singled out by the criminal justice system for 
prosecution and confinement. In the early seventies pris- 
oners themselves were organizing against their condi- 
tions, and support was coming from outside. In 1973 
Judy Baca and Christine Schlesinger worked with pris- 
oners at the California Institute for Women in Frontera. 
Baca speaks of the despair and apathy that had to be 
overcome before the inmates could be induced to paint. 
What they finally arrived at in a dayroom however was 
extraordinary. The prisoners had been accustomed to 
measure their suffering by the clock on the wall. Moved 
by lines from a poem of Ho Chi Minh, "When the prison 
doors open, the dragon w ill fly out," they took the clock 
as their centerpiece and around it painted a female 
dragon devouring time between her flaming jaws. The 
dragon held the clock with a woman's delicate arm, while 
the other arm was bestial, culminating in a set of claws. 
A woman's bare breast was exposed, but the rest of her 
body was all scales, claws and a reptile's tail — a half- 
human crocodile, but with golden wings. Shortly after 
the completion of the mural a new warden took over and 
ordered its removal. That sums up the problem of trying 
to do prison murals. It seems that any imagery that is 
faithful to the prisoners' feelings will not be allowed, 
whereas the kind of murals that are permitted are ap- 
proved because they do not challenge the authorities but 
keep the prisoners busy. 

.Meanwhile a group of students from the University of 
Rhode Island who had organized themselves as the Col- 
lege Community Art Projects were working with pris- 



oners in the state's Adult Correctional Institutions be- 
tween 1972 and 1976.^* They did murals with prisoners 
in the men's maximum and minimum security divisions, 
in the women's units, and later in the Boys Training 
School. One of the group's muralists. Shelly Estrin 
Killen, tells of the warden of the men's maximum divi- 
sion ordering the whitewashing of their work. Before this 
could be carried out, she contacted concerned people on 
the outside including the press, and pressure succeeded 
in halting the destruction of the murals. However, the 
student group was refused financial assistance from the 
Rhode Island Council on the Arts, the university and 
other state foundations. The only aid came from New 
York groups — the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition 
and the DJB Foundation. 

Similar problems were encountered by a group of Bay 
Area painters when they visited San Quentin early in 
1976 to consider the possibility of doing a mural with the 
prisoners. Some simply withdrew once they had taken in 
the scene and talked with officials. They felt that any- 
thing they would be allowed to do would mean par- 
ticipating in the co-optation of the prisoners. However, 
Hilaire Dufresne and a few others decided to make a try 
and got the authorities' approval of their design. It was 
carried out by eight prisoners on a wall facing the 
Adjustment Center, where the problem prisoners are 
incarcerated, and beneath which George Jackson was 
killed by guards. The mural shows the hills and sky that 
would be seen if the wall came down. Dufresne prepared 
a proposal for more painting to train prisoners in skills to 
help humanize their present environment, skills that 
could also be used later on the outside. But this was cut 
short when funding was denied. His effort was a sincere 
and imaginative one, but it is hard to -see how public art 
can serve prisoners when they cannot be outspoken. 
Doing murals in prisons compounds the difficulties of 
serious muralists working in any establishment institu- 
tion. 

On the other hand, Bruce Coggeshall had a mixed 
experience as prisoner-muralist. As a convict at Soledad 
State Prison in California he did a work in the prison 
library that still remains, but another he did on the history 
of penology in 1970 was painted out when the warden 
decided it was too political. Later when Coggeshall was 
moved to the prison system's Medical Facility at Vaca- 
ville he was permitted to do a 115-foot wall that dealt 
with "the social condition of man from 1963 to 1974," as 
he described it. In his own words, it 

starts with the Kennedy administration, the struggle 
for civil liberties, Martin Luther King, Castro, assassi- 
nations, Oswald, Ruby, the Peace Corps and then goes 
to Johnson, his family, Malcolm X, the miniskirt, 
topless and bottomless, the dances, Vietnam war, 
Bobby Baker, Walter Jenkens, then to .My Lai, and 
Nixon, the pardon. Rockefeller, the energy crisis, 
woman's lib, gay lib, the minorities, their struggle, 
Cesar Chavez, farm labor Bobby Fisher and Boris 



Spassky, sports figures, penology with Reagan, Pro- 
cunier [former director of the Cahfornia Department 
of Corrections] and a gun tower with a chained but 
walking George Jackson, Hitler and just about every- 
thing including the string bikini and a streaker.*^ 

The mural is a great montage of images that are bor- 
rowed from magazine and newspaper photos and clearly 
captioned. Coggeshall's experience demonstrates, if it 
needed demonstrating, that prisoners are at the mercy of 
their keepers, and that different keepers will feel 
threatened by different things. He pushed on the system 
as hard as he dared and found where it would give and 
where it offered resistance. 

In other instances prisoners have decorated their din- 
ing halls with pleasant pastoral landscapes, which it is 
difficult for someone on the outside to criticize because 
they are not political. What can be concluded from these 
examples is that if a professional muralist does want to 
help prisoners do murals, he must do it on their terms, 
which is not different from his accountability to 
neighborhoods on the outside. It is not unlikely that he 
may find himself caught between the convicts and the 
authorities, and this he must be prepared to deal with, 
for by then he has acquired responsibilities to the pris- 



Visionary Murals 

While many muralists were seeking in their ethnic 
culture resources for community development, others 
were pursuing a transformation of personal and collective 
life through occult wisdom and its symbolism. In widely 
separated places around the country and with hardly any 
knowledge of one another, these painters of different 
racial backgrounds employed a rich vocabulary of 
esoteric imagery to communicate their understanding of 
social and even political change. Already Gary Rickson 
in Boston in 1968 utilized a great cosmological eye that 
was weeping because of human violence. The following 
year he employed surrealistic and "metaphysical" imag- 
ery in his Africa Is the Beginning. Rickson was able to keep 
his symbols within the understanding of a popular audi- 
ence at the same time as he conveyed with cryptic 
elegance the impression of great spiritual forces. In 1974 
he with young assistants returned to the symbol of the 
weeping eye in a mural overlooking an outdoor 
neighborhood theater in the South End. We have also 
observed that much Chicano art has a strong visionary 
element in it. The idea of Aztlan itself, with its dream of 
a new civilization growing out of the past, has lent itself 
to visionary presentation like Guillermo Aranda's mural 
of 1974 at the Centro Cultural in San Diego. There a 
beautiful Chicana flees from a mechanized monster 
across a rainbow to an incarnation of a new Aztec culture 
with a pyramid crowned by eagles. The vision is seen 
through a transparent globe held in a pair of enormous 



Scale (1973-75) I 111 

hands, but the pyramid projects behind the globe, 
suggesting that it is more than an apparition. In many 
other Chicano murals the evocation of indio culture in a 
modern setting had a visionary aspect. 

But in Baltimore Bob Hieronimus developed an al- 
together different approach out of esoteric, official 
American and modern Pop imagery. A White artist, he 
completed in a Black neighborhood in 1974 a mural 
dedicated to the Bicentennial in which he utilized the 
symbols of the nation's Great Seal — the monoptic eye in 
a pyramid. Lady Columbia, the eagle, stars, and 
wreath — and combined them with figures of Aquarius, a 
great comet, the ship of state bearing the heraldry of 
Baltimore and Maryland, a UFO, and the Yellow Sub- 
marine moored to the top of the city's Battle Monument, 
which is a memorial to its defenders against the British in 
1814. Hieronimus says his mural urges a "cultural regen- 
eration" that would fulfill the city and country's poten- 
tialities. He succeeded in pulling these images together in 
a work whose beauty and force are immediate. Although 
the symbols are familiar and the uninitiated can make 
headway with them, Hieronimus wrote an attractively 
illustrated guide for those who w ant to pursue their more 
recondite meaning. The acceptance by local Black people 
of his painting was demonstrated when I was photo- 
graphing it five years after it was done. A young voice 
came down from a window high in a building behind my 
back: "Don't you take no picture of our picture." 

In 1975 Hieronimus did a twelve-by-ninety-foot mural 
for Baltimore's Lexington Market, which dates back to 
the founding of the nation. Therefore, he took as his 
main image a long banquet table set wiiji meats, fruits, 
and cheeses to which America's great have come to 
celebrate its two-hundredth birthday. All the per- 
sonalities have local associations; the roster extends from 
Washington to Francis Scott Key, Edgar Allan Poe to 
Martin Luther King, Jr., and modern jazz and big band 
performers. Over them the Greal Seal's providential eye 
and pyramid, along with Virgo, the astrological sign of 
service, preside. Soyuz noses up to Apollo and a new 
Peaceable Kingdom of colorful beasts (each of whom, we 
are told in a brochure, has symbolic meaning) envelops a 
portrait of modern Baltimore. At very least the mural is 
entertainingly designed and vibrant in color. 

It is in Los Angeles that the greatest number of esoteric 
murals have been done, undoubtedly because the city has 
been the home of cults for decades. They have often been 
associated with the exotic tastes of Hollywood and sun 
worshippers but also with the fact that California since 
the nineteenth century has been the home of a wide 
variety of Utopian experiments, often of a religious na- 
ture. The local occult murak owe their origin to the 
revival of this tradition, particularly by the countercul- 
ture. The most famous and controversial was the Beverly 
Hills Siddhartha by the Los Angeles Fine Art Squad, but 
it will be discussed later. .Murals of the Age of Aquarius 
adorned Los Angeles cabarets and restaurants, health 



238 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Robert Hieronimus: Lexington Market Mural (partial 
view), 1975, Baltimore. (Photo Robert Hieronimus) 



Keith Tucker: Gro-Between, 1972, Santa Monica. 




••^ i 



food establishments, head shops, and book and record 
stores. The familiar imagery of occult lore to be seen 
around the country flourished there and in San Francisco 
at least since 1969 with white-bearded sages, enlightened 
couples surrounded by auras, mandalas, wild but benign 
landscapes, exotic flowers, richly plumaged birds, swell- 
ing mushrooms, stars, and planets — the Paradise Found 
of the hip subculture. Some of these murals borrowed 
from illustrations for science fiction or medieval ro- 
mances. If this "head art" is to be taken seriously, it is not 
because of its aesthetic quality — it seldom rises above the 
routine and adheres to not very promising models. But it 
is significant at least as a challenge to the values of the 
one-dimensional society of commerce and the public 
media. However, it is important to distinguish "head art" 
from the work of Rickson and Chicano artists who were 
able to make the occult credible by coming to grips with 
social reality. While "head art" had its serious devotees, it 
had a transient popularity and readily succumbed to 
commercialization. It never had the kind of deeply rooted 
base in a neighborhood that was common with commu- 
nity murals. 



NOTES 

1. Jaime Carrillo, Candice Ho, Julio Lxjpez, Anthony 
Machado, and Jack Nevarez. 

2. The mural was The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the 
North and South of this Continent. It was painted in public at the 
Golden Gate Exposition on Treasure Island and later installed 
at the City College of San Francisco. 

3. Susan Thistle, Vicki Smith and William Ristow, 
"BART: Forcing the Mission Underground," San Francisco Bay 
Guardian, November IS, 1973, pp. 19, 22. Also, Heins, pp. 76 
ff. 

4. Deborah Rudo and Scott Riklin, "Galeria Suffers $ 
M^ots" Arts Biweekly (San Francisco), July 15, 1977, p. 6. 

5. "Countdown for the I-Hotel," San Francisco Bay Guardian, 
August 6, 1976, p. 3. 

6. "Who's upholding the law at the I-Hotel?" San Francisco 
Bay Guardian, January 13, 1977, p. 3. 

7. Quoted by Thomas Kunz, "The Haight-Ashbury: Cul- 
ture and Community," Common Sense (San Francisco), May 
1975, p. 9. The Haight Ashbury Muralists who did the mural 
include Kunz, Jane Norling, Miranda Bergman, Selma 
Brown, Peggy Tucker, and Arch Williams. 

8. Drescher and Garcia, p. 27. 

9. Citywide Murals press release, July, 1978. 
to. McBride, p. 17. 



Scale (1973-75) 1219 

1 1 . Gil Blanco, "Vehicle for Positive Change," Latin Quarter 
(Los Angeles), October 1974, p. 29. 

12. .McBride, p. 17. 

13. "The .Viural .Message," Time, April 7, 1975, p. 79, and 
.McBride, p. 17. 

14. Herron's work at Ramona Gardens was facilitated by 
David Kahn, staff worker for EPIC (Educational Participation 
in Communities), a consortium supported by nearby colleges. 

15. Horst Schmidt-Brummer, Venice, California, An Urban 
Fantasy (New York: Grossman, 1973), p. 17. 

16. Gerald Faris, "Painting Depicts Obliteration Fear,"Io^ 
Angeles Times, July 6, 1975, p. 2. 

17. "The .Mural Message," r/wf. 

18. ".Mexican-American .Mural to Be Unveiled," Arizona 
Daily Star, September 13, 1975, Sec. B, p. 1. 

19. Victor Sorell, "Barrio Murals in Chicago," Revista 
Chicano-Riqueiia, Autumn, 1976. 

20. Rogovin and Barbara Russum, Report on PAW ac- 
tivities to Expansion Arts Program, NEA, 1974-75. 

21. Eva and James Cockcroft, "Murals for the People of 
Chile," TRA (Toward Revolutionary Art), no. 4, 1973, pp. 
2-11; and David Kunzle, "Art in Chile's Revolutionary Proc- 
ess: Guerrilla .Muralist Brigades," A^eu; World Review 41, no. 3 
(1973): 42-53. 

22. Cockcroft, Weber and Cockcroft, pp. 188 ff. 

23. Lucy Lippard, "Issues and Commentary," Art in 
America, January-February 1974, p. 35. 

24. Cockcroft, Weber and Cockcroft, p. 182. 

25. National Murals Newsletter (N MM), no. 1, 1977, p. 5. 

26. Carlos Alvaraz, "The Artist as a Revolutionary," Chis- 
mearte. Fall 1976. 

27. Caryl Yasko, "Logan Square's First Community-based 
Mural Project," report to Chicago Mural Group, 1974, p. 3. 

28. Ibid., p. 2. 

29. Caryl Yasko, "Report on Lemont .Mural," for CMG, 
1975, p. 4. 

30. Newsletter of San Francisco Street Artist Guild, late 
spring 1975. 

31. David Shapiro, p. 24. 

32. Justine DeVan, Celia Radek, and Caryl Yasko, Razem, 
team statement to CMG, 1975. 

33. James O. O'Toole et al.. Work in America (Cambridge: 
MIT, 1973?), pp. 35 f. 

34. "A Letter From Refregier," A'A/A', no. 1, 1977, p. 2. 

35. Cockcroft, Weber and Cockcroft, pp. 119-23. 

36. Shelly Estrin Killen, "Prison Walk," NMN, no. 1, 1977, 
p. 3. 

37. Reported by Greg deGiere, "Bruce the Brush Paints 
Politics in Prison," The Reporter ( Vacaville, Calif.), February 9, 
1975, p. 2. 



5 



PROBLEMS AND PROMISE 

(1976-80) 



As the mural movement was reaching the period of its 
greatest activity and expansion, it was also undergoing 
serious stresses; but innovation and advances were to 
continue along with growing obstacles. One of the key 
and persistent threats was the difficulty of funding. The 
National Endowment for the Arts, which had been the 
major source of public funds since 1970, began cutting 
back its support after 1973. The principal explanation 
must be the decline of riots and militancy in the inner 
city together with the recession that began in 1974. It 
was the violence in the barrios and ghettos that had first 
provoked the funneling of federal money to the urban 
poor, and muralists understood that, although some of its 
backers in government were serious about community 
arts, the main motivation for the NEA money they 
received was cooling out the long hot summers in the 
inner city. While violence did decline, there was little 
improvement in employment, low-income housing, and 
public services. In fact with the recession of 1974 a new 
wave of joblessness set in that was to remain unabated 
during the next six years for inner-city people. On the 
other hand, a source of federal funding unforeseen by the 
government was discovered by muralists — CE TA man- 
power funds administered by the Department of Labor. 
Money under this program began moving to them in 
1975. By 1978 it was the Department of Labor rather 
than the NEA that was providing the largest part of 
federal support for community murals. But community 
art was being sustained as a sop to unemployment rather 
than as a deliberate effort by the government to support 
culture. The funding picture was also temporarily al- 
leviated during the middle of the seventies by allocations 



at all levels of government to celebrate the nation's 
Bicentennial. When these funds were used up, commu- 
nity arts in general were threatened by the fiscal crisis of 
the cities that the near-bankruptcy of New York 
dramatized. The attempt of municipalities to cut back 
first on funding for what was regarded as frills was 
experienced by City wide Murals in Los Angeles in 1976, 
and two years later support was totally curtailed. This 
challenge was compounded in 1978 by the taxpayers' 
revolt that began in California and' threatened to spread 
across the country. 

At the same time that mural activity was spreading and 
individual groups were growing, they were reaching out 
and forming networks with a view to learning from each 
other and dealing with the new problems they were 
encountering. Visits by distant artists and even their 
teenage teams began early. In 1970 the Cityarts staff took 
a group of Lower East Side youngsters to Boston's 
Roxbury to view the work of muralists, and this became 
the basis of the first outdoor mural Cityarts did. Two 
years later the staff traveled to Chicago, where the 
greatest number of socially conscious wall paintings was 
then to be seen. In 1974 muralists from Chicago to New 
York and Philadelphia gathered in Boston for a sym-l 
posium organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art. 

Also in that year Latino artists on the West Coast,! 
many of them muralists, organized as the California] 
Coalition de Artistas. In 1975 their representatives met] 
with Governor Brown and discussed the concept ofj 
community arts, state support of jobs for artists, andf 
recognition that they were professionals deserving steady] 
employment and basic benefits in such areas as health.'' 



240 



This meeting had an impact in shifting state support to 
the community arts. 

Organizing murahsts on the national level was dis- 
cussed at the First West Coast Mural Conference in Los 
Angeles and the College Art Association meeting in 
Chicago in January 1976. .Muralists were looking to such 
organizing not only as a means of exchanging information 
but also as a method of lobbying the NEA and other 
agencies to provide funding. Another important issue 
was trying to establish what a legitimate fee for profes- 
sional muralists is and to get agreement among them to 
work toward a common pay scale. A frequent complaint 
heard at the Los Angeles conference was that, because 
untrained community people were often employed on a 
mural, it was expected that the fee for the professional 
artist need be no more than a dollar a square foot. John 
Weber doubted that muralists had either the energy to 
devote to making a union effective, or that it could mount 
sufficient power to produce the changes they sought. He 
suggested instead broadening the concept to a national 
coalition of community arts groups that would include 
those involved in the other visual and performance arts. 

The day after the West Coast Conference, the mural 
movement received recognition by the academic estab- 
lishment by appearing on the program of the College Art 
Association annual meeting in Chicago w ith a slide lec- 
ture, symposium, and bus tour of mural sites. 

The First National Murals Conference was held dur- 
ing the May Day weekend of 1976. Cityarts Workshop 
took responsibility for the arrangements and hosted more 
than 150 muralists from around the nation. Fhere were 
workshops on murals in the schools, political murals, 
methods of documentation, permanent painting tech- 
niques, and collective method, as well as the legal 
protection of art and artists. Although participants came 
with a variety of views about the purpose and character 
of murals, they could agree that their common purpose 
was to "build a truly community-based monumental 
public art movement in the U.S."^ They spoke of mutual 
support and communication among the artists and get- 
ting the word out about murals to the public at large. To 
meet these needs they organized a National .Murals Net- 
work, beginning as a coalition of over fifty mural groups 
and independent muralists. They designated regional 
centers of contact and decided to publish a newsletter 
and continue to meet annually. The centers would share 
the responsibility of publishing and hosting. In the first 
newsletter Cityarts Workshop called for representatives 
of different mural groups to join with it to visit the new 
head of the NEA's Visual Arts program to explain the 
goals and needs of the movement in order to reverse the 
dwindling of federal funding. However, mounting 
difficulties, particularly cutbacks in funding, the strain of 
continuous work, and the departure of some muralists 
from their groups, were reflected in the postponement of 
a second annual meeting in 1977 to the following year. 

The National Murals Newsletter itself became an im- 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 241 

portant means of keeping artists in touch. While report- 
ing new work being done throughout the country and 
funding developments, it increasingly offered muralists 
the opportunity to exchange views in its pages. In 1979 it 
brought out an edition that dealt exclusively with com- 
munity murals being done abroad. After being produced 
in New York and Chicago, it was edited in San Francisco 
under the leadership of Tim Drescher, who observes that 
it is published in the same vein as the murals are 
painted — as a cooperative venture to raise the qualitative 
level of communication. 

Money was not the only problem for community 
murals. Already during the summers of 1974 and 1975, 
the politically conscious painters around the country 
were talking about a new level of seriousness, a greater 
outspokenness they wanted in their art. .Vlark Rogovin in 
Chicago said that images of peace doves or hands joined 
in unity were no longer enough. To him it was important 
to show different groups of people coming together to 
resist a common enemy and to project images not only of 
protest but also of solutions. Alan Okada in New York 
said that the group of experienced muralists in the Lower 
East Side he was directing had taken a serious step 
forward by being explicit in Chi-lai — Arriba — Rise Up! 
about the connection of U.S. imperialism abroad and the 
exploitation of minority people at home. William Walker 
emphasized that murals had new responsibilities in the 
face of the heightening crisis that he believed connected 
the Watergate impeachment hearings, going on at the 
moment, and the problems of the slums. 

In Los Angeles, Judy Baca said in the fall of 1974 that 
young people in the barrios had to learn to talk before 
they could sing. Asked if issues like police harassment, 
the repression of women, and the difficulty of getting 
decent jobs had become themes of many murals, she said 
"No." Most young Chicanos did not understand that 
they had been singled out and were victims of racism, she 
said. They thought everyone suffered similarly or that at 
least they as Chicanos could reasonably expect it. She 
added that their horizon of understanding was limited to 
their barrios. This was at first difficult for an outsider to 
accept, because the massive turnout for the antiwar 
Chicano .Moratorium in 1970 seemed to reflect an under- 
standing of the connection of economic imperialism 
abroad and colonialism in the barrios. But the moratorium 
was the peak of organizing in East Los Angeles. The 
violent attack of the police on the crowd and the killing of 
reporter Ruben Salazar by a tear-gas grenade were later 
viewed, local observer Shifra Goldman said, as having 
severely weakened the movement. These events 
fueled hundreds of protest murals but impaired serious 
local organizing. In 1976, Goldman and Baca agreed, 
there was no organization in the barrios that was fighting 
the continuing police harassment or dealing effectively 
with the urgent need of residents for jobs. Judy Baca 
spoke with great sadness of the violence Chicanos were 
victims of. Her brother had been jailed for five days for 



242 / COMMUNITY MURALS 



not being able to raise seventy dollars bail for traffic 
tickets and had his head severely beaten by two other 
prisoners. 

Baca was concerned by the insufficiency of follow-up 
after a mural was completed. The most concrete result 
was the continuing demand by barrio people for more 
murals, which she viewed as a means of affirming the 
neighborhood as their own. She also said that the murals 
gave young people the experience of working together. 
Sometimes two, even three gangs collaborated on a single 
work. But she acknowledged, as Saiil Solache, who 
worked back in 1970 on the first important Chicano 
mural of the new movement in Los Angeles also said five 
years later, that the murals were not yet helping Latinos 
organize. They were helping to bring people together 
and understand each other, he agreed, and that was an 
important first step, but that was all. The gang wars and 
vandalism continued, Baca said. She recognized the need 
for adults and young people to get together and build on 
the enthusiasm that the murals generated. But many 
adults in the barrios felt threatened by the teenage gangs 
and supported the police coming in to keep them under 
control. In 1976, three years after the first paintings were 
done at Estrada Courts, there were fourteen gang killings 
in the barrio, which extended beyond the public hous- 
ing, and unemployment among Estrada residents re- 
mained around 55 percent.* All that could be reasonably 
expected of the murals would be to encourage political 
action to create conditions that would change this. 

In San Francisco Consuelo Mendez, one of the mem- 
bers of Las Mujeres Muralistas, said in 1975 she was no 
longer satisfied with painting decorative scenes of happy 
Latin American indios. She believed that murals had to be 
political and wanted to discuss with other artists how 
they could respond more effectively to the need for an art 
of struggle. Shortly afterward she made an extended visit 
to Cuba where she directed a mural done by fellow 
members of the Venceremos Brigade. On her return she 
turned increasingly to silk-screen prints on social themes 
and then in 1976 left permanently for Venezuela where 
she was born. 

Rene Yariez, codirector of the Galer'ia de La Raza in 
San Francisco who coordinated many of the Mission 
District murals, said in 1975 that it was no longer 
sufficient to make mufals on such vague themes as 
"Power to the People." He was persuaded of the im- 
portance of murals in raising people's social and political 
understanding, but to do this paintings had to be specific. 
It was important to do serious research on Uxral issues, he 
said. One, for instance, that had not been dealt with and 
was of deep local concern was how to prevent the de- 
portation of Mexican "illegals" — that is, the workers and 
their families who had not been able to get border 
crossing documents or overstayed their visas, many of 
whom had been resident in San Francisco for years and 
had legally resident relatives here. 

After the completion of the murals on three sides of the 



minipark in San Francisco's Mission District in the 
summer of 1975, the reaffirmation of Raza heritage and 
the need to build on it, which they and other local murals 
expressed, by now seemed to have made its point. A base 
had been created from \\ hich local artists could move on 
to specific controversial issues and support specific pro- 
posals. The BART mural had been an uncertain effort in 
this direction. There was a danger that more celebrations 
of Latino identity might play into establishment efforts 
to turn the Mission District into a picturesque area 
catering to tourists and new upper-income residents. 

By spring of 1976 the mural scene in San Francisco 
was a mixed picture. Rene Yanez had been hired by the 
city to coordinate murals in all neighborhoods. He says 
that he was run out of the Black community of Hunters 
Point when he tried to carry out his responsibilities 
there. He resigned because it was clear that the different 
neighborhoods, especially different ethnic groups, would 
have to manage their own art. Finally he and the Galeria 
withdrew altogether from making arrangements for 
murals in their own Mission District. Conflicts had been 
developing with another local group, and the Galeria 
decided that it had other tasks to absorb it. Yariez also 
believed that a number of the muralists associated with 
the Galer'ia were more concerned about meeting their 
obligations to CETA and collecting their checks than 
responding with sufficient sensitivity to the issues of the 
neighborhoods. The murals, he said, had performed an 
important function — creating a sense of local identity and 
pride. They had lent strength to the battle against rede- 
velopment. But they were not dealing with currently 
important issues — drugs, vandalism, and the deportation 
of undocumented workers. He felt that they had not 
really broken loose from decoration. In the Bicentennial 
year murals had become "trendy" and lost their bite. 
Yanez felt that topical posters, for instance the lino-cuts of 
a new non-Latino group, the San Francisco Poster 
Brigade (formerly the Wilfred Owen Brigade) which 
pasted their work to walls throughout the shopping 
streets, would have more effect than recent murals. He 
also believed that painted billboards would be a more 
flexible vehicle for current issues, and the Galer'ia carried 
on a running battle to put up its own images that were 
relevant to the Mission District on one on its streetside 
that was owned by the Foster & Kleiser ad agency. The 
disillusionment of Yariez was partly a product of the 
bitter conflicts, suspicions and jealousies of groups not 
only in the Mission District, but among neighborhood 
organizations in general that were struggling for their 
own existence and the development of their communities 
with the meager funds that the establishment dispensed. 
The answer, of course, was for local groups to cooperate 
where they could and particularly combine to press for 
larger allcKations of public funds for community arts. 

Although the Galeria abandoned its former role of 
coordinating large mural projects in the .Mission District, 
it did not give up related efforts. The ground-level 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 243 




Xavier Viramontes: Avoid Junk Food, 1978, Galeriade 
la Raza, Mission District, San Francisco. 



billboard it liberated in 1976 became in fact a frequently 
changed topical mural that maintained elaborate imag- 
ery, but used words much more extensively in the man- 
ner of billboards. The messages sometimes supported 
neighborhood culture like salsa but more frequently of- 
fered advice against cigarettes and junk food, pointing 
out particularly what Latino foods were nutritious. 
Many of these billboard murals were painted by Xavier 
Viramontes. They were conceived as antiads, directed 
against the commercial signs that abounded in the 
neighborhood. (They sometimes resembled the big 
mural Angel Bracho did on behalf of the fruits that yield 
Vitamin C on a ceiling of the Abelardo Rodriguez 
Market in Mexico City in the mid- 1930s.) As part of its 
outreach activities the Galena interested local shopkeep- 
ers in having their facades embellished with ethnic de- 
signs and small murals, like the Aztec in full regalia 
painted at the entrance of a local bakery. The staff would 
contact local artists and make the arrangements, and the 
effect w as to enhance further the identity and pride of the 
neighborhood. In the summer of 1978 the Galena 
reaffirmed its belief in murals with an exhibition of the 
preliminary drawings of Bay Area artists, which in- 
cluded the work of Black, Asian, and Anglo muralists, as 
well as Latinos. 

.Meanwhile, in the East, well-knit muralist organiza- 
tions were experiencing the difficulties of their own 
growth and the passage of time. At the end of the 1974 



season of painting the Chicago Mural Group realized that 
it was spreading itself thin and decided to consolidate 
within the neighborhoods where it had roots and to 
provide help for other groups to get started elsew here, it 
also turned from mural teams made up of a professional 
artist and untrained local assistants to collaborations 
among its own artists and seminars directed toward their 
development. Also during the mid-seventies some of its 
veteran members were lost: Ray Patlan, Santi Is- 
rowuthakul and then Jim Yanagasawa and Caryl Yasko 
left the Chicago area altogether, while William Walker 
went his separate way. 

Bicentennial Murals in the Bay Area 

The celebration of the nation's birthday in practically 
every community across the land provided the occasion 
for commissions for many muralists. Some murals done 
in 1974 and 1975 for the Bicentennial have already been 
noted. The art form had reached the height of its famil- 
iarity to the public, and it was to be expected that since 
the festivities maximized the demand for public art, 
there would be a spate of superficial patriotic murals. 
This may have occurred in some places, but in general 
this did not happen. One example of a lighthearted 
decorative piece was the three sides of a frozen-foods 
warehouse that Sam Frankel did north of San Francisco 
in Marin County. Drivers along the highway could take 
in a landscape with a rising (or setting) siin whose rays 
unfurled like an American flag on one side, and a sea- 



244 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

scape with waves rolling with the same stars and stripes 
on the other. Both were done in the flecked style of van 
CJogh, and the first was in fact an improvisation on Starry 
Sight. Between these two wails vsas a third with huge 
portraits of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and Lin- 
coln, also in the Dutch expressionist's swirling color. 
Fhere was nothing pompous about the ensemble; it was 
all in the spirit of a cheery birthday card. 

In San Francisco the National Park Service funded the 
painting of the interior walls of a roofed-over pier at Fort 
Mason that had been turned into a public exhibition hall 



for crafts and book fairs as part of the Golden Gate 
National Recreation Area. Fwelve local muralists coor- 
dinated by Arthur Monroe and Jack Frost were com- 
missioned to do interpretations of the city's history, 
emphasizing its ethnic and cultural diversity. Fhe results 
were a pleasant abstraction of the Bay Area's yellow hills 
and green chaparral, scenes of North and Central Ameri- 
can indigenous peoples and the missions, San Francisco's 
Chinatown in the 189()s, a view of construction workers 
high in the skyscrapers, and a panorama of familiar sites 
about the city. The whole provided a bright frieze of 




Sam Frankel: Bicentennial Murals, 1976, Mann 
County, California. 



''Some Events in American History," Bicentennial Mural 
Exhibit, 1976, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 




predictable subjects around the interior of a huge barn of 
a place, but the opportunity of saying something of real 
significance \\ as either missed or denied. 

Probably every fine-arts museum in the country 
mounted exhibitions for the Bicentennial. While the San 
Francisco Museum of Modern Art had its program of 
largely establishment avant-garde works, it did offer in 
its main gallery a month-long show of "People's Murals: 
Some Events in American History," a display of seven 
portable works by community artists that it had com- 
missioned for one thousand dollars each. While one of 
the murals was a delightful work concerned with local 
history by elementary school children, the other pieces 
were efforts by artists to take seriously the revolutionary 
spirit of the occasicm. Horace Washington and Caleb 
Williams showed in their narrative illustration of Crispus 
Attucks at the Boston Massacre that one of the first to fall 
in the Revolution was a Black man. in another mural 
Graciela Carillo and Irene Perez did a colorful view of the 
indio and Native American heritage. Roberto and Ver- 
onica Mendoza painted a large work on recent Indian 
struggles to preserve and win back their lands in the 
West. Dewey Grumpier depicted the efforts of Third 
World peoples to break up the crust of racism that covers 
the continent by literally jackhammering through it and 
planting the land afresh, while in the background a \\ all 



Roberto and Veronica Mendoza: The Struggle of Na- 
tive People for Sovereignty, 1976, San Francisco 
Museum of Modern Art. 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 245 

of towering cities seemed to be consumed in Hames. Fhe 
Haight Ashbury Muralists in a work titled Two Hundred 
Years of Resistance presented a frieze of people of all races 
shoulder to shoulder struggling for liberation v\ ith bow s 
and arrows, guns, sheer muscle, machine tools, and 
books. 1 he work was in bright colors and heavy black 
outlines reminiscent of the Socialist Realism of (Chinese 
posters of the sixties. It w as later mounted outdoors in 
the Haight. 

Mike Rios and Fony Machado provided the most 
impassioned political statement. In it naked, almost 
faceless people, some with raised fists, others falling, 
throw themselves upon a rank of boar-faced, helmeted 
and greatcoated soldiers v\ hose U.S. and Nazi Hags have 
beefi knocked to the ground. Fhe protesters lift their 
banner aloft that bears the words of Che Ciuevara, "Ksta 
Gran Humanidad Ha Dicho jBasta!" ( Fhis great hu- 
manity has said: Enough!) Rios borrowed from a poster 
he had seen in Cuba, w here he had been invited by the 
government the previous year. Even some sympathetic 
viewers thought that it was a tactical error to identify the 
United States w ith Nazism although there w as a risk that 
we could move in that direction. In fact, a neo-Nazi 
group had surfaced in San Francisco and w as appearing 
in public. Watergate was still a live issue. U.S. corporate 
and CIA involvement in the overthrow of the demo- 
cratically elected Allcnde government in (^hile by a 
brutal military dictatorship three years earlier remained a 




Miranda Bergman, Vicky Hamlin, Jane Norling, Miles 
Styker, and Arch Williams (Haight Ashbury Muralists): 
Two Hundred Years of Resistance, 7976, mounted 
first at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, later 
permanently in the Haight -Ashbury. 




Michael Rios and Anthony Machado: ''This Great Hu- 
manity Has Said, Enough!" 1976, San Francisco 
Museum of Modern Art. 



continuing concern for progressive people in San Fran- 
cisco, particularly w ith the assassination in Washington 
of the former ambassador of Chile, Orlando Letelier, in 
1976. Whatever arguments there might be about the 
tactfulness of the painting of Rios and Machado, it vv as 
clear that they were willing to employ murals to make 
controversial statements, and as at the Bank of America, 
in the belly of the beast. 

The most striking aesthetic innovation of the exhibit 
was a large V-shaped mural dramatizing the battle of the 
elderly Filipino and Asian-American tenants of the In- 
ternational Motel against efforts of its o\\ ners to replace it 
with something more profitable than low-rent housing. 
This was the second effort of Jim Dong and Nancy Hom 
to bring the fight to save the hotel before the public. Its 
V-shape and accomplished draftsmanship captured visi- 
tors' attention. The mural depicts an elderly resident 
reaching forward to deflect a wrecker's ball. Vleanwhile, 
a developer puts coins into one of the scales of justice a 
judge holds as he orders the eviction of the tenants. Ihe 
shadow of the Transamerica pyramid, symbol of San 
Francisco finance, crosses behind them. The artists not 
only adopted the shaped surfaces of avant-gardists like 
Frank Stella, they adjusted the lunging perspectives of 
Siqueiros to this kind of format, so that the wrecker's ball 
and elderly tenant's cane plunge into our space. Dong 
explains that in fact the idea of the tenant's hand on the 
iron ball came from Rivera's Man at the Crossroads, where 
the central dials are grasped by a great hand. Dong 
designed the figures in a flat style that suggests Asian 
woodblock prints and the modern comic strip like the 
first I-Hotel mural. There is also some stylized imitation 
of oak grain in the judge's rostrum. All of this would 
seem to make for a pretty rich mixture, but it is ingeni- 
ously unified and executed. While sophisticated in its 
melding of styles, the mural is nevertheless simple and 
direct in its impact, and its allusions are accessible. Dong 
believes it is a considerable improvement over his more 
episodic earlier work. It does in fact demonstrate that 
people's art offers opportunities for the widest range of 
visual invention. What was particularly important was 
that the mural's craftsmanship gave the cause it sup- 
ported authority in the city's modern-art museum. 

The two I-Hotel murals undoubtedly contributed to 
the support the tenants received from people in the Bay 
Area. More than five thousand turned out to a demon- 
stration in front of the old building in 1977. Years of 
public organizing with the tenants' tight association car- 
ried the case through City Hall and the courts. The city 
offered to acquire the hotel by eminent domain and then 
sell it back to a tenants' nonprofit corporation that hoped 
to raise foundation funds. But the courts supported the 
rights of the property owners, and a long delayed evic- 
tion order was finally carried out during an August night 
in 1977 as thousands of demonstrators tried to resist the 
sheriff and police. Even after the tenants were dispersed, 
the battle continued in the courts, and the mural painted 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I I'M 

on the hotel, though severely battered, remained a sym- 
bol of the struggle for low-income housing and the 
elderly and minorities to maintain their communities. 
Finally the mural and building were demolished to- 
gether. The V-mural w hich had originally been planned 
as a space divider in the recreation room of the I-Hotel, 
was installed after the eviction in the Mission (>ultural 
Center, for many Latinos identified w ith the hotel strug- 
gle particularly because of the Spanish-speaking Filipino 
tenants. 

Bicentennial works were also done in the neighbor- 
hoods. One was painted on fence slats in the Fillmore. It 
certainly was The Spirit of 16, but the fifer and drummer 
were Black, and another drummer wore a .sombrero. It 
had a swing to it and was executed w ith skill, but left 
unfinished and unsigned, a cryptic and moving state- 
ment. 

Besides the work that the Haight-Ashbury Muralists 
had done for the Modern Art Museum exhibition, they 
painted another and much larger working people's ver- 
sion of American history that year in an effort to correct 
official Bicentennial sagas. Two of the painters, Miranda 
Bergman and Jane Norling, had recently been in Mexico 
and were impressed by Rivera's historical panoramas. 
Together with Arch Williams, Vicky Hamlin, Peggy 
Tucker, and Thomas Kunz, they created an eight-foot- 
high, three-hundred-foot long mural on a retaining wall 
around the yard and parking lot of the John Adams 
Community College. Starting in the summer of 1975, 
they finished only the follow ing May. They called it Our 
History Is No Mystery and said in the handbill that they 
distriiauted to passersby that the mural was "about the 
real makers of history." They continued: 

. . . Working people have created everything. History 
is not just the story of rich men, presidents and 
kings — it is the story of the building of societies by the 
creative energy of human hands, by the sweat and 
blood of the w orking people, by the joy and pow er of 
people's cultures, and by the struggles against oppres- 
sion. 

The mural consists of a series of scenes of San PVancisco 
history beginning with the Indians and moving forw ard 
through the frontier, the Chinese working the mines and 
railroads, the Longshoremen and General Strike of 
1934, war work in the shipyards in the forties that 
brought many Black people to the city, the' interning of 
Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, and the 
demonstrations of the sixties and seventies with portraits 
of Malcolm X and George Jackson. These history panels 
merge into scenes of present-day workers: a woman is 
shown high in the air repairing a telephone line as 
another happily fries an egg while holding her infant, 
implying the need for women to have a choice. Farm 
workers are harvesting cabbages, and free food is 
distributed to the poor; a Black woman doctor cares for a 
patient, while a Black male station engineer operates 



248 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Unsigned: Spirit of 76, 1976. 



Miranda Bergman, Vicky Hamlin, Thomas Kunz, Jane 
Norling, Peggy Tucker, Arch Williams (Haight Ashbury 
Muralists), and local people: Our History Is No Mys- 
tery (partial view), 1976, John Adams Community 
College, San Francisco. 




community radio equipment; and technicians of different 
races and sexes are shown working together. The artists 
also brought to the attention of passersby the ongoing 
struggle of the International Hotel by quoting from its 
mural. They took a few imaginative liberties by includ- 
ing Paul Robeson, Siqueiros, and Rivera and his painter 
wife, Frida Kahlo, in the procession of picketers during 
the 1934 General Strike to suggest their sympathy with 
it, though not their presence. The young muralists seem 
also to refer to their own effort to learn from these earlier 
"cultural workers." In order to strengthen the sense of 
reality, Jane Norling, one of the painters, says they did 
"invented portraits," giving a number of faces the idio- 
syncrasies of actual persons by synthesizing details from 
photographs. The total result is a monumental but also a 
vernacular reinterpretation of American history. It is an 
eye-level chronicle painted by the trained and untrained 
without the magniloquence of official memorials. It 
clearly meant something to its residential neighborhood, 
for when it was vandalized more than thirty people came 
out to restore it. 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 249 

What can be described as "walking murals" made their 
appearance at the "Bicentennial without Colonies" march 
in the Mission District of San Francisco on July 4, which 
called for the self-determination of the victims of con- 
temporary imperialism. Halfway between wall murals 
and picket signs, these were five-by-seven-foot portraits' 
that required two people to carry each. One bore the 
image of Lolita Lebron and another that of Lucio 
Cabanas, the schoolteacher who led guerrillas in south- 
ern Mexico and had been killed by troops two years 
earlier. The third was a full-length image of General 
Augusto Sandino, who fought American Marines in 
Nicaragua and was killed by the Somozas in 1934. His 
name was taken by the rebels against the continuation of 
their regime that was still being supported by the 
United States. These big portraits were painted in a 
high-constrast graphic style by Alfonso Maciel and were 
later mounted at the Mission Cultural Center for long- 
term display. 

Yet another example of how muralists met the oppor- 
tunity of Bicentennial commemoratives was A People's 




Alfonso Maciel: Lolita Lebron, 1976, "Bicentennial 
'iVithout Colonies" March, San Francisco. 



Alfonso Maciel: Lucio Cabanas, 1976 




250 / COMMUNITY MURALS 





Osha Neumann, O'Brian Thiele, Janet Krenzberg, Dam 
Ga'lvez, and others (People's Wall Muralists): A People 
History of Telegraph Avenue (partial view), 197> 
Berkeley. 

Alfonso Maciel: Augusto Sandino, 1976, "Bicentennial 
without Colonies" march, San Francisco. 



History of Telegraph Avenue that a group of Berkeley artists 
undertook on the old People's Wall close to the site of 
People's Park. They began in the spring of 1976 and were 
ready for a dedication in August. The title appears as the 
banner headline of a new spaper that a busted student 
reads as he relaxes on his back with his feet up against the 
bars of his cell that have been sprung open. This is 
painted on a real door with a barred window in the 
middle of the mural. In keeping with the earlier paintings 
on this wall, the artists identified themselves as the 



People's Wall Muralists. They also did small cartoons of 
themselves on the painted newspaper as part of their 
signature. While some thirty worked on the new paint- 
ing, the leading spirits were Osha Neumann, Daniel 
Galvez, Janet Krenzberg, and O'Brian Thiele. .Materials 
cost over eight hundred dollars, which were raised from 
local merchants, a jar standing in front of the wall as 
work proceeded and from the artists' pockets. Some of 
the painters had advanced training and others had none, 
but they spread their efforts throughout the mural and 



produced a work that had a free but very professional 
appearance. In fact, it might even be criticized for being 
academic in its narrative illustration and drawing; but 
that would be nigghng for there is no reason that people 
should not use their skills. It has something of the 
Rubens-like bosomy women, hectic crowds, and urban 
bacchanals of Reginald Marsh. This technique is paint- 
erly and rich in bold brush strokes of mingled colors, 
and the w hole is a rollicking affair full of v\ it and visual 
ingenuity. The different scenes tic into one another and 
summarize the sequence of protests and projects of the 
sixties. These are cleverly identified by a diagram of the 
w hole mural that appears on the front page the fellow 
reads in jail. 

The mural itself reads from left to right, beginning 
with student leader Mario Savio standing atop a police 
car that thousands of students held captive on campus for 
thirty-two hours in 1964. Looking out the back window 
of the car is a member of the Congress of Racial Equality 
who had been busted when campus organizations defied 
the university's attempt to limit student political advo- 
cacy. Savio's words are printed on a leaflet that lies on the 
hood of the patrol car: 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) / 25 1 

There is a time when the operation of the machine 
becomes so odious . . . that you can't even tacitly take 

f)art; you've got to put your bodies on the gears, the 
evers and all the apparatus, and you've got to indicate 
to all the people who run it and own it that unless 
you're free, the machine will be prevented from 
working at all. 

Behind Savio Sproul Hall, the administration building, 
lifts its classic columns, which turn out not only to be 
hollow, but in fact heavy guns like those of a battleship, 
and they fire an artillery shell and dollars — an allusion to 
the university's role as a prime war contractor. The 
columns also recall cell bars. Richard Nixon and the UC 
president Clark Kerr hang precariously from lower sec- 
tions of them. The initials of the Free Speech Movement 
are draped from the upper floors, which have been 
occupied by students. lo the right of Savio later student 
protests are indicated: one young man burns his draft 
card; a Brown Beret brandishes his fist at square-headed 



A People's History of Telegraph Avenue (partial 

view). 




252 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

administrators; some figures wear buttons of the farm 
workers and American Indian Movement; others carry 
posters for the "Oakland 7" and the Third World Liber- 
ation Movement. A Black couple is selling the Panther 
newspaper in the foreground. Tumbling from above, 
TV sets bear images of Ronald Reagan, Lyndon 
Johnson, a Viet Cong woman soldier, and an elegant 
feminine hand selling soap. 

Next there is a procession of Hari Krishna folk with 
shaved heads and saffron robes before panhandling street 
people. Musicians with congas and a flute are blocking 
traffic, and the reflection of tourists taking their picture 
can be seen in the eyeglasses of one. This is followed by a 
scene of gardening in People's Park. 

On the right is the largest scene of all — "Bloody 
Thursday," .May 15, 1969, a street battle between police 
and defenders of People's Park in front of the restaurant 
on which the mural is painted. Streaming tear-gas can- 
nisters thrown back at the cops arch through the air 
above a Viet Cong flag w hich had been painted on the 
street earlier. On a roof in monochromatic grays — a 
sharp contrast w ith the rest of the mural — friends bend 



over the body of James Rector, who was killed by police 
buckshot. A group of hunched troopers still points their 
shotguns at them like a firing squad. Rising from the 
police lines a giant helmeted and gas-masked head is 
painted just where actual telephone lines come down 
from an adjacent pole and attach to the wall. The wires 
seem to plug into the helmet to suggest that the police are 
mechanical marionettes of not only the communications 
industry but the whole corporate system. Behind the 
student lines is another huge police head, but its goggles 
are shattered and its wires have been cut and unplugged 
.so that they fall loosely as the head smokes inside its 
helmet and mask. Whether the artists wanted to signify 
that the system will be done in by street fighting or 
whether it w ill self-destruct is unclear. 

This omission is crucial for the next scene offers a 
vision of the future but does not show what will bring it 
about. It is a bucolic idyl of gardeners, musicians, and 
naked figures dancing down Telegraph Avenue. The 
revelers have skewered a police helmet, a gas mask, and a 
TV on stakes as trophies of the battle against the old 
regime. It is a happy ending and meant light heartedly. 
Nevertheless, it is the weakest part of the painting, and 
one of the painters, Osha Neumann, was later to ac- 
knowledge this. Vague symbolism is resorted to — the 



A People's History of Telegraph Avenue (partial 






A People's History of Telegraph Avenue (partial 

view). 



A People's History of Telegraph Avenue (partial 

view). 

bacchanal appears in the branches of a tree that breaks 
through a sidewalk amid a dozing street artist, a guzzling 
wino, and a panhandler. The caption on the newspaper 
key describes the scene as "The Future grows out of the 
Present." This final scene of dancing does not take 
seriously the organizing and struggles that will be neces- 
sary to produce it nor suggest much more than good 
times to come, instead of a more tough-minded vision of 
the good society as meaningful work. 

The net effect of the mural is a celebration of the 
exciting moments of the last decade rather than convey- 
ing the urgency to build on them. The mural risks being 
retrospective and picturesque — revolution a la Renoir. 
This is partly because of the ingratiating painterly, often 
Impressionist style. But the mural's weakness derives 
mainly from its lack of political direction. The painters in 
their statements at the dedication made clear the serious- 
ness of their commitment to radical change. But the 
difficulty of taking a clear stand on how to go about it 
may have even affected the icomposition as a whole and 
weakened its impact, for the past is presented as a series 
of separate episodes rather than as a continuous move- 
ment into the future. And this inadvertantly expresses 
the uncertainties and divisions among progressives in 
1976. 



254 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

Nevertheless, the mural is pow erful and is a part of its 
place. Osha Neumann, writing about it, remarks that 
photographs taken the day of the dedication 

show a sea of people in the street that seems to extend 
up the wall into the crowds we painted. 

Ihat's the way we like to think of our work — 
immersed in the community for which it was con- 
ceived.'* 

In their subsequent painting together the artists were to 
provide more guidance to their viewers and as a result 
their composition became more unified and forceful. 

San Francisco 

Kevin .McCloskey had been seeking permission from 
the Fire Commission for three months in 1976 to paint a 
"Save-the-Whales" statement on one of its retired Victo- 
rian firehouses. Finally he took matters into his own 
hands. He invested two hundred dollars in paint and on 
the Labor Day weekend he and friends, figuring that 
officials would be out of town, took to the wall. He says 
that the police and firemen who drove by waved. The 
result was a ninety-foot life-size portrait of a great blue 
leviathan that cavorts across the tongue and groove siding 



of an old firehouse. It was not until the following January 
that the Fire Commission bowed to x\\cfait accompli and 
voted to accept the gift. By then .McClonsky was think- 
ing about doing a gray whale.'' 

In spite of the extensive mural activity that had been 
taking place here in the mid-seventies, it still had 
difficulty in making its way into the Black sections of the 
city. The continuing effects of urban renewal in the 
Fillmore District — the displaced people and those wait- 
ing to be, the still-barren blocks, the new trade center, 
hotels, and more modest rentals too new to paint on — all 
this did not encourage murals. However, in 1976 close to 
the Civic Center a West African symbolic design in 
brilliant yet subtle colors was painted above the Afro- 
American Historical Society by Arthur Monroe, its di- 
rector, and local students who became absorbed with 
researching imagery for it. Enveloped in sawtooth de- 
signs from the royal crowns of Yoruba they presented a 
central double-eyed mask of the Bateke people of the 
Congo looking into the present and past with an Ashanti 
throne and other tribal symbols below. To one side were 
the symbols of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, the 
other religions of Black people beneath a camel suggest- 
ing Africa and the Cradle of Civilization; and to the other 
was a large fist expressing current struggles. 




Kevin McCloskey: Untitled, 1976, San Francisco. 




Arthur Monroe and students: Facade of Afro- American 
Historical Society , 1976, Fillmore, San Francisco. 



Bob Gayton: Blacks from Egypt to Now, 1976, 
Fillmore, San Francisco. 




Camille Breeze: Untitled, 1976, Fillmore, San Francisco. 



256 / COMMUNITY MURALS 



Around the corner, facing a well-traveled boulevard, 
Bob Gayton provided a long panorama of a monumental 
Sphinx, Queen Nefertiti, King Tutankhamun, and a 
balding fieldhand in overalls who loom above vignettes of 
Black history of the Old and New Worlds. He called it 
Blacks from Egypt to Now. 

Also in the Fillmore that year Camille Breeze did a 
sports mural alongside a neighborhood playground that 
transformed the New Democracy of Siqueiros into an 
Olympic torch-bearing Black man from whose chest and 
arms boxers, divers and trackmen spring toward you and 
into a pool below, while a whole panorama of athletes 
of all races spreads across the background. 

In 1977 Bob Gayton, drawing on his skill as a 
portraitist, painted the meeting room of the Fillmore's 
Booker T. Washington Center with the faces and scenes 
of its history. 

Meanwhile an effort of neighborhood children with 
the aid of grown-ups to create a very temporary garden 
and playground in the long vacant tracts of the Fillmore 
owned by the Redevelopment Agency was commemo- 
rated by two White artists. Nan Park and Joe Perretti, on 
a wall outside the Raphael Weill School. It was a user- 
developed and maintained park that had the blessing of 
the authorities as the portraits of Governor Brown and 
former Mayor Alioto attest. But what is moving about 
the People^s Game Mural is the vivid record of scores of 
kids of every race, gardening, doing artwork, and play- 
ing where houses, perhaps in some cases their own 
families', once stood. 

Camille Breeze: Detail, 1976. 



Nan Park and Joe Perretti: People's Game Mural, 
1977, Raphael Weill School, Fillmore, San Francisco. 






Frank Ferro: Orale Raza (Raza — All right), 1974-79, 
Estrada Courts, East Los Angeles. 




Kamol Tassananchalee (Citywide): Great Arm of 
Friendship, 1975, with artist, Los Angeles. (Photo © 
SPARC) 




William F. Herron III and "Gronk": Untitled, 1973, 
City Terrace Park, East Los Angeles. 





Jesus Campusam, Michael Rios, Luis Cortazar, and 
assistants: Bank of America Mural, 1974, Mission 
District, San Francisco. 



Nancy Thompson and students: Untitled mosaic mural, 
1970, Alvarado School, San Francisco. 



Sondra Chirlton and friends: Eddy and Divisadero 
(detail), 1973, Fillmore, San Francisco. 



Curtis and Royal Barnes: Omowale, 1972, Garfield 
Park, Seattle. (Photo: the Barneses) 





Classic Dolls (Citywide): A Sculpture of a Woman Is 
Very Special, 1974, Los Angeles. 




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i.ink Prussing and Manuel Vega: The Spirit of East 
iiarlem, 1974-78, New York. 



Local youth directed by Alan Okada (City arts): Chi 
Lai — Arriba — Rise Up! 1974, Chinatown, New York. 



ucy Mahler, director, artists of the Peace and Freedom 
iural Project, and students: Let a People, Loving 
"reedom, Come to Growth, 1973, Wright Brothers 
chool, Washington Heights, New York City. 

[rtemio Guerra Garza: Untitled (partial view), 1975, 
'entro Campesino Miguel Hidalgo, San Juan, Texas. 



William Walker (CMC): History of the Packinghouse 
Worker, Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Work- 
men local. South Side, Chicago. (Photo Tim Drescher) 






Caryl Yasko, Celia Radek, Lucyna Radycki, Justine 
DeVan, and local people (CMG): Razem (Together), 
1975, Northwest Side, Chicago. 




James Arthur Padgett: Shaw Community Health 
Center Murals, 1972, Washington, D. C. 




Mitchell Caton, Justine DeVan, Celia Radek and Caryl 
Yasko (CMG): Prescription for Good Health Care, 
1975, Southwest Side, Chicago. 




Judy Baca, Christine Schlesinger, and prisoners: When 
the Prison Doors Open, 1973, California Institute for 
Women, Frontera. (Photo © SPARC) 




Robert Hieronimus: America's Bicentennial, 1974, 
Baltimore. 




Daniel Galvez, Osha Neumann, and O'Brian Thiele: 
Winds of Change, 1978, Berkeley Co-op, Berkeley. 




Osha Neumann, 0' Brian Thiele, Ray Patldn, and Anna 
de Leon: Song of Unity, 1978, La Pern, Berkeley. 




Roderick Sykes and local youth: Untitled, 1976, St. 
Elmo's Village, Los Angeles. 



Urban renewal in the Fillmore, as elsewhere around 
the country, proceeded not only by the demolition of 
aging housing; redevelopment agencies also bought up 
properties with once handsome structures occupied by 
low-income people and sold them to speculators for 
refurbishing and resale far beyond the means of their 
tenants. During the seventies hundreds of run-down 
high-ceilinged frame Victorians in San Francisco were 
transformed into elegant residences. This finally pro- 
voked a confrontation between the Black community and 
the Redevelopment Agency in 1977. WAPAC (Western 
Addition Project Area Committee), the designated repre- 
sentative of the residents and merchants of the Fillmore, 
was fed up w ith negotiating and occupied one of the old 
Victorians. It had been trying to insure that local people 
were hired in the construction work and that displaced 
tenants would be provided for in the rehabilitated hous- 
ing. For the first time the agency agreed to stop demoli- 
tion, and it promised to help residents create a nonprofit 
community development corporation, which would 
make all arrangements for renovation and decide which 
of the former renters might buy them. In the meantime, 
the agency would permit local people, using their own 
skills as electricians, plumbers, and carpenters, to start 
work on one of the houses as a pilot project. Details 
remained to be worked out, but the community con- 
sciousness that achieved this breakthrough is exhibited 
by a mural that was painted on the side of WAPAC's 
office in an old Victorian a few months later. 

Arnold Townsend, WAPAC director, describes how 
he got together with his staff and board to decide what 
they wanted. He says that they believed that the com- 
munity did not want chains and fists. It knew too well 
what it was to be mad. It needed a lift. They worked out 
in some detail the concepts to be expressed. The 
Neighborhood Arts Program sent over a number of 
artists before David Bradford, a graphic arts instructor at 
Merritt College in Oakland, w as selected. His first mural 
experience had been doing a woman and child on the 
Wall of Respect in Chicago in 1967 where he was stopping 
over for a few days and OBAC artists invited him to join 
them. He had grown up in Chicago and recalls paintings 
of William Walker on his family's walls. They were 
pictures of long-necked women from Jamaica that were 
popular in the fifties. Walker, who was a family friend, 
gave him his first canvas to paint on when he was fifteen, 
and Bradford regards him as one of the principal 
influences on his art. After this first taste of murals, he 
worked on walls in Oakland as early as 1970 at .Merritt 
College and the East Oakland Development Center. But 
most of his art was in graphics, and he regarded Charles 
White as his other principal mentor. He went down to 
Southern California to get White's advice on his prelimi- 
nary drawings for the WAPAC mural. White, nearly 
sixty, best known for his graphic art, had also done 
important murals since the WPA, notably the Contribu- 
tion of the Negro to American Democracy at the Hampton 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) / 257 
Institute in 1943 and in the last two years a mural at the 
-Mary Bethune Public Library in Los Angeles. White 
became famous for his sensitive draftsmanship, and this 
is recalled by the refinement of Bradford's work, which 
also has the high-contrast effects and graininess of a 
lithograph. 

The WAPAC mural is dominated by a bare-chested 
Black man who raises his arms over his head; they still 
have irons on them from which chains have been re- 
moved. This gesture of liberation is reminiscent of 
.Muhammad Ali, whose portrait in fact was originally 
considered, but a figure suggesting a member of the 
community was decided on. His arms are held high 
above neighborhood landmarks: a Victorian house repre- 
sentative of those WAPAC had been struggling over; 
Jimbo's Bop City, which Townsend describes as the 
"baddest jazz place in the Fillmore" in its heyday during 
the forties and fifties; McCann's City Barbecue, a favorite 
neighborhood spot; the Fillmore Auditorium, home to 
the rock concerts of the sixties, and the WAPAC head- 
quarters. Beneath are Black artists and heroes: Billie 
Holiday; Jotin Coltrane; Duke Ellington; Wilt Cham- 
berlain (with Bill Russell's number); Jonathan Jackson 
holding a machine gun as he raided the .Marin County 
courtroom to free his brother (the artist gave him George 
Jackson's face); .Martin Luther King, Jr.; Malcolm X. 
And against a background of steps bearing the names of 
Turner, Tubman, Garvey, and Lumumba are a 
neighborhood child strutting confidently into our space 
and a figure representing the older generation. At the 
base of it all is the strong face of a woman. Bradford says 
that he had seen such women in Ghana and that he 
wanted to convey in bold black-and-white terms that 
Africa was the mother of everything above her. She, the 
child, and the man at the top gaze at you w ith intense 
power, which is matched by their swelling muscles and 
veins. WAPAC would like to develop a small park in 
front of the mural. 

But the struggle was not over, for Redevelopment 
rescinded its agreement in 1978 and put out to general 
bid the rehabilitation of the Victorians. But work on the 
buildings was marking time, as negotiations continued 
and Redevelopment did not w ant another confrontation. 
In the meantime, WAPAC was working on an urban 
design plan for the new Fillmore commercial center and 
was seeking federal funding for rehabilitated housing. 
The WAPAC mural may mark the beginning of a new 
era in the Fillmore. As for Bradford, he went on in 1978 
to set his students to doing two murals at .Merritt Col- 
lege, one in the library and another in the cafeteria, and 
he hoped these would clear the way to his offering a class 
on murals there. 

Outside the Fillmore District, Dewey Grumpier re- 
turned to Hunter's Point, where he had painted one of 
the first community murals in the Bay Area in 1970, to 
do a new work in 1977. He was now a CE TA employee, 
and materials were secured through the city's community 



258 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




David Bradford WAP AC mural and neighborhood, 
1977, Fillmore, San Francisco. 



arts development fund. He had grown up at Hunter's 
Point and played in the recreation center where he was to 
paint. For years, he*says, he had in mind doing a mural 
on one of its walls and had rapped with his friends, 
community groups, and senior citizens who met there 
about what they would like to see. He says that he 
wanted "to capture not only the spirit of this community 
but the spirit of Black people and people who are 
struggling. Third World people in general."* He did a 
great deal of research in preparation and was struck by 
the imagery of fire as a symbol of "rebirth and regenera- 
tion, and . . . spirituality — strength and struggle. . . ." 
The result is a wall of violently curling flame, the source 
of which in the center is a symbol of omnipotence 
crowned by a horned headdress of the African people of 
Dogon signifying the duality of things. Beneath it are a 
monumental naked couple symbolic of Black humanity, 
and to either side are images of Harriet Tubman, who 
had led slaves north along the Underground Railroad, 
and Paul Robeson, the Black athlete, actor, opera star, 
spokesman of human rights and avowed Communist who 
had recently died. In the upper corners are two massive 
carved birds that presided over the fertility and well- 
being of the Senufo people. Opening out of the fire are a 
pair of doors like those on which the Dogon people 
carved their history, but here they depict the recreation 
center itself and th',- barrackslike housing of Hunters 
Point. Figures of the present and the past, symbolizing 
Black achievement in religion, the arts, dance, and sports 
also emerge from the flames. Crumpler called it Fire Next 
Time and at the side painted a key to the imagery. 
Assisted in the painting by Tim Drescher, Crumpler 
worked ten months at the wall. As a result of the mural, 



local people came to him asking for instruction in doing 
wall art, and he agreed to work with other artists to set 
up workshops. He says that it is not sufficient for only 
the professional painters to be doing community murals. 
"Everybody should be able," he insists, "and should 
participate." "The whole question," he adds, ". . . is 
about communication."^ But to be able to communicate 
effectively through murals, he says, requires serious 
study, both for the professionals and the lay painters. 

At San Francisco State University where he taught for 
three semesters, Ray Patlan and his students worked on a 
wall in the Student Union in 1976 showing the coopera- 
tion and surge of naked figures into the future. The 
robust, free style was recognizably Patlan's. 

During the same year new murals were done by 
veterans in the Mission District that were socially con- 
cerned but tended to be decorative and did not come to 
grips with controversial issues. Mike Rios and Graciela 
Carrillo each did a large panel on the family for the 
entrance of the Mission Neighborhood Health Center. 
Rios, who frequently has sought a classic generalizing of 
form, adopted for his archetypal parents and child the 
sculptural style of Siqueiros's Image of Ourselves with its 
powerful naked body and featureless face. Carrillo, on 
the other hand, offers a more lush set of symbols: a 
woman giving birth, as images of earth, air, fire, and 
water hover around her; a hand holds up a cloth 
suggesting the creation of color, and below it a 
pagodalike building indicates past cultures. At the bot- 
tom the woman, Carrillo says, is planting the seeds of 
procreation. 

On a new mural at Bernal Public Housing, Carrillo 
had hardly completed the monumental head of an Indian 
woman when she had to leave the scaffolding to have a 
baby herself. Fran Velasco, Rios, and Sekio Fuapopo 
completed the work, but its images did not come together 



Problem and Promise (1976-80) I 259 




Michael Rios (left panel) and Graciela Carrillo (right): 

Untitled, 1976, Mission Neighborhood Health Center, 

San Francisco. 

Wind rising wind falling 
Sun rising, sun falling 
. ^ ,, .,, . . , . J Clouds rising, lightning falling 

meaningfully; still it remained an attractive decorative j^jj-^ ^\^\^„ death falling 

piece. Also in 1976 Rios and Fuapopo, who is Samoan, Tide rising tide falling 

did a large wall indoors at the Paradise-Hawaii Theater Man rising, man falling 

Restaurant (popularly known as Kabuki Hot Springs) in Tree of life rising, rising, rising 

the Japanese Trade Center. Here Rios's taste for a block- 

and-boulder classicism was countered by Fuapopo's rich The two panels together are titled Family Life and Spirit of 

Polynesian design and color. In both paintings there Mankind. The first presents a Tree of Life which was 

are swirling semiabstract waves, flickering fish, and inspired by the 70-year-old acacia trees in the park. The 

vegetation. In the restaurant mural the central figure mural's tree is formed by an embracing couple, one 

swings a fiery torch that is echoed by the curves of dark-skinned, the other light, both of them in princely 

fishnets and boats. From these ornamental heritage garb with floral ornamentation that connects them with 

murals, Rios returned to a more political theme in a small the lush landscape. The details derive from varied 

work he did on the outside of a community law office cultures — Samoan, Jamaican, North and South Ameri- 

across the street from Mission Dolores. There with can. Above their heads a light burns that seems to 

classic figures reminiscent of Rivera and Siqueiros, he uncoil, incorporating them with the animals, flora, and 

offered a simple affirmation of human labor, education, plowed fields around them. The whole is more like a 

and justice. Persian tapestry or a manuscript illustration from India 

Meanwhile the impulse to elaborate decoration was rich with lovingly wrought and restless butterflies, fowls, 

carried yet further by Susan Cervantes and Judy Jamer- insects, and mushrooms. The "Spirit of Mankind" offers 

son in two two-story panels for the Le Conte elementary another coil, this one a flaming spiral nebula among the 

school facing the small park of Precita Valley on the edge heavens, and in its midst are an indio torch bearer who 

of the Mission District where a large Samoan community holds an end, an Egyptian queen, and a crowd of recog- 

mixed with Latino and Black people. They offer an nizable local people, a few with numbers on their sports 

explanation in an Aztec poem they painted in the center jerseys. A salsa group is at the bottom. As you stand 

of the composition: before it, people will come by and point themselves out. 




Graciela Carrillo, Fran \'elasco, Sekio Fuapopo, and 
Michael Rios: Untitled, 1976, Bernal Housing, Mission 
District, San Francisco. 



Sekio Fuapopo and Michael Rios: Untitled, 1976, Para- 
dise-Hawaii Theater Restaurant, Japantown, San Fran- 





Michael Rios: Untitled, 1977, Community Law Firm, 
Mission District, San Francisco. 



'R U O L 




Susan Cervantes and Judy J amerson: Spirit of Mankind, 
1977, Le Conte School, Precita Valley, San Francisco. (© 
All rights reserved) 



Susan Cervantes and Judy J amerson: Family Life, 7977, 
Le Conte School, Precita Valley, San Francisco. (© All 
rights reserved) 



262 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

It is a lyrical paean to the neighborhood and an effort to 
heighten IcKal people's sense of their life together by 
identifying it with the vitality of the universe. To the 
extent that the mural does bring people together, its 
impact is social, if not political. In recent years Cervantes 
and Jamerson had designed a children's playground in 
the three-block-long park and painted the equipment. At 
one end the muralists led a workshop that had already in 
1975 decorated the outside staircase of a community 
center u ith a colorful peacock and images of Latino 
culture. 

Also in 1977 Cervantes refreshed and modified the 
painting of children in Balmy Alley with which she had 
heljjed four years earlier. She now added the scene of a 
neighborhood street where trees and gardens have re- 
placed the pavement, and a lettered message encouraged 
viewers to keep their calk clean. She says that her 
orientation is not social protest but toward the affirma- 
tion of community and cooperative work. This was the 
direction of a new racially mixed group of local artists 
that she organized as Precita Eyes Muralists, and it was 
also the thrust of their first major work. In 1978 they 
were commissioned by China Books, the principal dis- 
tributor of literature from the People's Republic in the 
Bay Area, to do a work for the facade of their shop in the 
Mission District. The mural that fills the upper stories is 
an adaptation of the murals and watercolors of the peas- 
ants of Huhsien County done during the early seventies. 
The Precita Eyes Muralists obviously observed the simi- 
larity of what they were trying to do and the efforts of 
the Chinese to create an art that is socially conscious and 
produced both by professional artists in close touch with 
common life and by workers in their spare time. The 
dedication of the bookstore mural, which had taken three 
months to do, was timed to coincide with an exhibition of 
the Chinese watercolors in San Francisco. 

The mural celebrates the careful cultivation of the land 
and the satisfactions of working together, using both 
manual and machine labor. The precision and orderly 
pattern with which everything is painted correspond to 
the pride in the painstaking tending of fields and the 
stonemason's work on the bridge; in both the rural labor 
and the art of depicting it there is a sense of loving skill. 

One of the artists, Denise Meehan, says that they tried 
to link the Chinese subject with the struggles of other 
jjeople around the world, and particularly the residents 
of the Mission where the bookstore is located. Therefore, 
they showed alongside Chinese peasants working among 
the furrows people of different races; and from the bridge 
of friendship in the center Native Americans, Africans, 
Polynesians, and Anglos smile and wave. However, the 
mural's preoccupation with farming is not clearly con- 
nected with the concerns of the city people who pass by 
every day. But Cervantes says that the painters checked 
their designs with neighborhood people and received 
wide approval. A frequent comment, she says, was that 
the design showed "a clean life." Nevertheless, the 



bright, flat patterns of the Chinese folk painters relate to 
a street where vivid Latino murals abound. And con- 
nected with this is the fact that both are forms of popular 
painting, which has commonly sought to heighten the 
everyday with intense color, schematic pattern, and 
highly legible detail. This combination of sensory appeal 
and social content had been the strength of public art in 
the Mission District. The painters included, in addition 
to Cervantes and Meehan, Margo Bors, Jose Gomez, and 
Tony Parrinello, and they were assisted by Catherine 
Brousse, Thomas Gaviola, Sherry McVickar, and Pete 
Anoa'i. 

In 1978 Precita Eyes did a portable mural titled Mask of 
God, Soul of Man, which combined varied interpretations 
of the human face from many cultures in order to remind 
viewers of their uniquely human condition, Cervantes 
says. The faces of actual community people were in- 
cluded in the border. The work was exhibited at the 
Mexican Museum in the Mission District and elsewhere 
around the city. Additional portable murals were under 
way at the group's workshop in the Mission Cultural 
Center and were to tour libraries, schools, and other 
public buildings. This was a unique and promising idea. 
The designs for a large decorative work on underwater 
life intended for the outside of the Garfield Park pool 
building in the Mission were delayed because the city 
was unwilling to allow the muralists to hold the 
copyright without a considerable reduction in their fee, 
in spite of the fact that California law guaranteed the 
right to artists. Finally an agreement was reached, and 
painting began in 1979. Precita Eyes was a new depar- 
ture for San Francisco. They were local people of differ- 
ent ethnic backgrounds and art training — some with 
none at all. Sixteen to twenty met together for a work- 
shop one evening a week to teach one another and to get 
ahead on their portable murals, which they would also 
come by to work on individually in their spare time. By 
spring of 1979 the group was competing for grants and 
commissions and was planning to incorporate. 

During 1978 Miranda Bergman worked as a CETA 
muralist helping young women in Juvenile Hall paint the 
insides of their cell doors. This was an undertaking of the 
Alvarado Art Project, which had been responsible for the 
revival of murals in local public schools years earlier. The 
girls Bergman worked with had committed felonies and 
were in lockup. She would spend on an average three 
hours a day with each, every day for two weeks, talking, 
drawing, and finally painting. She wanted them to do as 
much as they could by themselves. She says that because 
she came from the inner city she was able to gain their 
confidence. Some painted peaceful scenes of landscapes 
and animals, some, who they were or wanted to be, often 
with the symbols of their ethnic cultures. One, a Native 
American who had been turning tricks since she was 
eleven, painted herself getting married amid Indian 
signs. Another, Sonya, showed herself with corn rolls 
looking at an unlocked door, while overhead were what 



she described as the "crossed swords of righteousness." 
In the course of a year seventeen doors were painted. 
Bergman says that she had been troubled by the con- 
tradictions of painting in the institution. The murals 
became a stop on tours to demonstrate how enlightened 
was what she regarded a prison. Nevertheless, she be- 
lieved that the young women were helped by the paint- 
ing. 

In the early summer of 1979 while the Sandinistas 
were liberating one city after another in Nicaragua and 
finally drove Anastasio Somoza from Managua, the cap- 
ital, Casa Nicaragua was set up in the Mission District of 
San Francisco as a local support and communications 
center. More people of Nicaraguan descent lived in San 
Francisco than anywhere else in the United States, and 
they represented the largest group of Latinos in the city. 
The opening of the Casa at the corner of Balmy Alley, 
along which murals had been painted for years, occurred 
at the same time that the Brigada Orlando Letelier was 
formed in San Francisco to build support for a free Chile. 
Its four painters took their name from the ambassador of 
democratic Chile who had been murdered in Washington 
three years earlier by the military junta. Two of them 
were his sons, Jose and Francisco, and the others were 
Rene Castro and Beyhan Cagri. The conjunction of 
events resulted in a mural that wraps around two sides of 
Casa Nicaragua and is done in the manner of earlier 
Chilean works. Across the top on the alley side, two 
hands marked with the flags of both countries reach out 
and greet each other. Liberty holds a torch from which 
the Chilean colors stream. Below a Chilean soldier in a 
Nazi helmet appears behind bars, and nearby a rifle is 
painted with the tools of rebuilding. Facing Twenty- 
fourth Street is the portrait of Augusto Sandino, who, as 
we have seen, led Nicaraguans against U.S. Marines in 
the twenties and thirties and was murdered by the father 
of Somoza, then head of the National Guard who became 
dictator like his son. By their signature the Brigada 
painted "No ©," rejecting the idea of a copyright by the 
country that had abetted the overthrow of democracy in 
Chile and propped up the Somoza tyranny for fifty 
years. After San Francisco the Brigada moved on to 
Chicago and other cities, doing more murals. 

During 1978 and early 1979 the mural scene in San 
Francisco underwent significant changes. Jim Dong and 
the artists of the Kearny Street Workshop were evicted 
with the other residents of the International Hotel in 
1977. The workshop could only afford new quarters 
outside its old community. Dong was mainly absorbed in 
photography and some of his work was exhibited at the 
San Francisco .Museum of Modern Art in 1979. In the 
Mission, the focus of most previous activity, the large 
Latino works were no longer being done. Precita Eyes 
had introduced what for the city was a new method of 
organizing and training community-based muralists, and 
the start that it had made with outdoor and portable 
murals was promising. The Galena de la Raza was 

Sonya: Untitled, 1978, cell door, Youth Guidance Center 
San Francisco. 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 263 

continuing its socially conscious billboards, com- 
missioning .Mike Rios to do one announcing its exhibition 
of art by local people on the theme of Frida Kahlo in 1978 
and another in 1979 calling attention to the International 
Year of the Child. For the latter Rios did a spirited work 
adopting his highly generalized figurative style to the 
paper cutouts of kids. The Galeria also funded Rios's 




264 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Jose and Francisco Letelier, Rene Castro, and Bey ban 
Cagri (Brigada- Orlando Letelier): Viva Nicaragua 
Libre, 7979, Casa Nicaragua, Balmy Alley, Mission 
District, San Francisco. 



freshening his fading Quetzalcoatl in the minipark 
nearby. 

Mural activity was not large, but it was occurring in 
varied places around San Francisco — at the zoo, the 
downtown YWCA, and the Fillmore. Some of the new 
works were decorative, some were ethnic, and others had 
social content, but there were none except the Chile- 
Nicaraguan work with strong political impact. Muralists 
who had worked extensively in the city, Miranda 
Bergman, Arch Williams, and Bob Gayton, were 
employed as CETA artists to do wall art in Juvenile Hall 
and the women's prisons in 1978 and 1979. Arch Wil- 
liams reported that officials were making it difficult for 
the muralists to paint what they wanted to express. The 
seven CETA muralists employed at this time were due to 
be laid off in September 1979, when the program was to 
end because of a federal cutback. Jane Norling, a 
longtime member of the Haight Ashbury Muralists, was 
having to do graphic art. Meanwhile the Booker T. 
Washington Center, which had commissioned Bob 
Gayton to do a five-by-seventy-foot frieze on its exterior 
detailing the biography of the Black educator, ran out of 
funds to pay him. Gayton volunteered to carry on and in 
the spring of 1979 was transferring to the wall the design 
on which he had spent weeks of research, hoping to draw 
local youth into the project, but it was held up because of 



a delay in state support that he had applied for. During 
the summer, as a result of the lobbying of city hall by the 
Art Commission's coordinator of murals, Anne Thielen, 
a last minute allocation of CETA funds was made that 
provided positions for five painters, two less than the 
previous year. The first four months they would be 
assigned to doing panels with teenagers in the neighbor- 
hoods that would be mounted on the construction site 
fence downtown around the George R. Moscone Con- 
vention Center, named for the recently assassinated 
mayor. CETA muralist positions were now limited to 
eighteen months, and the remaining time of the five 
artists would be occupied with additional assignments for 
the city and public-service organizations. In the summer 
of 1979 the Art Commission had a backlog of seventeen 
requests from such groups for murals and had created a 
Mural Resource Center to connect mainly artists who 
were not on CETA with such opportunities and to 
generate more.* But the crux of the problem remained 
the scarcity of funding for these projects. 

The East and South Bay 

While community-based murals had begun in Oakland 
during 1969 and 1970 at the height of the period of ethnic 
militancy, it was not until the second half of the seventies 
that they were again pursued. An isolated effort was 
made in 1975 and 1976 by Gary Graham, a part-time art 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 265 



I 




Raymond and Xochitl Nevel and Ray Pat Ian, based on 
ideas of prisoners at Vacaville State Facility: Liberation 
through Education, 1977, Oakland. 

instructor at Laney College, where he directed a student 
mural in the lounge and cafeteria that expressed the 
struggle of people of all races for advancement. But it was 
primarily in the Chicano areas of the East Bay that 
murals began to take root. Among those that were done 
in the business district around 14th and Fruitvale was a 
work that Raymond "Zala" Nevel designed based on the 
ideas of prisoners at the state corrections facility at 
Vacaville. It was the liberating power of Raza culture 
that he, his daughter Xochitl and Ray Patlan took as their 
theme for a work they painted in 1977. At the right in a 
section that Patlan was mainly responsible for, a circle of 
pintos (prisoners) are engaged in a rap session, but one of 
them has tuned out, covering his ear with one hand and 
concentrating on his transistor radio, for which the 
building's gas meter was used. Meanwhile a prisoner is 
breaking out of chains with the aid of books, one of 
which bears the title: Empleopor Unidad (Work for Unity). 
Unity based on Raza culture and education. For rearing 
up behind him is Quetzalcoatl, the god of culture, and a 
Raza family springs from its tongue. The plumed serpent 
winds among ma^guay whose roots reach into the earth 



from which beautifully painted ancient faces stare, and a 
sculptured Aztec head utters a speech volute. Overhead 
an eagle soars with a Pachuco cross on its back, suggest- 
ing that the culture of the forties is not to be forgotten 
either. The artists called their work Liberation through 
Education. 

A few blocks away that year Xochitl Nevel designed 
and the rest of her family joined her in painting a mural 
that filled the side of La Clinica de la Raza. It shows the 
optometrist and dentist who had their offices inside 
enveloped by figures from the entire Raza heritage — 
indios to campesinos to college graduates. Teenage boys, 
one carrying a book contemplate this panorama and seem 
to be considering how they can add to it. 

In 1978 Zala Nevel did two portable works without 
charge for the Narcotics Education League nearby. He 
had grown up in Mexico City and recalls watching 
Rivera painting there. ^ He began painting at seventeen, 
teaching himself, and earned his living as a longshore- 
man, farm worker, and factory hand in the States. More 
recently he has taught mural classes in Berkeley and 
Oakland and was planning more wall art. 

A few miles to the southeast where factories and new 
housing developments spread out on the narrow flatland 
between hills and bay, Chicano college students in 1976 



266 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Liberation through Education (detail). 



Xochitl Nevel, designer, and painted with Raymond Nevel 
and family: Untitled, 1977, Clinicade laRaza, Oakland. 




Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 267 




Rogelio Cardenas, director, assisted by Ray Pat Ian, Ray- 
mond Nevel, and college students: En Decoto Si Se 
Puede (In Decoto It Is Possible), 1976, Decoto, Califor- 



brought public art to Decoto, a pushed-aside barrio in 
Union City. The students invited local residents to par- 
ticipate in a Comite de Murales para Decoto, and to- 
gether they decided that education was to be their theme 
on a wall provided by Casados' Market. They assembled 
images of a student bending over a microscope, a planned 
middle school, a construction worker, and portraits of 
local people including the owners of the grocery. There 
were also the Virgin of Guadalupe and Olga Talamante, 
the student farm worker activist from California, who 
while visiting progressive friends in Argentina was im- 
prisoned and tortured for more than a year. Altogether 
18 people worked on the mural; it was directed by 
Rogelio Cardenas, an art student at Cal State Hayward, 
and help was provided by Zala Nevel and Ray Patlan, 
while local people contributed materials and funds. 
Blessed by a priest from the community at its dedication on 
Cinco de Mayo, the mural was seen by residents as the 
beginning of a barrio improvement campaign. Within a 
few months additional paintings were completed at a 
local youth center and clinic. 

Cardenas, the leading figure in this small renaissance, 
had recently entered college after three years in Vietnam. 
He said that he wanted to use art as a means of teaching 
Third World young people to think for themselves and 
build self-respect. In 1978 he turned to nearby Hayward, 
where the frustration among Chicanos was high, and 



assembled a mural team of high school students. La 
Mexicana, a tortilla factory and market, offered a 20 by 
90 foot wall and contributed funds along with other local 
groups; altogether $1400 was raised, $60 of which the 
students earned from a week-long car wash.'" Cardenas 
was supported by a CETA salary. A number of the 
young people said that they joined the project because 
they wanted to do something worthwhile during vacation 
time since they could not go to summer school (which 
had been eliminated across the state by the Proposition 
1 3 tax revolt). 

The team desired an image of La Raza at the center of 
the wall but decided that instead of the usual three faces 
of a male mestizo, those of a woman would be more 
appropriate. They borrowed the design of Sequeiros's 
New Democracy, but when the bare-bosomed image at- 
tracted graffiti and protests, they covered her breasts 
with a rainbow of colors representing the different races 
of the neighborhood and added a Virgin of Guadalupe 
and a triangle symbolic of local high schools. Beneath 
her they placed a pair of low riders, the chief art form 
of their youth culture. Behind La Raza the .Mexican 
eagle and serpent grasp heavy iron links about which 
Cardenas commented: "You can't use the chains as an 
excuse any more. . . . They are still there, but they 
are loose and you have to reach out for opportunities." 
And so the central figure does. In one fist she raises 
a hammer of struggle, while the other arm opens in- 
to an Aztec calendar with the symbols of the four 
elements and flags representing the local population of 



268 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Rogelio Cardenas, director, assisted by high school students: 

En la Lucha Punte Trucha (In the Struggle Get now took a leading role. But this federal money termi- 

Yourself Together) , 1978, Hayward, California. nated in the fall of 1979. 



Mexican, Filipino, Puerto Rican, and African heritage. 
In the center is a tree of life. To either side of La Raza are 
images of the negative and positive life choices viewers 
can make. At the left are drugs and violence presided 
over by the Aztec god of darkness, Tezcatlipoca, while at 
the right are carefully arranged symbols of the profes- 
sions and skills, including farming. The work's title calls 
on viewers to choose well: En la Lucha Punte Trucha (In 
the Struggle Get Yourself Together). 

During the latter half of the seventies in San Jose 
professional Chicano artists were doing murals with resi- 
dents and young people in order to build confidence and 
political consciousness on the East Side where a third of 
the houses were officially designated as dilapidated and 
unemployment was over 15 percent. At the Tierra 
Nuestra housing project in 1976 Jaime Valadez worked 
with the tenants' council and teenagers in painting the 
walls at the back of yards. One of them by Joey Alvarado 
was done on behalf of Vietnam vets. In the following 
years Valadez joined with other painters associated with 
the Centro Cultural Autoctono de la Gente de San Jose to 
form a mural group that called itself Sol y Tierra and 
painted murals with children in a succession of schools. 
Other artists from the Centro organized Flor En La 
Comunidad in the late seventies, which with CETA 
funding, did one work at the Black Council on Al- 
coholism and others at East Side schools where Rogelio 
Cardenas, who had painted in Hayward and Union City, 



Berkeley 

Part of the sudden surge of mural activity in the East 
Bay was the work that was done at nearby social agencies 
and a restaurant in 1975 and 1976 by students at the 
University under the direction of Ray Patlan and Patricia 
Rodriguez, who were sharing teaching positions in the 
Chicano Studies art program. Meanwhile two of the 
artists who worked on A People's History of Telegraph 
Avenue in 1976, O'Brian Thiele and Osha Neumann, 
joined with Daniel Galvez and Stephanie Barrett to paint 
a scene of a huge semi and trailers parked on the Berkeley 
shore with San Francisco and the Golden Gate in the 
background and a dirigible overhead with Viva la Raza on 
its side. The panels of the truck become the surfaces of a 
mural full of familiar imagery painted in an accomplished 
and witty manner. Siqueiros's big-bosomed New De- 
mocracy stretches out her three arms over a march of farm 
workers carrying their banners and the Virgin of 
Guadalupe, all led by Zapata and his white horse as 
depicted by Rivera at Cuernavaca. And there el maestro is 
on his ladder in front of the truck laying in a few last 
touches. Close at hand is a bier with a farm-worker flag 
presided over by a woman and priest, while a field of 
maiz reaches into the distance beneath the Toltec deities 
of Tula. On the trailer panels are indio dancers, the ritual 
acrobats of El Tajin hanging by their feet and a final 
vignette of the fishermen of Patzcuaro with their but- 
terfly nets. In the foreground are self-portraits of the 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 269 




Daniel Galvez, Osha Neumann, O'Brian Tbiele, and 
Stephanie Barrett: Viva la Raza, 1977 partial view, 
Berkeley. 

painters at work on the trucit alongside Rivera. The point 
seems to be that these are the traditions that Mexicans 
have transported to this country, but the painting is 
clever rather than moving. 



booklet, another with groceries and food stamps, a 
woman with a handsome handbag. Black people and 
others, all led by a Black child blowing a horn into the 
faces of corporate power. There are a media magnate 
with a TV head, an oil-barrel-headed mogul with a 
dripping hose, a junk-food manager with a huge ham- 
burger for a noggin, a bank executive with a red-lined 



But in their next mural that year the painters were able house in his belly and a briefcase face losing bills, and 

to make a decided advance. Winds of Change, painted by finally a computer-headed administrator retching read- 

Osha Neumann, O'Brian Thiele, and Daniel Galvez on ""^s. There was some complaint from the co-op board 

the side of the Co-op Credit Union in Berkeley in 1977 about the last because it was said the co-op used comput- 

and 1978, marks an important development in the mural ^""^ itself. Neumann replied that the painters had nothing 

movement. In the first place it addressed a new and against technology; it was only its replacing human 

broadened audience — working people in general, who intelligence that they opposed. The mural explicitly pits 

included middle-class members of a consumers' coopera- ^'^""t and determined consumers against those who mis- 

tive that had branches elsewhere in the Bay Area. Like '^ad through advertising, those who promote waste, who 

similar co-ops around the country, it had roots in the adulterate and profiteer. That, the painters say clearly, is 

more-than-century-old cooperative movement of Britain what the co-op should be all about, 

and America. The Berkeley Co-op had supported peace ^nt there is much more to the mural than this. The 

and antiracist as well as consumer and ecological issues, consumers are shown coming out of a field of corn. One 

and it had opened branches to serve lower income woman holds a young plant and behind her are naked 

people. But in recent years conservatives dominated its figures among larger sheaves, one looking like Bacchus, 

board and seemed primarily concerned about making the Above them a huge bird sweeps down, and throughout 

co-op a commercial success, which the painters say made ^^^ painting other birds merge with the marchers, 

them wonder whether they wanted to do a mural for it. suggesting that humans are part of the natural world and 

Through it all, the co-op remained a place where people its impulse to live and to overcome its abuse. At the far 

of progressive persuasion met, chatted, and signed one "^'ght the birds appear again, prevailing over the traffic 

another's petitions. The muralists took full advantage of ^hat crowds University Avenue. The power of the mural 

the commission, which was won in a competition with 's the great sweep of its movement from left to right; the 

over twenty other designs. child blowing the horn — art itself — is part of this. This 

Winds of Change presents a procession of enlightened motion unifies the composition and conveys its meaning, 

patrons — a young woman in carpenter's overalls, a man Instead of appearing unbalanced by thrusting off the 

in a suit coat carrying an unemployment insurance "ght edge, the mural is closed off at both ends by the 



270 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




O'Brian Thiele, Osha Neumann, and Daniel Galvez: 
Winds of Change, 1978, Berkeley Co-op. 



great arc of the birds, first swooping down and then 
rising. 

The painterly technique, which is unusual in murals, 
is particularly well adapted to convey lyrically the sense 
of streaming movement and change. Figures are modeled 
by the play of color rather than light and shade, and there 
is a trailing of brush strokes across the surface. This 
heightens the vitality of the scene and gives it the sense of 
"ecstasy" that Neumann says belongs to art. He and his 
fellow artists had tried to approximate it in the scene of 
dancing naked in the street in their vision of the future in 
A People's History of Telegraph Avenue, but he feels this was 
unsuccessful. Art, he says, should be "visionary," should 
point the way to the happy union of people and the world 
in which real life sings. Telegraph Avenue tried to achieve 
this by recalling climactic moments in the ongoing efforts 
for social change and presenting these as spectacular 
episodes. Winds of Change, on the other hand, envisions a 
continuous awareness and activism in the marketplace. 
And by its design it shows everyday life animated by a 
grass-roots movement. The shift from an episodic com- 
position to a more unified one is not only aesthetic; it 
seems to express the artists' social thinking. The only 
weakness of the later painting is that like the earlier one it 
risks overstatement by its palette of saturated rainbow 
hues. 

Neumann says that he is a product of the sixties with 
its consciousness of community and in those years had no 
use for artists, believing that they were egomaniacs. Now 
he was concerned about the credibility of the images of 
social change in many murals. Too often they were 
propaganda that simply did not square with firsthand 
experience. "We have had enough of clenched fists," he 



adds. He says that he felt profoundly the tension of 
public issues and actual personal experience. What he 
wanted to be able to do was to create images of authentic 
community that viewers could believe. They would have 
to be powerful images that showed that life could be full 
of meaning and feeling. For instance, the memorable 
design of Siqueiros. In contrast to conceptual artists of 
today who were skeptical of the effectiveness of imagery, 
he said he wanted to revindicate its power. 

The basic challenge to the advance of murals, he says, 
was thinking through the concrete means to social change 
and creating imagery to express it. This required the 
serious development of skills. Although he saw the 
legitimacy of children and young people doing murals, 
he was concerned that the mural movement was being 
reduced to school and recreation projects and losing its 
stature in the eyes of the public. He feared that murals 
were far from establishing their legitimacy in comparison 
to the fine arts. Therefore it was crucial that artists who 
wanted to become full-time muralists find the economic 
security and institutional support that would give them a 
chance to mature. Funds raised from local people and 
firms were simply insufficient. The $800 the artists had 
collected for Telegraph Avenue from local merchants and a 
can by the wall only covered paint, brushes, and scaf- 
folding. The artists had contributed their skills. The 
material costs for Winds of Change were about the same, 
but the co-op could afford only $2,500 for the whole 
project, which left little for the artists' months of work. 
Neumann looked for a solution in autonomous mural and 
community arts groups that received public funds, like 
Commonarts, which he helped to organize in Berkeley. 

The next major project of these artists was the facade 
of La Pena, a cultural center and Latin American restau- 
rant in Berkeley opened by refugees from Chile. The 
name means "rock," and there is a tradition oipenas that 



goes back to Chile and Argentina where peasants 
gathered in makeshift communal huts to eat, talk, and 
sing together. In recent yesirs penas had been the focus of 
people's culture and resistance especially in Chile. The 
Berkeley La Peiia is a nonprofit collective with volunteer 
labor where since 1976 there has been a nightly program 
of art, music, film, and dancing dedicated to progressive 
social action around the world. It commissioned Neu- 
mann, Thiele, Anna de Leon and Ray Patlan in the 
summer of 1978 to do a mural for its facade. 

The mural depicts the continuous building, painting, 
and making of music that is La Pena. The imagery 
implies the union of work and art in a people's culture — 
production and creativity. Carpenters — one a young 
Black man, the other a blond woman — and a woman 
plasterer and painter work about the door, while musi- 
cians and artists of the common people from around the 
world come out of the wall toward visitors who approach 
the entrance. Some, such as Satchmo, Luis Valdez, the 
director of the Teatro Campesino, and Malvina Reyn- 
olds, the activist songwriter who had recently died. 



Osba Neumann, O'Brian Thiele, Ray Patlan, and Anna 
de Leon: Song of Unity, 1978, La Pena, Berkeley. 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 27 1 

are recognizable. But most are folk musicians playing 
their instruments or singing. Rising out of the midst of 
them like an apparition, but larger and more palpable 
than the rest is Victor Jara, the Chilean guitarist whom 
the muralists say they had "chosen as a symbol of 
people's artists in struggle." Jara, who was known inter- 
nationally for his protest songs and reviving Chilean folk 
music, was captured by the junta that overthrew the 
democratic Allende government in 1973. Herded with 
thousands of others into the stadium in Santiago, he was 
recognized. His captors brought him out before the 
crowd and then proceeded to cut off his hands. As he was 
bleeding to death, he began to sing and the crowd sang 
with him. The muralists created a high-relief image of 
Jara with his hands hacked off and his whole face con- 
centrated in a song. And above, Jara's hands continue to 
play the guitar. The composition crests with raised heads 
of an eagle and condor symbolic of the people of North 
and South America, executed in ceramics by Anna De 
Leon, while below on the doors effigies of native people 
greet each other. The muralists called their work The 
Song of Unity. 

Coming down at you as you approach, the figures 
visually raise your angle of view above them, and tend to 




272 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

lift you, which adds to the elation they impart. The murals. The painters had come a long way from the 

sharp perspective pulls together dozens of faces and retrospective People's History of Telegraph Avenue of two 

bodies for a powerful impact. The figures in the fore- years before. They had moved from an episodic to a 

ground with conga, flute, a.nd sampom (pipes of the Andes) highly concentrated design, and they had adopted their 

are reminiscent of the Spirit of 16. And the surge of the technical skill and imagination much more effectively to 

whole march out of the wall recalls the advancing miners their social vision. The mural was cosponsored by La 

in Siqueiros's From Porfirio's Dictatorship to the Revolution. Pena and Commonarts, which had been organized in 

That is a provocative mix of allusions. The painterly 1977 to undertake murals as well as other community arts 

rendering is rich in mingled tones; the shadows for activities. CETA provided it with a full and a half-time 

instance are alive with blues and reds. But the purple position for muralists, which Patlan and Thiele were 

bunting that was added at the end to pull the composition holding down, while Neumann was serving on the board 

together is a bit too rich for it. The most striking of directors. 

technical feature is the high-relief face and arm of Jara, In 1979 the three completed a mural in the entrance 
which was achieved by papier-mache made of strips hall of the East Bay Skills Center in Oakland that illus- 
dipped separately in transparent Politec and outdoor trated the training the school offered with images of 
laytex medium. The whole work is painted in Politec welding, drafting, and computer programming along 
acrylic on masonite with a two-inch plywood support, with the oil refineries of the area. The painters succeeded 
The cost of paint and materials alone was $1,500. Thiele in opening up the narrow vestibule by treating a pro- 
pointed out that high-relief sculpture, some in stone, jecting corner as if it were a steel beam behind v\ hich the 
some in plaster, has an ancient Latin American tradition, whole scene spread out. In this relatively small mural they 
for instance the stucco Mayan figures of Palenque. 

Neumann observed that the buildings on both sides of 
La Peiia were being purchased by community-oriented 
owners, and he dreamed out loud about a whole block of 

Osha Neumann, 0' Brian Thiele, and Ray Patlan: Un- 
titled, 1979, East Bay Skills Center, Oakland. 




Problems and Promise (1976-80) / 273 




Osha Neumann: Untitled, 1979, Irish Pub, Berkeley. 



worked out a complex pattern of pipes, storage tanks, 
factory blocks, and high rises and contrasted these with a 
rippling computer printout in the foreground and parallel 
to it, waves of colorful smog in the distance. 

After this collaboration the three went separate ways, 
Neumann directing a project on the streetfront of a 
tavern next door to La Peiia in which Black, Raza, and 
White people are shown fending off the Klan and police 
while working the land and reaching for a star. On a door 
the cause of free Ireland is addressed by a Celtic interlace 
and an emerald and orange map of the isle. 

Meanwhile Patlan headed for Mexico City to work 
with Arnold Belkin, who assigned to him a class of his 
students at the San Carlos Academy. More than half 
were from outside Mexico, and together with Patlan they 
designed a mural for a ten-foot-high, three-hundred- 
foot-long wall along one side of a park in Magdalena 
Contreras, a textile town on the outskirts of Mexico City. 
Each student produced a drawing that retold an incident 
from the town's history of strikes and its role in the 
Revolution. The drawings were projected and adjusted 



to one another by the group so that the full design was 
worked out collectively before they began painting. 

Otber Bay Area Sites 

After "Chuy" Campusano returned from study in 
xMexico during 1974 and 1975, he began doing murals in 
San Mateo County just south of San Francisco. In 1976 
he painted a history of Daly City in one of its libraries 
and then became a director of CETA muralists in the 
county. In the spring of 1979 he was finishing off a mural 
for the San Bruno police station and working full-time as 
an administrator in the San Francisco CETA office. 
Although the new job did not involve artists, he hoped 
to use the experience for an arts management position 
later. 

Meanwhile in downtown Redwood City Gilberto Bur- 
ciaga and Gilberto Rodriguez in 1978 painted a twenty- 
two-by-one-hundred-forty-seven-foot mural portraying 
the regional dances of Mexico. The artists startled 
the audience at the dedication by hurling bottles of 
paint at their work (carefully aiming at background 
areas) to protest the large proportion of public funding 
ostensibly for art that was drained off by administrators. 



274 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

Also in Redwood City Emmanuel Montoya and Robert 
Turnidge collaborated on a mural depicting the hot- 
lunch program for seniors at the Pair Oaks Center, and 
Turnidge did a panorama of local history at the Millbrae 
City Hall." 

Yet another form of people's art that approximated 
murals and was indeed intended to be a wall with a 
message was a throng of thirty-five life-size cardboard 
figures of mothers with infants, children, and fathers, 
planted in a playground to confront developers' bulldoz- 
ers that were set on turning it into a parking lot. There 
they stood drawn up like a solemn procession of local 
people staring deeply into you on a July morning in 1977. 
The Cardboard Front was created by Laura Farabaugh, 
Chris Hardman, and other Waldo Point houseboaters on 
behalf of their neighbors — about 150 people who were 
one of the few low-income communities in prosperous 
Marin county, just north of San Francisco. They had 
chosen a countercultural style of life, run a cooperative 
store, an ecological sanitation system, and had a local 
theater group. They lived in personally designed quar- 
ters improvised on salvaged landing craft built nearby at 
Sausalito during World War U, and the area around 
them had been allowed to deteriorate because of lack of 
funds. For years there had been a running feud between 

Laura Farabaugh, Chris Hardman, Evelyn Lewis, Larry 
Graber, and Heather Wilcoxon: The Cardboard Front, 
1977, Gate 5, Sausalito, California. 



the houseboaters' Waterfront Preservation Association 
and the county which culminated in the effort to extend 
Sausalito's yacht harbor and construct piers with costly 
tieups that would drive out all but affluent houseboaters. 
It was in response to this that five members of the Snake 
Theater constructed a cardboard community to confront 
the bulldozers. The figures were finally plowed under, 
but they helped capture widespread concern, and the 
struggle continued. The cardboard images demonstrated 
the same impulse that has created inner-city murals, that 
of people making public art together to maintain their 
way of life. 

Sacramento 

The inscription of the .Mayan glyph at the center reads 
"1976" and makes this a Bicentennial mural, its creator 
Armando Cid chuckles. It was with a similar mix of 
ironic humor and seriousness that he painted the side of 
the Reno Club where cantos — evenings of song, drinking, 
and camaraderie — frequently took place in the barrio. 
The mural captures their anger, mockery and lyricism 
that make life endurable there. At the left is an altar 
containing el Corazon, the heart and soul of La Raza, 
which Cid says he wanted to show pouring its life into 
the Church, agriculture, and industry signified by the 
cross, field, and big gear. But the surrounding cadaver- 
ous figures also indicate their oppression of Chicanos. In 




contrast there are vignettes of music, literature, and the 
Revolution, including Pancho Villa's face. Sprouting 
from the inscribed glyph are ears oimaiz, pointing to the 
cardinal directons of the earth, and below it the head of 
an indio woman emerges from maguay and the land. The 
"swastika" nearby symbolizes movement and power. At 
the right there is a half-humorous head of an indio priest 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) 7 275 

with an elaborate headdress, part of which is the plumed 
serpent with a parrot's head, Cid's version of Quetzal- 
coatl as god of culture. While below birds are caged in 
rows, a flock cavorts freely above. A half-human, half- 
iguana glyph and a Virgin of Guadalupe or Tonantzin 
suggest the resources of the past that can still strengthen 
Chicanos. The wall was titled Par Libre Vida de mi Raza. 




Armando Cid: Por Libre Vida de Mi Raza, 1976, 
Reno Club, Sacramento. 



Por Libre Vida de Mi Raza (detail). 




276 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Cid himself had studied under Esteban Villa and Jose 
Montoya and \\ as now director of the Barrio Education 
Center of Sacramento City College, which attempted to 
attract local Chicanos to higher education and offered 
courses to prepare them, including one in art history that 
Cid taught. 

One of the major achievements of the RCAF during 
this period was the painting of the outdoor stage in 
Southside Park in 1977. The park in the midst of a barrio 
had been neglected and was the hangout of junkies and 
w'inos until the RCAF painted the old concrete structure 
and then proceeded to turn it into the site of its Mexican 
and indio ceremonies each year. Here was an exemplary 
instance of a mural that continued to be used after the 
painting was completed. Ihe work itself was done by 
trained artists and students. The outer wings were oc- 
cupied by a celebration of womanhood by Loraine Gar- 
cia. The left-hand panel of the concave area by Jose 
.Montoya showed a pair of present-day cholos with their 
low rider looking back at the zoot suits and heavy coif- 
fures of the pacbuco era, and yet further back at zcampesino 
army of the .Mexican Revolution. Next to it Juanishi 
Orosco did an abstract design based on the woven god's 
eyes of the Huichol indios and the designs of the Hopi. In 
the center Esteban Villa painted another mujer cosmica 
with a child in her arms and the three-faced mestizaje at 
the bottom. A figure bearing a huge butterfly over w hich 
the phases of the moon spread was done by Stan Padilla 
to evoke the idea of natural metamorphosis and social 
change that connected with the RCAF's interest in 
indio lore. And at the right Juan Cervantes showed 
QuetzalcoatI with a farmworker carrying a UFW banner, 
suggesting the return of the indio god. One sign of the 
RCAF's success was that the stage had been selected by 
couples as the site of their weddings. 

By 1979 the RCAF filling station and auto-servicing 
co-op, the Aeronaves de Aztlan, was being embellished. 
Assemblage figures had been constructed from auto 
parts, and murals were under way. 

That year also the RCAF was at work on its largest 



Loraine Garcia, Jose Montoya, Juanishi Orosco, Esteban 
Villa, Stan Padilla, and Juan Cervantes (RCAF): Stage 
murals, 1977, Southside Park, Sacramento. 



Esteban Villa (RCAF): Mestizaje, 1977, Stage mural, 
Southside Park. 



I 




Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 111 




Luis ''The Foot" Gonzales and Juan Cervantes (RCAF): 
Aeronaves de Aztlan, 1979, Sacramento. 



project yet — the exterior walls for a four-story city 
parking garage next to the Macy's department store in the 
new downtown area of Sacramento. Winning the com- 
petition was testimony to a decade of work and was one 
of the first of community muralists' commissions for a 
prominent public structure in a large city. The thirty-six 
thousand dollars the RCAF would receive was a large 
sum, but not really, considering the size of the project, 
the fact that it included the cost of materials and the 
year's work the artists were putting into it. The designs 
that Juanishi Orosco was working on in June were based 
on the study of pre-Columbian culture that the RCAF 
had been absorbed with. The artists said that Sac- 
ramento with its valley, rivers afld trees and mountains in 
the distance, was a "spiritual place" long before the 
White man had come and that they wanted to convey 
this. The early sketches showed a celebration of the land 
and its indigenous people. One of the artists' problems, 
Orosco admitted, would be to convey the full seriousness 
of their vision and to prevent the murals from being a 
harmless picturesque affair. 

The RCAF also was commissioned to do murals on the 
pedestrian tunnel that connects the garage with the 
restored covered sidewalks and old buildings with 
boutiques and restaurants of Old Sacramento. There 
Esteban Villa had earlier conducted a graffiti raid of his 
students from Sac State with spray cans, because what 
had become widely known as "the mousehole" had re- 
mained one ofthe eyesores of downtown Sacramento. In 
the past twenty years urban redevelopment had turned 



the area into a concrete canyonland of government 
buildings, banks, and commercial establishments remi- 
niscent of Mussolini and Hitler's efforts at creating a 
noble modern style. The Nationalist Chinese investors 
had hardly relieved this by topping off their massive 
edifices in the California capital with swooping oriental 
gables. It would take a good deal for the RCAF to 
humanize any of this. 

Los Angeles 

The murals of the Watts Towers Arts Center got 
under way at the end of 1975, ten years after the riots, 
and were still being painted in 1979. The center itself 
was built in 1970 close to the fantasy of seashells, broken 
crockery, bottles, reinforcement rods, and cement that 
Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant tile setter and night 
watchman, had constructed in the course of thirty-three 
years alongside his cottage and the railroad tracks in this 
dusty and remote part of Los Angeles. In 1954 he deeded 
his work to a neighbor and departed. A group of artists 
and art lovers, recognizing his achievement, bought the 
towers and maintained them for sixteen years until 1975 
when the city's Municipal Arts Department acquired 
both the towers and the center. It hired as director John 
Outterbridge, who had headed the Communicative Arts 
Academy in Compton where he had coordinated murals 
by local artists and created his own assemblage walls. 
The center's program now could be enlarged v\ ith free 
classes for young people and adults in the visual arts, 
drama, and music. People came not only from nearby 
but from all over the city to study with its accomplished 
artists who also taught in local schools. 



278 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

Part of this burst of activity were the murals on the 
center's outer and inner walls. Its peaked exhibition hall 
and inwardly gabled wings where studios were located, 
all painted a buff color and gradually enveloped with big 
images, suggested the painted clay homes and civic 
structures of the people of Nubia and Nigeria. Alonzo 
Davis carried across one side and around a corner a 
composition of arrows, zebra stripes against red earth, a 
rainbow, and a heavenly body against a deep blue sky. 
Nearby Elliot Pinkney did a set of portraits, and Vernell 
DeSilva pictured a Black Egyptian with a striped head- 
dress and radiating halo against the night. Milton Young 
painted the cavity of the main entrance with handsome 
asymetrical shapes, and Nancy Cox recalled the riots on 
a door. Around the back Reflections of a Child's Eye was 



painted in 1977 by sixteen teachers, aids and parents, all 
of whom had no previous art training. Under the direc- 
tion of Joan Kleihauer, an art education specialist, they 
did research on African imagery and each produced a 
figure that was incorporated in the composition. Addi- 
tional murals were done by David Mann, who painted a 
portrait of Simon Rodia, and Richard Haro, who pic- 
tured a great hand holding up the towers. Inside there 
were mounted two large panels from a construction-site 
fence that had been painted in 1976 during the building 
of seniors' housing named for Guy Miller, a local Black 
sculptor who had worked in the streets with addicts. 
Both of the panels commemorate the riots. The one by 
Elliot Pinkney, who was also publishing his poetry, 
combined a dedicatory inscription with relief and painted 




Murals, left to right, by Alonzo Davis, Elliot Pinkney, 
Vernell DeSilva, and Milton Young: Watts Towers Art 
Center (photographed in 1979), Watts, Los Angeles. In 
background: Simon Rodia: Watts Towers, 1921-54. 



Murals, left to right: Richard Haro: Untitled; Joan 
Kleihauer and workshop: Reflections of a Child's Eye, 
1977; David Mann: Portrait of Rodia. 




faces. Roland Welton's offered a montage of strong 
Black heads and images drawn from old photos of the 
violence. By recalling the past, the imagery of the build- 
ing helped guide the vitality that the center was bringing 
to Watts. 

During the second half of the seventies Black murals in 
Los Angeles were also advanced by covering over the old 
images by new ones at the Wall of Visions on Crenshaw 
Avenue, which CBS covered in a documentary in 1979. 
Roderick Sykes painted there while still supervising the 
painting of children at Saint Elmo's Village where school 
buses brought kids during the week for one-day work- 
shops and local youngsters came regularly. Across the 
street in 1976 the boarded-up windows of an abandoned 
cottage were decorated, and a large mural on which 
Sykes was working with young people was in progress. It 
showed boldly frontal, brightly colored faces with fea- 
tures cut sharply like African sculpture, while tears 
dripped from the eyes of some. In front of it three years 
later a large vegetable garden was flourishing. Looking 
back from 1979, Sykes said that his work with young- 
sters at the village had been an effort to help them realize 
that they were somebody by discovering their creativity. 
He could go on doing this for the rest of his life, he 
added. The murals had changed the neighborhood. 
People now wanted murals on their houses, and he 
complied with bigger-than-life portraits of them on out- 
side walls. They took better care of their neighborhood 
now, he said. The lawns were green and trimmed, and if 
he left his keys in his door, someone would watch over 
the house. 

Meanwhile, the increasing difficulty that Citywide 
Murals had in securing funding as an agency of Los 
Angeles's Recreation and Parks Department prompted 
members to go independent as a public service nonprofit 
corporation in 1976 and to seek support from varied 
sources, particularly CETA. Its staff took the acronym 
of SPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center) but 
sought to preserve its identity as Citywide as long as 
funds could be obtained from the city. Under this double 
identity it undertook the largest unified mural yet on the 
side of Tujunga Wash, a concrete channel in the San 
Fernando Valley that is dry most of the summer. During 
1976, the first year, ten thousand square feet were 
painted along a quarter mile stretch by eighty teenagers 
who had been busted at least once and were referred by 
local juvenile justice authorities. The aim was to help 
these young people gain a new sense of themselves by 
identifying with the achievements of their heritage and 
producing something together that would be widely 
recognized as worthwhile. It was decided to take as their 
theme the contribution of minority people to California 
from prehistoric times to 1920. In subsequent summers, 
it was planned, new groups would do the succeeding 



Elliot Pinkney: The Time Is Now, 1976, originally 
construction fence panel, later exhibited at Watts Towers 
Art Center. 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 279 

decades. The first year's youngsters were guided by ten 
professional artists and five consultants of different 
ethnic backgrounds who were hired to help with re- 
search. The entire project was coordinated by Judy Baca. 
Tujunga Wash was about seventeen feet deep, and the 
crews had to be trucked in every morning from a ramp 
two and one-half miles away. Once down in the channel 




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280 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Roland Wei ton: Untitled, 1976, originally construction 
fence panel, later exhibited at Watts Towers Art Center. 



the painters had to remain, and food and sanitary 
faciUties were provided. Scaffolding and materials had to 
be brought from under a bridge hundreds of feet away 
each day. Because of the chance that the channel locks 



above might have to be opened or that there would be a 
rainstorm, the working area was sandbagged; forty-seven 
tons of sand were delivered and the crew filled the sacks. 
On Labor Day weekend there was a downpour, and 
water was released at the dam upstream without the 
authorities' warning the painters. The result was a six- 
inch-deep flash flood that carried away all the muralists' 
materials. But the project went on. 

The first year thirteen panels were painted, each one 
hundred feet in length. Styles varied with each, but 
figures had to be very large and simple to carry the 
distance across the channel to where they could be seen. 
By bringing in ethnic resource people, the staff hoped to 
give the youngsters perspectives on their past they did 
not get in history books. The teenagers decided to 
portray the achievements of ordinary people's daily labor 
rather than the deeds of the famous. But the historical 
retrospect of earlier ethnic murals and the Bicentennial 
helped shape the project. 

The scenes begin in 20,000 b.c. with woolly mam- 
moths and saber-toothed tigers and go on to Indians 
hunting, fishing, and grinding meal. In a simple but 
stunning detail a big white hand uproots a Native Ameri- 
can from the New World while the cotiquistadores arrive. 
The trek of Mexicans north is shown and the missions, 
rancheros, and life on the hacienda. There are panning for 
gold, the vigilantes, and Juaquin Murieta. The coming of 
immigrants from Asia is depicted in a panel that adopts 
the flat style of Japanese woodcuts. There are the 
Chinese working in mines and building the railroads and 
their persecution by Whites who feared for their jobs. 
Then follow the crossing of the Sierra by Black people 
in covered wagons, town life, and the suffragettes at the 
turn of the century. In the next panel immigrants from 
all over the world standing together with their flags are 
rendered in a sensitive style of wiry lines and contrasting 
strong and subtle color. The panels of 1976 conclude 
with the First World War and the names of the muralists. 

A cut in funding canceled work in 1977 and provided 
for only thirty-six young painters the following year. 
However, about fifteen of these had painted there during 
the first season, which made for a passing on of what had 
been learned to the newcomers. The 1978 painting in- 
cluded scenes from early cowboy movies and Charlie 
Chaplin in the trenches of World War I. Another panel 
emphasized the Mexican descent of Thomas Alva Edi- 
son, which current research was establishing. In the 
spring of 1979 plans were well advanced for a new season 
of work, but in spite of a large contribution of paint by 
the Army Engineers, funds did not materialize by sum- 
mer to pay the staff and the project was postponed for 
another try in 1980. 

Although the skills of the painters varied, their work is 
truly impressive, particularly when viewed as a whole, 
but also in its separate parts. There are a seriousness and 
imagination that the entire unfolding panorama reveals. 
It is painted on a section of Tujunga Wash that runs 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) / 28 1 




Social and Public Art Resource Center and City wide crew 
directed by Judy Baca: Tujunga Wash Mural, 1976, 
San Fernando Valley. (© SPARC) 

Pat Doyle: ''1522 Spanish Arrival" (detail), Tujunga 
Wash Mural, 1976. 



beneath the playing field of the Los Angeles Valley 
College, and nearby is a residential neighborhood. Hence 
it can be seen daily by many people whether they drive 
along a parallel boulevard or take it in at their leisure 
from a sidewalk that runs its length. 

. Retrospect and history figured in other Citywide mu- 
rals during these years. Among them was Ocean Park Pier 
designed by Jane Golden and painted by Peggy Edwards 
and Barbara StoU in 1976. It is a decorative re-creation of 
the waterfront of Santa Monica during the early part of 
the century. The artists offered a panorama of the 
boardwalk, lighthouse, the beach umbrellas, deck chairs, 
and roUercoaster, a horseless carriage and strollers in 
knickers and bloomers, striped shirts, and floppy broad- 
brimmed and cloche hats. The details are all brought 
together by the flat patterned style that generalizes even 
the faces to featureless profiles and disks. Like a number 
of artists during the Bicentennial the muralists here 
sought out the picturesque and festive in the past. 

Meanwhile in 1976 some East Los Angeles muralists 
continued to find in the past a relevance to present-day 
struggles. Willie Herron in a work he had begun the 
previous year connected the Mexican War for Indepen- 
dence with the U.S. Bicentennial, taking as his subject 
the name of the drugstore where he painted — the Far- 
macia Hidalgo. The mural wraps like a frieze around the 





SPARC and Cityivide cre-ix: 
junga Wash Mural, 1976. 



''1868 Sojourners," Tu- ^p^j^fj ^^^^. ^Charlie Chaplin,'' "Thomas Aha Edi- 
son," and "William S. Hart," Tujunga Wash Mural, 



1978. 




Jane Golden, designer, Peggy Edwards and Barbara Stoll, 
painters (Citywide): Ocean Park Pier, 1976, Santa 
Monica. 



upper half of the corner building and shows the soldier- 
priest urging on La Raza today with the same cry with 
which he began the independence movement against 
Spain. The banner behind him is inscribed La Doliente de 
Hidalgo — the suffering of the leader who was executed 
and whose spirit today is still harried. Borrowing from 
the great staircase mural of Orozco in Guadalajara, Her- 
ron shows Chicanos trying to break out of the oppression 
of the past and surging forward to claim a role for 
themselves in modern civilization, symbolized by a 
streaming train and plane, science-fiction towers, and a 
bird in flight. He says he wanted to suggest freedom, 
especially the freedom to go where you want to. Al- 
though the vehemence of Herron's earlier work remains, 
it was not strengthened by the smooth technique and 
modernistic style of the 1930s he adopted to suggest the 
future. 

It was a related and moving call to struggle against 
poverty and racism that Carlos Almaraz and members of 
Los Four projected from the end wall of a public housing 
block at Ramona Gardens in 1976 with their image of 
Adelita, the legendary woman guerrilla leader of the 
Mexican Revolution. 

The following year Wayne Alaniz Healy and David 
Botello completed an elaborate set of heritage panels on 
the streetside wall of the Crocker Bank at a busy intersec- 
tion of North Broadway in East Los Angeles. Calling 
themselves Los Dos Streetscrapers, they titled their work 
Chicano Time Trip. But their old-fashioned style of 
magazine illustration and movie posters with heroic-scale 
figures glamorize the Mexican past and present. The 



William F. Herron III: La Doliente de Hidalgo (The 
Suffering of Hidalgo), 1975-76, East Us Angeles. 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 283 
largest panel shows a young Chicano family, the macho 
father in a team shirt, his wife simply sexy and their kids 
merely cute. They are posed against conventional vig- 
nettes of local life, while the other panels present history 
in a similarly picturesque manner. The caption pro- 
claims: "Our heritage is the foundation of our destiny. 
The power of our desires and imagination will determine 
the future." However, the inflated commercial style of 
the mural corresponds to the effort to adopt Mexican 
history to the conventional upward-bound middle-class 
dream. Compared to the Bank of America in San Fran- 
cisco's Mission District of three years earlier, this was a 
missed opportunity. Compared also to Botello and 
Healy's earlier murals, in which their commitment to 
their heritage is robust, Chicano Time Trip, in spite of its 
ostensive .Mexicanism, is disappointing. In Ghosts of the 
Barrio Healy in 1974 worked out an unpretentious u ay of 
raising questions about the connection of past and pre- 
sent, and Botello in his 1975 Read between the Lines con- 
trasted the inspiration of heritage with exploitation by 
modern technology and media spectacles. But Chicano 
Time Trip succumbs to both. 

So did their Moonscapes, completed in 1979 on the 
Department of Motor Vehicles building in Culver City, a 
community in the Los Angeles basin. The mural com- 
pletely encircles the large new structure, and by the 
entrance Los Dos Streetscrapers inscribed an explana- 
tion: 

The painting of "Moonscapes" represents an exposi- 
tion of thought related to our position in the universe. 
The mural poses many questions to those who look 
beyond the graphic design. For instance. Why does 
the mind's ability to comprehend lifespans that vary 




284 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Carlos Almaraz and Los Four: Adelita, 1976, Ramona 
Gardens, East Los Angeles. 



Wayne Alaniz Healy and David Botello: Chicano Time 
Trip, 1977, East Los Angeles. 

BIH"* 




Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 285 




David Botello and Wayne Alaniz Ilealy: Moonscapes 
(partial view), 1979, Department of Motor Vehicles 
Building, Culver City, California. 



Moonscapes (detail). 




286 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

from stars to subatomic particles oftentimes come 
easier than our willingness to understand the ideas of a 
fellow earthling? Or: How can we allow our society's 
overburden of advertising belligerence, "labor-saving" 
electrical nonsense, and strategic arms overkill to take 

grecedence over the care and maintenance of spaceship 
arth as we hurtle through the cosmos? 

The painters themselves might be asked similar ques- 
tions. For the most prominent part of the work, that 
facing a boulevard, is a panorama of man's first landing 
on the moon in 1969 and the future construction of a 
space station named for 2001 director Stanley Kubrick. 
While varied space vehicles explore the lunar surface, an 
astronaut grasps the tail of a comet in one hand and a 
panel showing the frame of an earthbound automobile in 
the other. On his shoulder is a patch bearing the Mexican 
flag, and his face glass reflects the actual boulevard before 
him with il pachuco jauntily taking in the mural. Other 
references to Mexican culture include the name of one of 
the extraterrestrial ships. Qua Te Mac, a play on the name 
of the last Aztec king. By such means the painters 
attempt to pose their questions about mankind's technical 
sophistication and backwardness in human relations. 
Another wall shows Einstein riding a bicycle next to 
indio, Asian, and African sages peering into the sky. On 
the third side is a highway of the future seen from inside 
a car with the driver switching to "alternate energy," 



and finally an enormous view of Los Angeles at night 
with its streets illuminated like beads of moisture on a 
spider web stretches beneath asteroids dashing past the 
moon. The composition is imaginatively tied together 
around the building by neon-tube-like loops of color that 
suggest oscilloscopes and time warps. The scale, trompe 
I'oeil effects, and visual tricks probably owe something to 
the Los Angeles Fine Arts Squad, whose work will be 
discussed in chapter 9. And, as with it, the painters here 
seem more interested in something other than their an- 
nounced subject. Moonscapes gets carried away with de- 
picting science fiction worlds rather than real-life prob- 
lems at home and close-at-hand ways of dealing with 
them. Like Botello and Healy's other work. Moonscapes 
displays their professional skills — Healy is a space vehi- 
cle designer and Botello, an ad illustrator for department 
stores. But they had shown earlier that they could use 
their training in coming to grips with community issues. 
What has greater authenticity is a reconstruction of 
community history that Judy Baca, Sonya Williams, 
Arnold Ramirez, and Joe Bravo accomplished in 1977 on 
two sides of a Pacific Telephone building in the Highland 
Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. There are vignettes 
of working on the railroad, warehousing, the old trolley 



Judy Baca, Sonya Williams, Arnold Ramirez, and Joe 
Bravo (SPARC): Pacific Telephone Building Mural 
7977, Highland Park, Los Angeles. 




Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 287 




Pacific Telephone Building Mural {detail). 



line, a local artist, a high school football team, the 
community improvement association, and the visit of 
Teddy Roosevelt. Much of this was laid out by a Chicano 
architectural firm that subcontracted the painting to 
SPARC, but the muralists insisted on updating it with 
portraits of seven street youths grinning in front of their 
low rider. This is the only section in color; the rest is in 
monochromatic browns and yellows. Baca was especially 
pleased that the painters had worked out a quick and 
effective method of Photo-Realism in four gradations of 
hard-edged tones. 

It was also a heritage work that took the place of Frank 
Romero's Un Corazon par la Gente at the busy intersection 
of Soto and Brooklyn in East Los. Directed by John 
Valadez and painted by a crew of fifteen, this work done 
with Citywide funds makes clear at the bottom that it 
was "the last mural sponsored by the City of Los 
Angeles." Its panels attempt to illustrate the text over- 
head: "The Beauty of our people is our Culture, the 
Strength of our Culture lies within our Struggle." The 
central panel pictures the living generations strolling 
before the Los Angeles city hall and the crumbling 



"observatory" at Chichen Itza, one of the centers of 
Mayan civilization. In the first panel to the left a pair of 
monumental children raise their clenched fists, and in the 
next a young, attractive mother holds her son. At the 
right two indio girls feed ducks beneath a cactus, and 
further along over-sized faces of local young adults, he 
with silvered sunglasses and she with her hair in her face, 
grin back at you. At the far right a life-size couple 
contemplates a window display in a trompe I'oeil panel 
that you first mistake for real since the wall belongs trf a 
shoe store. The whole is competently painted, but the 
images do not do credit to the caption. The only sugges- 
tion of struggle is the gesturing kids, and there is little 
shown that has to do with a sustaining culture. 

In 1976, the year that Herron completed La Doliente de 
Hidalgo, he turned from history as a means of dealing 
with the present to grapple with a set of current issues 
that anticipated changes that were to occur in other Los 
Angeles murals as well. With the assistance of Alfonso 
Trejo, Jr., he undertook a work on the side of another 
drugstore owned by the proprietor of Farmacia Hidalgo. 
The artists took the pharmacy itself as their point of 
departure, laying out a highly detailed but legible com- 
position in three panels that contrast the humane works 



288 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




City wide crew directed by John Valadez: The Beauty of 
Our People Is Our Culture . . . , 1978, East Los 
Angeles. 



of invention and science with the destructive. They 
called it Some of the Advancements of Man. Ihe central scene 
shows an operating room with doctors and nurses caring 
for a patient whose blood vessels are exposed as in an 
anatomical atlas. This is set against the cloud-shrouded 
earth, which penetrates into the other panels. At the left 
we are in a spaceship cockpit approaching a planet, an 
atom bomb is sending up its cloud, and a tangle of 
highways circles around tombstones. On the other side 
there is a montage of steelworkers in a mill, a barrio gang 
member shooting from a car, a skeletal cow, a field 
attacked by locusts, and the poor holding out their hands 
pleadingly. The mural asks you to choose. The anger of 
Herron's earlier works has by now been transformed to 
the sharp contrasts of need and waste, and the benign 
and malign uses of technology. The style of science 
fiction illustration that weakens the earlier pharmacy 
mural here serves effectively as an ironic way of treating 
the abuses of science and mechanization. 

In 1979 Herron returned to Estrada Courts to com- 
plete Chicano Moratorium, which he and "Gronk" had left 
unfinished five years earlier. He now rendered portraits 
of his wife and himself embracing with slight touches of 
color that provide the only warmth and tenderness in the 
harsh contrasts of the monochromatic news images. 

The depiction of human caring and affection was 
widened in a quiet breakthrough for murals that Ann 



Elizabeth Thiermann and assistants achieved on the out- 
side of the Venice Health Center in 1977 in a project 
sponsored by Citywide. Amidst a scene of people caring 
for each other — young and old, parents and children of 
different races — there are a pair of women attending to 
each other and two men embracing. It is all done with 
straightforward simplicity. The artists titled their work 
Nurturance and added the caption: "Our stay here is a 
communion. I draw strength from my people. We have 
learned that we cannot live alone." Judy Baca says that 
the subject did not cause controversy among clients or 
staff when it first appeared, but that the muralists did 
have to contend with graffiti until they began talking 
with passersby and finally put up an additional caption in 
Spanish and English: "Please honor my wall. If you want 
to paint please call. ..." A year afterward the embracing 
men were defaced with spray paint, but the artists 
returned to restore them. 

In the later seventies the widespread concern for all 
living things as part of a shared ecosystem motivated a 
number of murals that had been anticipated by wall art 
during the first half of the decade. In 1978 Jane Golden 
and Peggy Edwards painted a massive stand of sequoias 
on both sides of a corner building of the John Muir 
School in Santa Monica with sun streaming through their 
trunks and foliage. There was an obvious appropriate- 
ness of the imagery to the school named for the naturalist 
of the Sierras, and the trees facing the busy intersection 
suggest both conservation and vacations. 

That year in Venice a pair of reveling blue whales, one 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 289 




with a peace sign for a blowhole, refused to be contained 
within their wall and illustrated the broad interest in 
ecology. The painters sponsored by City wide Murals were 
Randi Geraldi, Margaret Garcia, David Gatchel, Samuel 
Myring, and Marcia Alvarez. 



William F. Herron III and Alfonso rrejo,Jr.: Some of 
the Advancements of Man, 1976, East Los Angeles. 



Ann Thiermann and assistants (Citywide): Nurturance, 
1977, Venice Health Center, Venice. 





Jane Golden and Peggy Edwards: Redwoods, 1978, John 
Muir School, Santa Monica. 



Randy Geraldi, Margaret Garcia, David Gatchel, Samuel 
My ring, and Marcia Alvarez (City wide): Save the 
Whales, 1978, Venice. 





Joe Bravo (SPARC): Technological and Spiritual 
Man, 1977, Venice. 



A related concern about technology and its relation to 
the environment and the human spirit appeared in a 
number of works by Joe Bravo, at that time a SPARC 
artist. A 1977 wall he did in Venice seems to break open 
in the shape of a head and reveal within its dark 
silhouette a TV set for an eye and a brain absorbed with 
rocketry and machines. Opposed to this Bravo offered a 
campesino playing his guitar to a fertile field and the sky, 
which become a monumental head of an indio that bursts 
out of the wall towards us. The black cave of the 
mechanized head contrasts with the other face which has 
emphatically modeled features. Bravo titled his work 
Technological and Spiritual Man. On a portable mural of 
1978 intended for display along a freeway Bravo con- 
trasted an oil-well pump and refinery, which are shown 
shattering the land, to green farm country with a woman 
pointing to a blazing sun. At the bottom a naked figure 
crucified upside-down on the earth clenches his fist. 
Bravo explains that he wanted to speak out for the value 
of solar energy and human scale farming for both work- 
ers and users. He does not mean, he says, that technol- 
ogy must be eliminated, but that it must be made to 
support what people truly are. Although he had not 
heard of "appropriate technology" he was projecting the 
idea, which was natural for a painter who had turned 
from ad art to community murals. 

The economic and political issues that underlie 
ecological concerns, issues that Herron and Trejo had 
already opened up, were pursued further by Judy Baca 
and assistants in the spring of 1979 when they prepared 
a portable mural for display on Survival Sunday at the 
Hollywood Bowl in June, a rally sponsored by the 
Alliance for Survival and Abalone Alliance to protest the 
development of nuclear plants. The demonstration of 



Judy Baca and assistants (SPARC): Uprising of the 
Mujeres, 1979, Exhibited at Survival Sunday, Holly- 
wood Bowl. 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 291 

twenty thousand people occurred three months after the 
near-disaster at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, where 
failures of equipment, personnel, and government super- 
vision exposed the dangers of the growing dependence on 
nuclear energy. The mural however was not directly 
about any of this, but about the diversion of public funds 
from meeting real human needs. However, the connec- 
tion was clear enough to the sponsors of the rally and the 
SPARC artists who created the eight-by-twenty-four- 
foot work mounted so that it could be free-standing. On 
its back petitions were posted for people to sign. Ihe left 
half of the mural shows Los Angeles city hall with a 
politician at his desk, which is also a public housing 
barracks. In its doorway a tenant discovers another who 
has collapsed in the foreground. The desk-top roof is in 
addition a checkboard with empty squares marked 
"human needs" and "quality of life" while the official 
piles all his silver dollars on the space identified as "police 
budget." At his side there are other desks which are also 
public housing with the handles of coffins. The roofs of 
some are branded with large numbers, as those in Los 
Angeles are, to help police helicopters identify "trouble 
spots." The whole scene is bathed in the eerie blue-white 
illumination of their search lights. Meanwhile at the right 
the coins that the politician allocates are being produced 
by farm and factory workers who bend oppressively away 
from us toward the horizon, while others rush forward. 
Uprising of the Mujeres is a very simple and direct state- 
ment, and it was one of the first efforts to make the 
connection between the needs of working-class 
minorities and the antinuclear campaign that was still an 
issue being pressed primarily by the White middle class. 
It was important to display the mural at Survival 
Sunday to broaden the awareness of those who attended; 
it would be equally important to do murals in the barrios 
for people there to understand that their immediate needs 




292 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

were linked to the way the current energy crisis was met. 
The campaign both for disarmament and abandoning 
nuclear energy had been building during the second half 
of the seventies and had been given wide credibility by 
Three Mile Island. The derhonstration of 125,000 pro- 
testers in Washington in May was the largest since the 
Vietnam War. It was noticeable there and at earlier 
antinuclear rallies that few minority people participated, 
and most labor unions had been cool at best since plant 
construction provided at least temjx)rary jobs. The urgent 
issues for the working class and minorites were employ- 
ment, housing, and the cost of living. The connection 
had yet to be clearly drawn between the two sets of 
issues: how funds from capital intensive nuclear energy, 
both its peaceful and aggressive uses, could be diverted to 
housing and human services and how solar and other 
types of renewable energy were capable of creating jobs 
in the neighborhoods. .Moreover, the impact of increas- 
ing energy costs was greater on lower-income people 
than the well-to-do. The mounting energy crisis in gen- 
eral was not only a crisis of resources and technology, but 
also of social control — who was to determine the charac- 
ter of people's lives. Thus there were related issues that 
directly involved people of lower and moderate incomes 
that could bring them together in a common effort at 
change. The Survival Sunday wall and Some of the Ad- 
vancements of Man along with the other murals on 
technology and the environment were beginning to ad- 
dress these issues in Lx)s Angeles, and works parallel to 
these were being painted elsewhere around the country 
at the same time. 




San Diego 

At Logan Barrio in 1977 grievances that had been 
galling residents for years boiled over in a pylon of 
Chicano Park that faces a main thoroughfare. "jVarrio 
Si! Yonkes No!" it shouts, (yarrio is a variant oi barrio). 
Yonkes refers to the forty-eight junkyards that had in- 
vaded the barrio. It was only while the painters were at 
work that they realized that the caption also sounded like 
"Yankees Go Home." Indeed most of the junkyards that 
filled the community with their clangor and endangered 
passersby were owned by Anglos who lived elsewhere. 
Currently the Barrio Planning Association was mount- 
ing a campaign against them. Beneath the words pickets 
are shown drawn up before a cyclone fence protecting 
not only a secondhand auto-parts establishment but 
also a utilities plant with smoke pouring from it, dock- 
yards, and a Bank of America branch. In the back- 
ground is the bridge itself. Signs reading "More houses, 
less junkyards" and "Unity is power" are carried by 
residents who stare out at passersby. There is nothing 
refined about it. Everything that needs to be shown and 
said is packed in the narrow space; it is all pointblank. 
The painters were Victor Ochoa, Raul Jaquez, and ten of 
what Ochoa calls the "hard dudes" who hung around the 
park. He had been working with them for some time and 
regards their participation on the mural as a turning 



Alfred Larin, architect, Antonio de Vargas, muralist: 
Kiosko, 7977, Chicano Park, San Diego. 



t^^ 





Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 293 



point, for afterwards they became the nucleus of a Barrio 
Renovation Team that repaired and repainted cottages of 
local elderly people and the impoverished. The city 
provided funding, and the team grew to forty formerly 
jobless persons from Logan and other barrios who did 
renovation in the poorer sections of the city. 

To accommodate the public activity in the park, a 
kiosko was commissioned in 1977 and designed by Al- 
fredo Larin in the manner of a Mayan temple and painted 
by Antonio de Vargas, whose design was the winning 
entry in a competition. The following spring a "Mural 
Marathon" was arranged and was to culminate on 
Chicano Park Day. Groups from San Diego high schools 
and Southwestern College as well as individual artists 
participated. For the better-off Chicano high schoolers 
from outside the barrio, which they regarded as a rough 
place, the experience was a difficult breakthrough, and 
their pylon with images of Mexican history crowned by a 
powerful eagle remained unfinished. Another pylon, on 
which Victor Ochoa, Felipe Adame, and Vival .Martin 
worked, depicted the history of Chicano Park. Working 
from photos and slides, they showed the takeover and 
local people digging and planting. At its base a torch- 
bearing indio is pictured running the Taraumara race, 
which is held in the barrio every December. On a nearby 
column a moniimental thunderbird with an Aztec eagle 
inscribed within it was painted by Tony de Vargas for 
the Chicano Pinto Union, a Raza group of exprisoners 
helping one another and those still inside. 

On another pylon a large Virgin of Guadalupe floating 
over the world was painted by the Lomos Doradas Mural 
Gang that was coordinated by Golden Hills Outreach 
and .Vlario "Torero" Acevedo. On the opposite side 
another patroness of the Mexican people appeared — 
Coatlicue, the rattlesnake-headed Aztec goddess of life 
and death, shown standing with her legs apart giving 
birth to a child. La Raza. While this was done in a 
colorful adaptation oi indio painting, beneath it serpents 
and dragons coil, rendered in a distinctly Asian style. 
This side of the pylon marked an important step for 
Chicano Park; it was painted by the first non-Raza people 
to work there — Michael Schnorr, an art instructor at 
Southwestern College, and one of his students, Susan 
Yamagata. Her part of the work was an effort to combine 
her culture with the barrio's. Schnorr says that they were 
hassled by local teenagers because they were not 
Chicano, but the quality of their painting as well as the 
sharp basketball game of Susan, who took them on at a 
nearby court, won their respect. 

One of the innovative designs that w as created during 
the Marathon was a montage of portraits of Rivera, 
Orozco, Siqueiros, and Frida Kahlo. The faces overlap 
each other; their black shadows flow together and the 
heads are larger than the pylon can contain so that they 
seem to burst into our space. The imagery derives from 
silk-screen prints done by Rupert Garcia, an ac- 
complished San Francisco graphic artist, who arranged 




Victor Ochoa, Felipe Adame, and Vival Martin: 
Chicano Park Story, 1978, Chicano Park, San Diego. 

them in a single composition that was tranferred to the 
pylon and painted by Victor Ochoa and the Barrio Logan 
Renovation team. The shadows run irregularly like ink 
across the faces in sharp contrast to the straight edges of 
the pylon. This is one of the few instances of a break with 
the symmetrical and unfragmented image characteristic 
of community murals and opens jhe way for further 
advances in composition. In all seven new murals were 
painted during the Marathon. 

The muralists who have worked at Chicano Park are 
aware not only of the design problems that the pylons 
offer but also of the unusual opportunities for experi- 
ment. Salvador Torres has been interested in taking 
advantage of the way light and shadow play across them 
and has embedded tiny glass beads on some so that when 
the sun strikes their surface, they glow. He also uses a 
large mirror to play reflected sun across them in what he 
calls "light sculpture." He is critical of the failure of most 



294 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Ruber t Garcia, designer, Victor Ochoa and Barrio Reno- 
vation Team, muralists: Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros 
and Kahlo, 1978, Chicano Park, San Diego. 

painters who have worked there to take advantage of the 
three-dimensional surfaces of the pylons. In a few in- 
stances imaged wrap around columns, but no artists had 
yet pushed very far the dramatic possibilities of the 
three-dimensional forms. However, Michael Schnorr has 
made some designs that would carry over from the 
pylons to the undercarriage of the bridge — its concrete 
beams and skirting. And working with a low-rider club, 
he was planning to mount pieces of cars on the columns. 
The significance of what has been achieved in Barrio 
Logan was reinforced when "Corky" Gonzales, founder 
of Denver's Crusade for Justice and still one of the 
principal spokesmen of La Raza in the country, ad- 
dressed four thousand people from the kiosko on the 



eighth anniversary of Chicano Park in 1978: 

Cultural identity brings us together so we can talk 
about our problems, progress and identity, such as the 
commemoration of Chicano Park. Chicano Park means 
we believe in self-determination and that we believe in 
coming together and saying "this is our park." 

We realize that it takes generations of struggle to 
become free. But people make fun of us and say it's a 
fantasy ... a fantasy they say is Aztlan, self-deter- 
mination and liberation. . . .'^ 

Clearly he believed these fantasies could be made real 
and that Chicano Park was proof of that. 

Gonzales told the crowd that similarly they could get 
rid of their junkyards, racist police, narrow teachers, and 
administrators who did not live in the community. It was 
"nationalism" that was their only hope, he said: 



I 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 295 



Nationalism means that we must use the resources that 
are our own. . . . Our resources are our people. We 
don't have capita! or money to put into multinational 
corporations. We have time, blood, guts and courage 
to put into ourselves, and to save ourselves. That's the 
economy of nationalism.'^ 

Nationalism meant community self-help and self- 
determination. To Gonzales it was their culture, their 
sense of their collective identity and commitment, that 
was the principal resource of their economy. Their cul- 
ture that was made visible by the painted pylons around 
them had fired their exertions, but sometimes it was not 
enough. Four months later at the dedication of the work 
of the first Mural Marathon and while folklorico dancers 
were performing, a killing occurred a few blocks away 
that the press and TV, which had ignored the dedica- 
tion, rushed to. In spite of the hopes of those who had 
contributed to Chicano Park, the unemployment rate in 
the barrio in 1979 stood at 24 percent. But the park, its 
murals and community activity, in fact the survival of the 
barrio itself, were contrary to all predictions of nine years 
before except those people who set about to save it. 

During spring 1979, Michael Schnorr, Susan 
Yamagata, Anna Tellez, who came regularly across the 
border to paint, and Ulf Roloff, a student from Sweden, 
were at work on a new pylon depicting the recent 
struggle of lettuce pickers in the Imperial Valley where a 
striker had been shot and killed by ranch hands. The 
artists asked the Chicano Federation and members of the 
farmworkers' union what they would regard as a solution 
of the conflict and how it should be represented. The 
result was the painters' response to these discussions. 
The mural is capped with the words of Emiliano Zapata, 
which translated read: "The Earth belongs to those who 
work it with their own hands." Beneath is a woman with 
her arms extended like scales of justice. In one hand she 
carries farmworkers with a Mexican banner; in the other 
she holds the plastic-wrapped fruit of agribusiness. Her 
pregnant body is also a sun around which a gear is pulled 
in opposite directions by a bare brown arm and the sleeve 
of agribusiness which ends in a hook. Below a truck 
bearing lettuce is enveloped in UFW flags, and beneath 
this is a scene of the struggle and death of strikers. 
Underneath are lettuce harvesters chained through the 
ground to the lowest level where fruit and vegetables are 
spilling into a pool of blood. In the background a large 
skull loom's behind a plowed field. Rising from the sod in 
front of the pylon and staring at the mural is Ruben 
Salazar, the Lx)s Angeles reporter who had been killed 
years before by the police and whom the artists had now 
modeled in concrete and painted. Around him lettuce 
was to be planted. 

During the summer of 1979 Chicano Park faced a new 
series of crises. Exasperated by local divisions and seek- 
ing to expand his socially committed art, mural director 
Victor Ochoa resigned. The Chicano Federation, a major 




Michael Schnorr, Susan Yamagata, Anna Tellez, and Ulf 
Roloff: The Earth Belongs to Those Who Work It 
with Their Own Hands, 1979, Chicano Park, San 
Diego. (Photo Michael Schnorr) 



sponsor of the murals, came under grand jury attack for a 
relatively small bookkeeping discrepancy. In addition 
Logan residents felt that they were not receiving their 
share of services. The result was the departure of the 
Federation from the barrio and its seeking new offices 
elsewhere. At night Salvador Torres and locals guarded 
the neighborhood center it had occupied, fearing that the 
city would try to seize it. 

The Chicano Park Steering Committee, which was 
made up of barrio residents, carried on and in September 
approved the design for the highest mural yet to be 
undertaken there or anywhere else in the West. It was a 
sixty-five-foot column that could be seen not only from 
the park but also from a bridge' ramp. .Michael Schnorr 
again organized the crew, and he raised funds from 
MECHA student groups around the county. The subject 
was undocumented workers, which Schnorr's design 
presented in a symbolic way that combines folklorelike 
images with a "primitive" and surrealistic kind of paint- 



296 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Michael Schnorr and assistant: The Undocumented 
Worker, 1980, Chicano Park, San Diego. (Photo Michael 
Schnorr) 



ing. The mural is to be read from bottom to top as the 
struggle of migrants to seek a Hvehhood in an unhospita- 
ble foreign country. There is first the need to elude the 
helicopter and monsters of la migra (immigration 
officers); then, the danger of Icarus "burning out": having 
to endure the pull on the heart of the homeland and the 
mindlessness that replaces the human head with a latch 
and yoke. Toward the top a newcomer reaches for the 
stars, and a woman tries to break down all the walls that 
confine people. The images seen from the park are simple 
but require time to think about, while those viewed from 
the ramp convey their message immediately. On both 
lateral surfaces the painters show hoes and shovels, axes, 
wrenches, and hammers, suggesting the work the un- 
documented do. The mural's imagery breaks with the 
usual Chicano repertory. Some of the motifs reflect a 
visit Schnorr made the previous summer to Sicily where, 
he says, the imported workers from North Africa made 
him aware that migrant labor was a worldwide problem. 



Robert Cruz, director, and artists of La Brocha del Valle: 
Untitled, 1979, entrance, Wakefield School, Fresno. 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 297 

He had difficulty in getting the design accepted by the 
Chicano Park Steering Committee and provided an ex- 
planation of the images at the base of the column. The 
mural was an important effort at enlarging the relevance 
of community art, and it created an idiom that, rather 
than spelling out familiar messages, could express a new 
complexity of ideas and feelings. Completed in January 
1980, the work demonstrated the continuing vitality in 
Logan Barrio, where painters were still talking about 
extending the murals "all the way to the bay." 

Fresno 

La Brocha del Valle (The Brush of the Valley) was 
organized here by veteran muralist Ernesto Palomino 
and younger artists in 1975 to do both public wall art and 
posters. In the second half of the decade they did murals 
at schools, community centers, and a swimming pool 
and involved young people in outlying towns in doing 
walls. Some of their impressive work was at the Wake- 
field School, a progressive juvenile hall in Fresno. In its 
gym in 1978 Palomino did an elaborate framing design. 




298 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Young inmate with assistance of La Brocha del Valle: 
Corridor mural, 1978-80, Wakefield School, Fresno. 



based on pre-Columbian moldings, which the young 
inmates filled in with their own imagery. The following 
year La Brocha, under the direction of Bob Cruz, painted 
two sides of the entrance hall wit;h a Black teenager 
striding proudly out and young Chicanos preparing for 
freedom by learning about la Raza. La Brocha also 
helped the inmates embellish their corridors with images 
of themselves as old dogs shooting pool and a parrot in 
prison garb. 

Saticoy 

In 1975 here among the lemon groves east of Ventura, 
farm workers refused to be evicted from their company 
cottages when the growers decided to sell the property 



rather than bring it up to the building code. When the 
bulldozers came, women and children linked arms and 
stopped them. On the advice of Cesar Chavez, the 
eighty-two families raised the money for a down payment 
and bought the eighteen acres of what they organized 
as Cabrillo Village. They put together a cooperative 
housing corporation to rehabilitate older structures and 
build new ones themselves with funds and training pro- 
vided by the government. They saw their new skills as 
construction workers and cabinetmakers as means of 
lifting themselves out of low-paying orchard work for- 
ever. It was this story that their young people painted 
on their workshop in 1979 with the help of Ventura 
artist Richard Delgado. 

Seattle 

In 1975 the Seattle Arts Commission, inspired by 
Atlanta's Urban Walls and more distantly New York's 
City Walls, created a mural program that it called Seattle 
Walls. The city provided half the cost, the Downtown 
Seattle Development Association and building owners 
carried the other half. There was a competition of artists' 
designs, and those selected were carried out by Ackerly 
Communications, the big billboard firm of the North- 
west. As of 1979 there were six works, which, predicta- 
bly, were decorative and had little social content. In 1975 
Catherine McNeff designed semiabstract chimneys 
streaming ribbons of smoke for the side of the old 
gasworks that had been converted into a delightful play- 
ground for kids, who could scramble over the freshly 
painted machinery. Two years later a wedge of geese 
designed by Fay Jones routinely soared against the sky 
on the upper stories of Warshal's Sporting Goods Store 
downtown. The closest approximation to community art 
was the work that John Woo designed in 1977 for the side 
of an old hotel facing Hing Hay Park and its oriental gate 
in the International District. It was selected from fifteen 
entries by a jury made up of art and social service 
professionals together with businessmen, all of Asian- 
American descent. The design, executed by Ackerly sign 
painters, depicted a grimacing good-luck dragon, and 
amid its coils are scenes of doll-like Asian-Americans 
tilling the soil, working on the railroad and in canneries, 
interned in a concentration camp, and finally enjoying a 
festival. Also included is a vignette of local buildings 
including the Kingdome. 

Meanwhile in 1975 in a section of the city noted for its 
alternative lifestyle, Don Barrie with CETA and NEA 
funding did a high-relief trompe I'oeil transformation of 
the two-story Pelican Bay Artists' Co-op building, mak- 
ing the windows appear as if they were springing out of 
the sky over a landscape built up three-dimensionally on 
the wall. Two years later on the long side of a warehouse 
in a Black neighborhood, Barrie painted mandalas con- 
taining religious symbols of the world's cultures floating 
above the state of Washington viewed from outer space. 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 299 




Young people ofCabrillo Village (including those pictured) 
with assistance of Richard Delgado: Untitled detail of 
mural showing the defense of their homes, 1979, Saticoy, 
California. 

By the second half of the seventies there were about 
twenty-three thousand Chicanos and other Latinos living 
among the half million people of Seattle. Finding housing 
where they would be welcome had been a continuing 
problem, and they lived scattered about the city; there 
was no barrio where they could build a community life. 
They also needed help in finding work, medical care, 
bilingual education, legal aid, and other social services. 



John Woo, designer, and Ackerly Communications sign 
painter: Untitled, 1977, Bush Hotel at Hing Hay Park, 
Seattle. 



Because of the unresponsiveness of the local scene, a 
group of them in 1972 had forcibly seized an abandoned 
school building and were able to hold it through the 
decade in spite of the opposition of the authorities. They 
developed an English-as-a-second-language program 
during the first winter, although the city turned off the 
utilities. Gradually they built the Centro de la Raza, 
which provided a wide range of services as well as a 
rallying place, and in time it wrested recognition from 
the city. There are day-care and tenant programs, voca- 
tional counseling and training, food stamp assistance, 
and referrals for legal and medical help. A Cocina Popular, 




300 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

a people's restaurant, v\ as developed providing affordable 
cooking of varied Latin American countries on different 
days. The printshop publishes a periodical, Recobrando 
(which means reclaiming) that brings neus and com- 
mentary on political and cultural events and is a vehicle 
of local art. The Centro's bookstore makes available 
literature, posters, and recordings. Gradually the inner 
walls of El Centro have been covered by murals — almost 
the only Latino wall art in the city. The RCAF from 
Sacramento had visited in 1974 and Esteban Villa 
painted a small panel. The following year Daniel De 
Siega filled the approach to the main office with agribusi- 
ness farming equipment clawing and rolling across the 
land like prehistoric lizards w hile an indio is crucified to 
the ground and women mourn. Overhead looms a 
monumental head suggesting an earth mother who wears 
indio earrings. Her eyes are stained glass windows 
created by Armand Lara, and through them light 
streams. 

Other murals embellish the rest of the building. 
Roger Fernandez did images of Native Peoples in an 
office used by an Indian organization. Three walls of a 
meeting room were filled w ith murals by both Black and 
Chicano teenagers during a Summer Youth project in 
1977. One simple but significant wall using the Black 
nationalist colors and show ing the African continent with 



a bloody spot and weeping face, was "dedicated to the 
students of Soweto," where many lost their lives during 
the South African riots. On the opposite wall people of 
the different races are shown behind bars as Richard 
Nixon in a storm trooper's uniform flashes a victory sign. 
The Centro's cooperation with other Third World 
groups was a noteworthy feature of its activities and 
showed as well in the frequent articles on their struggles 
in Recobrando. 

Since 1975 the Centro had been trying to gain posses- 
sion of a mural of Pablo O'Higgins, the North American 
painter who had done most of his art in .Mexico, often in 
close association with Rivera. In 1945 he had painted a 
set of large, movable fresco panels against racial dis- 
crimination for the union hall in Seattle of the Ship 
Scalers and Drydock Workers whose membership was 
predominantly Third World. '^ In it Lincoln and 
Roosevelt present the charter of the Fair Employment 
Practices Commission, and laborers are looking at a large 
inscription that reads "Build A Free World. . . . Work- 
ers of the World Unite." After the union hall was torn 
down, the mural was packed away in storage at the 
University of Washington, remaining in obscurity for 
twenty years. When Chicano students sought it out, they 



Daniel de Siega: Untitled, 1975, Centro de la Raza, 
Seattle. 




Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 301 




Pablo O'Higgins: Partial vieiv of mural painted in 1945 
for union hall of Ship Scalers and Dry dock Workers, now 
mounted in Kane Hall, University of Washington. 

found it crated in sheds open to the weather. They 
charged that the University had deliberately neglected it 
because of its content, and the effort to secure it for the 
Centro de la Raza and a public closer to those it originally 
addressed began. Instead, as the work of a now famous 
artist, it was mounted high on a wall too large for it in the 
vestibule of a new lecture hall at the University. 

Emilio Aguayo had done a number of murals at the 
Centro but later fell out with the leaders. In 1977 
with city Art Commission funding he painted for a 
social-service agency Los ■Cinco Cabalkros de Apocalypsis: 
Enemigos de mi Gente in which he depicted in pale tones 
monstrous figures attacking their victims. A painter of 
vehement imagination and skill, he was a serious loss to 
the Centro. The following year, however, Arturo Ar- 
torez came to the Centro from Mexico and completed a 
many-paneled work at a downtown office. 

The Daybreak Star Art Center is the result of the 
efforts of Seattle Native Americans, who numbered 
about fifteen thousand in 1970, to establish a land base 
for cultural and economic activities as well as the delivery 
of social services. After long negotiations with the city, 
local Native groups, inspired by the seizure of Alcatraz 
in 1969, decided to take over Fort Lawton, which was 
being declared surplus by the Army. Led by Bernard 
Whitebear, they invaded the fort in March 1970, set up a 
tepee inside the grounds, and were arrested and jailed. 
This brought additional support, much of it from non- 
Indians, including military personnel inside who sent out 
messages that "We cannot help, but we are with you." A 
camp of teepees was maintained outside the fort which 
became the springboard for two additional invasions. 
The turning point came when the Department of Health, 
Education, and Welfare submitted an application for 
thirty-five acres on behalf of the Indians, which finally 
won the city's agreement. During the struggle they had 



organized the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation 
to press for the economic, social, and cultural advance- 
ment of all Native Americans, but especially those in the 
Northwest. While some social services continued to be 
delivered from offices in central Seattle, the new site 
provided a preschool, an after-school youth program, 
career guidance, and adult education. Professionals were 
employed developing Native American curricula for 
schools not only in Seattle but around the country. 

In 1977 an impressive structure constructed according 
to Indian specifications was opened to house these ac- 
tivities and ultimately to serve as an arts center after 
additional buildings were completed. It was called Day- 
break Star after a vision of the Sioux medicine man. 
Black Elk, who describes how he was given the daybreak 
star herb, "the herb of understanding," which flowered 
into four blossoms on one stem, each a different color 
that emitted rays symbolizing how the sacred hoop of 
his people was one of many hoops that made a single 
circle. The building was designed on this principle and 
looks out over Puget Sound. The Arts Center became not 
only the site of cultural activity for the Indians but in 
addition a place where Native artists could demonstrate 
the making of their crafts and sell them. It was also 
decided to exhibit their work (permanently), and the city 
under its 1 percent for art program allocated eighty 
thousand dollars. A national competition was held for 
murals in indigenous styles juried by Indians as well as 
non-Indian specialists in Native art and members of the 
city Art Commission. The result \vas a wide array of 
work executed between 1976 and 1979 intended to ex- 
press the coming together of tribes from all directions, 
corresponding to Black Elk's vision. 

Downstairs facing a large hall and the view out to sea 
are three panels originally intended as doors carved by 
Marvin Oliver, a Quinault/Isleta artist from the Olym- 
pic Peninsula. These represent clan symbols of the 
raven/eagle and two of the bear. Upstairs, Robert Haoz- 
ous, a Chiricahua Apache artist, carved The Masterpiece, 



302 / COMMUNIPY MURALS 




Marvin Oliver: Raven /Eagle and Bear Clan Symbols 
of Northwest Coast Tribes, 1977-79, Daybreak Star 
Arts Center, Seattle. 



Robert Haozous: The Masterpiece, late 1970s, Day- 
break Star Arts Center. 



a more than thousand pound panel of Honduras 
mahogany with hgures performing dances of the Pueblo 
Buffalo, the Navajo Yei-bei-chai and Apache Mountain 
Spirit. Nearby on a mural done in acrylics on canvas but 
in the manner of the art of the Kiva, a ceremonial house, 
Robert Montoya (Soe-Khuwa-pin) from the San Juan 




Pueblo of New Mexico painted a hunter pursuing deer, 
which, like him, have prayer feathers of eagle fluff 
signifying respect for animal life taken for food. Man and 
Killerwhaks is another Northwest Coast work and was 
carved and painted by Nathan P. Jackson of the Tlingit 
tribe. He dowled the red cedar boards, adzed their 
surface and painted with acrylics. There are additional 
murals representing the Plains and Eastern Woodland 
peoples as well as free-standing totems by an Aleut 
craftsman. The murals of Daybreak Star are unique 
examples of people's art because they were done for a 
people's institution that operates on a local, regional, and 
national scale. They suggest w hat could be done by other 
coalitions and networks. At the same time Native People 
communities continue to practice their traditional art, 
which particularly in the Northwest both in the United 
States and Canada includes murals on lodges and long 
houses, like those used for potlatches and ceremonies at 
Alert Bay and Courtenay-Comox in British Columbia. 

Portland 

His purpose in writing the proposal for the Albina 
Mural Project and assembling the artists to work on it 
was to show that Afro-Americans "had things worth 
painting about," says Isaac Shamsud-Din. He wanted 
them to have the chance to demonstrate their vitality in 



Robert Montoya (Soe-Khuwa-pin): Deer Hunter, late 
1970s, Daybreak Star Arts Center. 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 303 

spite of years of being pushed around and their art subtly 
suppressed by the local cultural establishment. There 
were to be twenty-one panels illustrating the Black con- 
tribution to the city and the Northwest, and these were 
to be mounted on the two street sides of the Albina 
Human Resources Center in the heart of their commu- 
nity. Most were to be twenty feet square. The neighbor- 
hood center itself brings together county, state, and 
federal services ranging from food stamps, health and 
dental clinics, and veteran and vocational counseling to 
the supervising of probation. The murals were funded as 
a CETA special project, and fifty-four thousand dollars 
was allocated for what was originally conceived as an 
undertaking that would occupy eight months during 
1977. When time and money ran out, additional funds 
for four months more were raised, partly w ith the help of 
Mayor Neil Goldschmidt. Shamsud-Din estimates that 
the project as originally conceived would have taken 
three years. Seven artists participated, all Black except 
one who was of Japanese descent. They worked together 
in a nearby cramped storefront studio that had to be 
rewired; the one sculptor on the project, Charles Tatum, 
had his workshop next door. Shamsud-Din says that 
their problems also included the low level of expectation 
of the artists and also the fact that most of them were not 
longtime residents of the community they were to paint 
about. 

The panels of Shamsud-Din who had grown up in 
Portland deal most completely with the Black experience 
there. The first he titled Vanport — The Promise. Vanport 
City had been a housing project just outside Portland 



304 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Nathan P. Jackson: Man and Killerwhales, late 1970s, 
Daybreak Star Arts Center. 

Isaac Shamsud-Din: The Flood, 1978, Albina Mural 
Project, Albina Human Resources Center, Portland. 



built for workers in the Kaiser shipyards during World 
War II. In 1947 six-year-old Isaac arrived with his family 
from Texas, like many of the other Blacks who made up 
one-quarter of the eighteen thousand population. For the 
mural he depended on his memories, interviews with 
residents, and researching old newspapers. He brought 
together the prows of the vessels Vanport workers had 
built, Blacks repairing railroad beds and working as 
porters on segregated trains and the carousel at Jantzen 
Park, one of the few places where they could spend their 
leisure, although they were allowed in the pool only one 
day a week. One panel of the merry-go-round depicted a 
Black "savage" kneeling before a White man with a 
musket. He also wanted to show the Native Americans 
who used to fish up the Columbia River. Impressed by 
their having maintained their way of life for perhaps a 
thousand years, he placed a totem pole and proud 
fisherman in the foreground. "The rainbow," he says 
"symbolizes the promises that dissipated when it came 
time to pay up." 

Around the corner he painted The Flood. It was on 
Memorial Day, a year after his family came to Vanport, 
that the Columbia, in spite of the reassurances of the city 





'^Pf'jff; 






Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 305 



manager, broke through the dike and sent a twelve-foot 
wall of water through the housing. At least fourteen lives 
were lost there, forty-five in the Portland area. The 
mural shows the traffic jam of people trying to flee and 
men carrying out victims. He says he tried to convey the 
terror and weirdness by the yellow, which is the under- 
coat of the unfinished panel. The effects of the flood were 
long-lasting. Most of the residents lost everything, he 
says; no effort was made to compensate them for the 
negligence of officials. The Blacks were relocated in new 
housing projects and moved again and again to make way 
for the Emmanuel Hospital and the Colosseum until 
most were concentrated in the Albina area. It was always 
difficult to get decent housing, and no strong organiza- 
tion or leadership among Blacks emerged. There were 
cross burnings, and the police were heavy-handed. He 
helped put together Action for Rights, a citizens' group, 
in 1961 that lasted only a few years. In 1968 at the height 
of urban violence around the country, shops along busy 
Union Avenue were torched — sometimes by their own- 
ers to collect insurance, he believes. While troops pa- 
trolled the area, this was not a major outbreak like those 
that occurred elsewhere. Black people in Portland, he 
says, were scared and had no place to go. 

Shamsud-Din himself had been trained as an artist at 
Portland State University. In 1965 he painted his first 
mural as part of a competition set by the faculty who 
hung eight works, but only his still was hanging in the 
Student Union in 1979. It is a rich painterly work in the 
freely brushed idiom of the time. It memorializes John 
Daniels, who in 1956 or 1957 was the University's first 
student-body president and a Black. He was outstanding 
academically, entered the service, and on discharge be- 
came a teacher. He was one of those Blacks, Shamsud- 
Din says, who do not abandon their people. But he was 
sent to jail for molesting a child and when he was released 
committed suicide. Shamsud-Din thinks that it was his 
society that made him another Black casualty. He shows 
him twice in the mural, once caught in midair by forces 
beyond his control and then in a coldly blue pieta. 

After finishing this work, Shamsud-Din was in Arkan- 
sas with the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Com- 
mittee; in 1966 and 1967 he directed Black Arts West in 
San Francisco, organized a conference on Black Power 
and Black Art, was active with the Panthers, and lec- 
tured in Black Studies at the San Francisco State Ex- 
perimental College. 

But to return to the Albina murals. Other panels also 
dealt with Portland history. Charles Tatum assisted by 
others carved three redwood reliefs over the entrance 
expressing caring relations among workers as well as 
parents and children. Henry Frison depicted the Afro- 
American contribution to the opening of the West and 
the Texas origins of Portland Blacks, using portraits of 
his own family and a Native American done from life. 
He, Shamsud-Din, Chonitia Henderson, Larry Scott, 
and Jenny Harata did a montage honoring Martin Luther 




Isaac Shamsud-Din: Memorial to John Daniels, 1965, 
Portland State University, Portland. 



King, Jr., who is shown accompanied by Ralph Aber- 
nathy and John Kennedy on a march along with vignettes 
of the civil rights struggle and King's casket. Also less 
directly connected with Portland is Jenny Harata's im- 
aginative working together of the well-know n engraving 
of a slave ship surrounded by images of dignified Afri- 
cans and their descendants in the New World. She 
achieved the suggestion of wood and brown skin across 
the surface by spray paint and stencils over an acrylic 
base. 

Shamsud-Din feels that compromises had to be made 
with regard to local history and high technical standards, 
but local people would drop by the studio while work 
was in progress and came to regard the panels as im- 
portant statements about their lives. Although they 
sometimes were concerned about such matters as nudity, 
they gave the artists confidence, he says. When money 
ran out six murals had been completed, if Tatum's three 



306 / COMMUNI FY MURALS 




Charles Tatum and assistants: Wooden panels, 1978, 
Albino Mural Project. 



Henry Prison: Panel depicting the Afro-American opening 
of the West, 1978, Albina Mural Project. 





Henry Prison and Isaac Shamsud-Din assisted by Chonitia 
Henderson, Larry Scott, and Jenny Harata: Martin 
Luther King, Jr. , panel, 1978, Albina Mural Project. 




Jenny Harata with assistance of Chonitia Henderson: 
Afro- American history panel, 1978, Albina Mural Proj- 
ect. 



308 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

panels are counted as part of a single composition. The 
ensemble was dedicated on July 4, 1978, as part of a 
kintu, an African ceremony at which the community 
invests a work of art with life. Some 2,500 people 
attended. 

Shamsud-Din says he would still like to see the in- 
tended tw enty-one panels completed. But he was putting 
eighteen hours a day into the w ork and had seven chil- 
dren (now eight) to support on his $833-a-month CETA 
salary. Portland, he says, is the hardest city for an artist 
like himself to work in, w hat w ith having to go through 
the institutional hoops and having to socialize with the 
right people. He survives by doing occasional com- 
missions such as those he was working on in 1979 for the 
Salvation Army and a restaurant. He also did sign 
painting, construction work, and odd jobs. He hopes to 
leave and settle in Nigeria or Ghana, but the likelihood of 
his raising the money to move his large family is dim, he 
adds. 

Ihere were precious few other community murals that 
had been done in Portland during the flourishing of 
community work elsewhere. However, there was an 
abundance of school murals done by children in the 
mid-seventies which Eileen Kressel was responsible for 
getting going on the inspiration of similar work in San 



Manuel Martinez: Universal Labor, 7977, State Em- 
ployment Division, Denver. (Photo Arch Williams) 



Francisco. In 1979 Ackerly Communications, which was 
facing an antibillboard ordinance, had sponsored the 
First Annual "Larger Than Life" art contest among 
elementary school children with the result that a young- 
ster's camping scene had been reproduced to fill a space 
perhaps previously occupied by Black Velvet. His and 
his teacher's name were there as big as an ad caption. 

Denver 

.Manuel .Martinez, who had done the first murals of the 
new movement in Denver and then painted in New 
Mexico, returned to work full-time as a muralist for the 
Colorado .Migrant Council and in 1977 organized Incor- 
porated Artists Monumental of Denver to promote 
Chicano art.'' On a wall that he did that year in the 
lobby of the State Employment Division, he depicted 
farm and industrial workers, men and women, support- 
ing the earth as they lean against a wall they have built 
that has the shape of the Mexican and U.S. eagles as well 
as the thunderbird. He called it Universal Labor. 

That year also he was commissioned to paint a four- 
by-eight-foot portable canvas mural in opposition to a 
local congregation that had seceded from the Episcopal 
Church because of the larger body's support of abortion 
and the ordination of women priests.'* In it he showed 
the conservative priest standing on the back of the 




Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 309 




Manuel Martinez and Carlos Sandoval: Urban Dope 
and Rural Hope, 1977, Denver. Martinez in fore- 
ground. 

crucified Christ. The vertical composition is reminiscent 
of traditional Spanish religious art and particularly the 
overhead view of the crucifixion by Salvador Dali. 

A few months later he returned to more familiar 
'ihemes with a work he did on a very long wall with 



Manuel Martinez: The Staff of Life, 1976, staircase. 
Administration Building, Auraria Higher Education 
Center (University of Denver) 



Carlos Sandoval under the auspices of the Denver 
Citywide Mural Project. Titled Urban Dope and Rural 
Hope, it worked out the contrast by showing the collapse 
of a man in three stages seen head-on at one side of a 
serpent and eagle, and a Chicano family at the other. 
Another work. The Staff of Life, depicted a stalk of maiz 
growing out of the body of a ritually killed indio who 
suggests the sacrifices of Raza people throughout history 
and the new life that springs from them. By the end of 
the decade .Martinez could claim over twenty-five 
thousand square feet of murals. 




310 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

Pueblo 

From the w all of a Lower Last Side barrio grocery 
here, seven residents urge viewers to "support the Pueblo 
Neighborhood Health Centers." Point-blank the ban- 
daged, those in casts, a pregnant woman, and a dog in 
profile confront you. The head-on planes and circles, 
the echoing curves and deep hues make for an extra- 
ordinary stvlization, a kind of personal Art Deco. This is 
a 1979 work ot Pedro Romero, who as a CFT'A em- 
ployee coordinating public relations for the centers has 
done a number of murals for them. He says that he 
arrived at his style through sculpture, until recently his 
main art form, and by studying the faces of funerary 
pottery of the ancient Mimbres people of Meso-America. 
He adds that he has wanted not only to bring art to the 
barrio but also to express the solemnity and nobility of 
families there. In this he has eminently succeeded. 

Santa Fe 

Although Los Artes Guadalupanos de Aztlan was no 
longer active during the second half of the seventies, they 
had left an example of communitv-based murals in the 
state. In 1977 and 1978 an Art in Public Places program 
funded by (TH A was operated by the New Mexico Arts 
Division and provided for nine muralists who began with 
the intention of painting a single work as a team at the 
Quay County Exposition Center in Tucumcari.'" How- 



ever, only four had done a mural before, and the 
diversity of their approaches made going difficult. The 
result was that the designer of the mural did most of the 
painting, while a few others hung around to help with 
busy work. The artists then turned to individual projects 
and in eleven months completed nineteen murals in spite 
of continuing problems with the bureaucracy. Among 
the painters was a veteran of Los Artes, Gilberto 
Guzman, who did a mural for the State Library showing 
an indio woman reaching forward with maiz like some of 
the Tonantzins of their earlier work and another panel on 
the rebellion of Pueblo Indians in 1680 that drove the 
Spanish out for 20 years. F"rom San Francisco Graciela 
Carrillo came to do figures in brightly colored garb 
illustrating the culture of Native Peoples for the Institute 
of American Indian Arts. The remaining work included 
landscape, abstraction and historical illustration. The 
results led the directors of the program to look forward to 
its expansion and to closer cooperation among muralists. 

Also in 1977 Guzman painted one of the masterpieces 
of the mural movement. Gold Star Mothers, for the Bataan 
Memorial Building in Santa Fe. He shows the mourners 
limp and swaying like the wilted flowers they hold for 
their sons, soldiers of a New IVlexican unit that was lost 
on the death march in the Philippines at the beginning of 
World War IL 

When Zara Kriegstein saw these and his easel paint- 
ing, she gave Guzman a show in her new October 
Gallery in London in 1979 and made possible his doing 



Gilberto Guzman: The Pueblo Revolt, 1978, Rare 
Book Room, New Mexico State Library, Santa Fe. 





Problems and Promise (1976-80) / 3 1 1 

an antiwar mural across the street. Then they returned to 
Santa Fe and she did the public relations necessary for 
them and other local artists to undertake the enormous 
side of the state archives building. Guzman, hoping the 
project would open new possibilities for a mural group in 
Santa Fe, sold his van for paint and lived mostly on 
strong coffee. Titled The Multi-Cultural Mural, it cele- 
brates the contribution of the varied peoples who have 
made New Mexico. Guzman's swinging design is readily 
recognizable in the big Spanish bull at the left looming 
above swaying roses, a cow's skull, and conquistadores' 
armor. His drawing is also clear in the nearby workmen 
with a sledge and drill and the corn goddess at the 
bottom center, who holds up the new achievements of 
human inventiveness. Above her Kriegstein painted a 
rather gypsylike fiesta. Disagreements arose among the 
artists before work was completed, and Guzman did not 
attend the dedication in September, 1980. His drawings 
for the work show a more consistent and bold composi- 
tion than the final result, and the public reception was 
mixed. Although the artists went their separate ways, 
they were determined to do more murals in Santa Fe. 

Albuquerque 

Community murals accelerated here in the later sev- 
enties. In 1978 Francisco LaFebre directed a very long 
frieze around the new Albuquerque High School's 
lounge where brightly outlined images re-create the past 
of indigenous peoples, Hispanicos, Frida Kahio along with 

Graciela Carrillo and Linda Lomahaftewa: Spirit of the 
Native Americans, 1977, Kiva Theater, Institute of 
American Indian Arts, Santa Fe. 



Gilberto Guzman and Zara Kriegstein, designers, painted 
with assistance of Rosemary Stearns, Cassandra Mains, 
John Sandford, David Bradley, Frederico Vigil, and 
Linda Lomahoftewa: Multi-Cultural Mural, 1980, 
New Mexico State Records Center, Santa Fe. 




312 / COMMUNITY MURAI.S 




Francisco LaFebre: Untitled, 1978, Albuquerque High 
School, Albuquerque. 



Murals, left to right, by Helen Hardin, Than Ts ay Ta 
and J. D. Medina, 1978 and 1979, Pueblo Cultural 
Center, Albuquerque. 




young people today, and a foetus for tomorrow. During 
1978 and 1979 Indian artists embellished the big patio of 
the new Pueblo Cultural Center with professionally exe- 
cuted dancers representing their different communities. 
And also in 1979 local and visiting muralists collaborated 
at the South Valley MuIti-Purpose Center. Manuel 
Unzueta from Santa Barbara utilized a flat, crisp style in 
which untrained assistants could work to show the 
elderly and young looking toward a better life, and 
Fernando Penaloza from Bolivia envisioned what he 
describes as the "spiritual rebirth of humankind" with 



strong-bodied indios recovering a fertile earth from des- 
ert. On another wall local artists Enrico Vasquez and 
Manressa Crumbel retold local folktales. 

Crystal City 

It was here that La Raza Unida Party, which spread 
throughout South Texas, was organized, and here also 
that since 1963 the 80 percent Chicano population has 
frequently elected the principal public officials. But in 
1980 economic power was still controlled by Anglos. 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) / 3 13 




Antonio Flores: Nacimiento de Aztlan, 1976, Centra 
de Salud, Crystal City, Texas. 



Nevertheless, a public health center had been built, and 
at its entrance in 1976 Antonio Flores painted a Naci- 
miento de Aztlan with a recumbent mother stretched 
above a flaming sun and a child and praying father, all 
rendered in tendrillike line. On the school district office 
he showed a three-faced mestizo trying to grasp needed 
government funding with a chained hand. And big bold 
Raza murals were also done at the Benito Juarez School 
by students, teachers, and a school board member. 



El Paso 

One of the most technically innovative works of the 
mural movement is the thirty-by-forty-foot sand-cast 
assemblage mounted in the Valle Verde Community 
College cafeteria in 1980. Mago Orona had worked with 
students for two years in the desert implanting broken 
bottle glass in panels that were then yoked by steel braces 
to the wall, some further out, some closer in. Titled Time 
and Sand, the work, she says, is about the spiritual 
evolution of humankind from the divisions of self and 
society, represented by split and violent machinelike 
forms at the lower left, toward a new compassion and 
integration symbolized by the vaulting, ecstatic forms at 
the upper right. Technology, she adds, is not bad in 
itself, but has been misused. "My study of machines and 



humans," she observes, "has driven me to this point. I 
feel art is becoming more encompassing on all levels." 
Her mural is also an engineering feat. She was seeking a 
grant to do another sandcast work on one of the inter- 
national bridges, using young apprentices she would 
train in her studio in Ciudad Juarez. 

San Antonio 

Isolated street murals had been undertaken here in the 
barrios during the decade, but in 1978 Anastasio Torres, 
formerly a social worker, formed the Community Cul- 
tural Arts Organization to encourage youth to return to 
high school and enter an excellent commercial art pro- 
gram. With city and foundation funding he had created 
mural crews that by 1980 had completed twenty -eight 
end walls on the public housing at Cassiano Homes. 
Some of the teenagers had stayed with the group from 
the beginning. They do research in the library for the 
murals and make presentations to the residents' associa- 
tion for approval; increasingly the tenants were making 
suggestions. At first they would not have permitted the 
walls on Zapata and Villa, Torres says. The murals that 
extend along both sides of Hamilton Avenue offer a 
panorama of Raza history, romantic indio princes and 
damsels, religious imagery, and support for the UFW in 
a state where the union has had an unusually difficult 
time. Particularly impressive are the skill of the teenagers 
in modeling in color and the tight ship Torres runs. 



3 14 /COMMUNITY MURALS 




Mago Orona and students: Time and Sand, 1980, Valle 
Verde Community College, El Paso. 



There were four walls in progress at the same time 
during the summer of 1980, and Torres was hoping to 
tackle at least half of the 170 walls available. 

Austin 

In 1976 Raul Valdez and other local artists organized 
here the League of United Chicano Artists (LUCHA, or 
Struggle) in an old school building. Besides developing a 
Ballet Kolklorico, a literary )ournal, a children s writmg 
and art festival, and a gallery, they built a mural program 
that was responsible for seven walls during the rest of 
the decade. Valdez and students painted the inside and 
outside of their center as well as in the barrios, but their 
most impressive achievement was the Pan-American 



Hillside Theatre, an outdoor stage every surface of 
which is embellished with lunging figures who invoke 
Raza pleasures and struggles as they reach out to viewers. 
Valdez, who studied at the Siqueiros school in Cuerna- 
vaca, observes that the composition owes much to the 
Mexican masters. 

On the other side of town across the street from the 
main campus of the University of Texas, Carlos Lowry 
and the crew he directed were completing in the summer 
of 1980 a series of blown-up movie frames on the big 
side of the Varsity Theater. There were images from 
Potemkin, Citizen Kane, The 400 Blows as well as shots of 
Bogart, Chaplin, Keaton hanging from a fire escape, and 
Jimmy Cliff. Lowry, a refugee from Chile, designed the 
wall believing that social consciousness could be com- 
bined with commercial jobs. The team was part of 
Interart-Public Art, which had thirty-two painters who 
had done murals at a daycare center, a recycling depot, a 
bicycle shop, a grocery, and a restaurant. 




Young people of the Community Cultural Arts Organiza- 
tion, directed by Anastasio Torres, Farm workers' Mural, 
one of 28 works, 1978-80, Cassiano Homes, San An- 
tonio. 



Raul Valdez: Partial view of murals, Pan-American 
Hillside Theatre, 1979, Austin. 




316/ COMMUNITY MURAl.S 




Carlos Lowry: The Wall, 1980, Varsity Theater, Au- 
stin. 



New York 



Here in 1976 experienced muralists working indepen- 
dently as well as new and veteran groups contributed to 
the growth of the movement. In Washington Heights 
where she had painted with students before, Lucy 
Mahler now at Junior High School 52 worked with two 
dozen teenagers who did portraits of their fellow students 
from life and joined them with Bolivar, Lincoln, and 
King and symbols of the heritage of local people in the 
auditorium and on two smaller buildings.** In 1978 and 
1979 Mahler and Nitza Tufino were doing sixteen large 
ceramic panels for the courtyard of the Third Street 
Music Settlement in the East Village. Working with a 
kiln at the school and doing a lot of learning as they 
proceeded, they had almost completed during the winter 
two complex and handsome panels of musicians. 

Returning to 1976 — a $7,500 grant from Exxon made 
it possible for the Young Muralists Workshop in the Fort 
Greene section of Brooklyn to hire three local artists to 
assist teenagers in as many paintings.'* The group had 
been organized two years earlier by Wilfred Thomas 
who had worked with fifteen young people on a mural on 
the side of a cleaner's, which led to the grant. Thomas 
tells of how after a later mural was defaced, a question- 
naire was distributed for more community input. A 
greater number of young people were drawn into de- 
signing and painting the new work, and it remained 
undamaged.^" 

Hank Prussing, who was extending his photographic 
portraits of neighbors on a tenement facade in East 
Harlem during these years, in 1977 was also using local 
faces in ten panels on allegorical themes like anxiety and 



patience between the windows of the Lafayette Avenue 
Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn. The following year he 
was commissioned to do a work for the old U.S. Customs 
House on Fort Greene.^' 

Meanwhile Cityarts Workshop undertook its largest 
murals to date on the Lower East Side during 1976. '^^ 
Arlan Huang organized a project in which students, 
teachers, and local residents painted an appeal for better 
education and a new building in the over-one-hundred- 
foot-long Let Our People Grow on Junior High School 65. 
On both sides of the main entrance they showed images 
of budget cutting, students pounding their books in 
desperation, others surveying a model of a new school 
and picketing for it, followed by hoped-for construction 
work, graduation, and promising careers. 

Par Los Ninas was another protest of education budget 
cuts. Coordinated by Alfredo Hernandez of Cityarts, art 
students from a nearby junior high created the five-story 
work on the wall of P.S. 97 facing well-traveled Houston 
Street at East River Drive. In it a huge pair of shears 
carves into a stack of books on the top of which are 
symbols of learning. The books are held up by young 
people who are also pulling themselves up out of slum 
life, while a financier is walking off with his pockets 
stuffed with bucks. The imagery is straightforward and 
clear in its attack on the efforts of the city to solve its 
financial problems at the expense of working-class chil- 
dren who were almost the only ones in public schools. 
This mural and Let Our People Grow were both responses 
to the massive layoffs of personnel in the schools and 
other social services that New York under its Emergency 




Lucy Mahler: Ceramic mural in progress, 1979, 
Street Music Settlement, East Village, New York. 



Third 



318 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




addiction, stabbing, joblessness, and a torched tenement. 
The rainbow banner becomes part of the sunlight at the 
other side that shines on tenants repairing their tenement 
to which a Puerto Rican flag is attached, while others 
enjoy the fresh air together. This mural, like the others 
coordinated by Cityarts, demonstrated the ability of the 
trained artists to help local people think through their 
problems and come up with imaginative compositions 
that clarify the issues and suggest solutions. 

Another was the Douglass Street Mural with which 
Cityarts extended its activities to Brooklyn. Painted by 
local artists and residents led by .Mary Patton in the Park 
Slope area, it fills a pair of walls that open up like pages of 
a book. The "pages" contrast the problems of neglect, 
arson, and red-lining in low-income areas with the efforts 
of people to rehab their housing (with outside financial 
aid). All this occurs beneath a flash of lightning on the 
side depicting racism, and a rainbow on the wall showing 



Local youth directed by Arlan Huang (Cityarts): Let 
Our People Grow (detail), Junior High School 65, 
Lower East Side, New York. 



Financial Control Board was pursuing in order to attract 
federal loans and make its bonds salable as the city faced 
bankruptcy. From the school walls themselves students 
with ardor and artistry proclaimed their protest in no 
uncertain terms in public every day. 

Further down Houston at a busy mtersection with 
Second Avenue, Tomie Arai and another Cityarts team 
produced Crear una Sociedad Nueva (Create a New Soci- 
ety). Here people of different races join together and 
stride out of the wall carrying a rainbow banner as an 
expression of the need for united action. Driving off 
speculators and the military who are crammed with 
greenbacks, they leave behind in the night scenes of 

Junior high school students directed by Alfredo Hernandez 
(Cityarts): Por los Ninos, 1976, Lower East Side, New 
York. 




Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 3 19 




Local youth directed by iomie Aral (Cityarts): Oear una 
Sociedad Nueva (Create a New Society), 1976, Lower 
East Side, New York. 



the cooperation of the races. These large strokes are 
balanced at the bottom with arms and clenched fists 
draped with flags and portraits of the leaders of the 
Black, Puerto Rican, and Haitian people of the 
neighborhood. It is a dense mix but carried out with a 
spaciousness that makes the walls legible and impressive. 

In 1977 Cityarts did five major projects in Harlem, the 
Lower East Side, Chinatown, and Brooklyn. One was a 
backdrop for La Plaza Cultural in Loisaida, which pro- 
vided space for musical performances, socializing, and 
play. On a four-story wall at its rear Alfredo Hernandez 
coordinated an ensemble of large African, Puerto Rican, 
and Asian portraits with vignettes of their native lands, 
while overhead a happy dragon contemplates the sun. 

Another mural of that year was the Wall of Respect for 
the Working People of Chinatown on which Tomie Arai, the 
director of Cityarts, worked with an inter-racial team of 
young people. They depicted a rampant three-story-high 
dragon among whose folds are scenes of the migration to 
this country, work on the railroads, in the fields and 
sweatshops, and the problems of gambling and slum life. 
It is not clear whether the scenes of shopkeeping and 



restaurant cooking and waiting at table are intended as 
tributes or as criticism of the confinement of the Chinese 
to these roles. Finally at the top the young and older 
generations are moving into the future with their fire- 
breathing dragon. The mural is well rendered, but it 
repeats some of the issues of Chi-Lai — Arriba — Rise Up! 
which is a few blocks away. While the earlier work was 
explicit about racial exploitation, the nev\ one is ambigu- 
ous, especially about the kind of work local people do or 
submit to. This is understandable, but it is not charac- 
teristic of the usual outspokenness of Cityarts. The con- 
trast of the two works supports the observation of a 
number of Cityarts muralists that their work was be- 
coming less political. In 1979 Alfredo Hernandez said 
this was due to the pressure of sponsors. At the same 
time, Kathleen Gupta, the new director, also acknowl- 
edging the change in recent work, felt the neighborhoods 
where Cityarts worked were less activist. There was "a 
quiet desperation," she said. 

In 1977 James Jannuzzi, who. had been \Xith Cityarts 
since 1968 when he was fourteen, coordinated five works 
in the Bronx painted by local artists and young people. ^^ 

Cityarts worked on six sites in 1978 that were outside 
its accustomed area in Lower Manhattan. Three were in 
Brooklyn, and at one of these Eddie Aliseo and local 



320 / COMMUNITY MURAI.S 




Local youth directed by Alfredo Hernandez (City arts): La 
Plaza Cultural Mural, 1977, Lower East Side, New 
York. 



people did Espiritu Latino, a tribute to Afro-Latin music 
in which a few well-drawn, grooving performers convey 
its origins and present-day vitality. Back in Loisaida the 
walls of a nursing-home garden on Avenue B were 
decorated by Shulamith Firestone, who in a pastel fan- 
tasy she called Yucatan showed tourists relaxing on the 
edge of a lagoon, while Art Guerra in Celebration in 
Central Park depicted just that. 

During 1978 and 1979 Cityarts teams were engaged in 
two different mural projects in the New York subway. 
One under the direction of Jannuzzi with the assistance 
of ten young people being trained by Steve Miotto, was 
preparing mosaic murals for the Delancey Street IND 
station, which was part of an effort to revitalize the 
nearby commerical area. The muralists were meeting 
with East Side merchant groups and local people as well 
as a committee of artists and architects to work out 
designs. The other project was a ceramic mural to be 
installed in the Union Square station and was to be 
executed off site by Jannuzzi, Eva Cockcroft, Pedro 
Silva, and others. 

A significant step was taken by Cityarts in 1978 when 
it cosponsored with the 12th Street Movement, a tenants' 
group, a very simple work directed by Alfredo Hernan- 



dez that showed rows of cabbages, corn, and melons 
converging toward a beaming sun. But this was the 
backdrop for a garden of small boarded plots where 
local residents were growing their food, even maintaining 
a few winter frames. In its midst there was also a 
postage-stamp-sized plaza with benches. There were 
enough gaps between the seven-story rotting brick tene- 
ments for the sun to bathe the plots where the soil had to 
be tested for lead from the paint of demolished buildings. 
Manure was brought from the police stables, and resi- 
dents who formerly were anxious to venture out on the 
streets of Loisaida were being taught the French inten- 
sive method of cultivating by Linda Cohen from God- 
dard College in Vermont. ^^ The urban farmers called 
their garden "El Sol Brillante," and as the sign at the 
front indicated, they had been assisted by the 11th 
Street Movement, which was identifiable behind the 
mural by its solar collectors and windmill generator 
mounted on a tenement roof. Standing in the garden, 
you could also see the eyeless top floors of other tene- 
ments on Eleventh Street where neighborhood construe- 



tion workers and trainees were putting in new w indows 
and roofing. 

It all began in 1974 when Puerto Rican residents with 
the help of professionals began rehabilitating number 519 
on Eleventh Street. This was a section of Loisaida which 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 32 1 
during winter looked like a bombed-out city of World 
War II. The streets were deserted; windows were 
boarded up; the red brick had been blackened by fires; 
hanging tin flashing from cornices rapped against walls. 
When the warm days came, the streets teemed with kids 




Local youth directed by Tomie Arai (Cityarts): Wall of 
Respect for the Working People of Chinatown, 
1977, New York. 



322 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Alfredo Hernandez (City arts): 
Lower East Side, New York. 



El Sol Brillante, 1978, 



and unemployed men. Many of the buildings had been 
neglected, then abandoned by landlords; some were 
torched to collect insurance; some by the carelessness of 
addicts or the homeless who came and went. Roberto 
(Rabbit) Nazario, who directed the Adopt-a-Building 
homesteading program, and .Michael Freedberg, a Yale 
graduate who was to head the 11th Street Movement, 
persuaded unemployed residents along the street to go to 
work on 519 and the city to lend them the funds to buy, 
mortgage and renovate the structure. ^^ Collateral for the 
down payment was provided by sweat equity, the rehab 
labor of the workers, who in two years were able to move 
in with their families. To have employed a contractor 
and his crews would have cost three tirnes as much. With 
the help of the Energy Task Force, a private firm, the 
tenants cooperative installed heavy insulation, a solar hot 
water system and a windmill generator atop a thirty- 
four-foot tower on the roof which the local kids dubbed 



the "helicopter."^* The windmill produced enough elec- 
tricity to provide not only many of the needs of 519 but 
also a surplus that the Public Service Commission com- 
pelled Con Edison to purchase.^' By 1977 the 1 1th Street 
.Movement had given work and training to forty-five 
jobless neighbors, rehabbed six buildings along the 
street, and sponsored the intensive vegetable garden. 
There were plans for a neighborhood recycling center, a 
roof greenhouse, hydroponic farming, a small cannery, 
and a neighborhood cabinetmaking and furniture indus- 
try. A tank for fish farming was installed in the basement 
of 5 1 8 two years later. 

Early in 1979 Alfredo Hernandez was talking with the 
people of the 1 1th Street Movement about doing a mural 
for the facade of 5 19. What was important about this and 
his already completed garden mural was that they made 
explicit the connection of muralists with others who were 
also concerned with empowering people who had been 
led to believe they were powerless. These were efforts of 
local people to use their skills and learn new ones so that 
they could provide increasingly for their needs in a 
manner that they chose and could control. By refurbish- 
ing their own housing, producing some of their food and 
initiating local industry, they were being at least as 
creative as they were when making an image to express 
what was happening in their neighborhood. They were 
reshaping their mode of living and their consciousness of 
what they could achieve together. They were creating a 
community of labor and residence where before there 
had been alienation. While people of the 11th Street 
.Movement spoke of their self-reliant work and its ap- 
paratus as "appropriate technology,"^* their experience 
demonstrated that the term was also applicable to com- 
munity murals, for both depended' on labor-intensive 
methods that allowed for the creativity and control of the 
workers themselves. While murals before had frequently 
spoken to the issues of labor, here in Loisaida they were 
being painted in connection with a technology that 
shared their purposes and methods. Art was making 
contact with ordinary production, and work was taking 
on the character and satisfactions of art. This was occur- 
ring not because of any theoretical preconceptions of the 
participants, but because the untrained with the help of a 
few professionals had decided to grapple with the needs 
that society had failed to meet. Public funding still was 
necessary, but people were directing and carrying out 
their own development. Doing this collectively, they 
were beginning to recreate a society and culture. This 
was the direction that had been implicit in the mural 
movement from the beginning. 

Baltimore 

From 1976 into 1979 the "Beautiful Walls for Balti- 
more" program steered away from the little social content 
with which it began in 1975 and more toward decorative, 
semiabstract murals, works that however made some 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) / 323 



reference to local life. Pontella Mason did a sweetened 
Wall of Respect with portraits of Black leaders and 
celebrities rising above the clouds in a playground in 
1976, but this was not up to his earlier work with James 
Vosheil. In 1977 Neal Gallico painted a waiting room of 
a social-service office with anxious clients and a YMCA 
lobby with handsome vignettes of "Y" people. That year, 
too, Rodney Cook appropriately showed riders boarding 
a bus on a wall of a Department of Motor Vehicles office, 
and Avon Martin painted an energetic bright 
semiabstraction of a woman reaching forward in a senior 
citizens' residence. In 1978 in the lobby of another 
seniors' residence Gerardo Gomez depicted a gnarled 
tree in the center of which elderly people nestled glowing 
grain, the fruits of their labor. .Most of this work was of 
professional fine-arts quality, but it did not come to grips 




bert Hieronimus: All American City, 1977, Balti- 
')re. (Photo Hieronimus) 



with the problems that neighborhood people in Balti- 
more were organizing around at the time, particularly to 
save their areas from gentrification. None had the rough 
vigor of community-based work in which untrained local 
people collaborated with artists. Between 1975 and 1979 
Bob Hieronimus did about a dozen murals, a number for 
Beautiful Walls, and continued to turn his esoteric, 
visionary approach to local and national history. He took 
particular pride in a technique of transparent color in- 
cluding silver paint he developed to suggest motion in an 
outdoor work depicting Baltimore and its harbor, past 
and present. Painted in 1977, All American City is on the 
approach to Fort McHenry. 

Philadelphia 

Between 1976 and 1979 the Philadelphia .Museum of 
Art continued to assist community murals, and Don 
Kaiser and Clarence Wood remained as coordinators of 
work in the field. The Department of Urban Outreach 
had changed its name to Department of Community 
Programs, which Penny Bach headed. In 1979 Kaiser 
and Wood said that protraits of ethnic leaders in the 
manner of the Wall of Respect were still being requested 
and had been done in Italian and Eastern European 
neighborhoods. Wood had just completed a mural proj- 
ect at the Center for Older People where he helped those 
who went there for daily hot lunches create a French-cafe 
atmosphere. About a third of the murals Kaiser and 
Wood had helped with were in middle-class and affluent 
areas of the city. All in all, they had organized about one 
hundred murals and advised on three times as many since 
they had joined the museum in 1971. The continuation 
of the program and their employment by an establish- 
ment institution was unusual for artists who worked 
regularly on community murals. The explanation must 
lie partly in their professional skills and the museum's 
ability to raise funds. Also Wood and Kaiser's determi- 
nation to respond to what was asked of them by 
neighborhood people and their not regarding murals 
primarily as instruments of political consciousness rais- 
ing minimized the controversy their work might stir. In 
April, 1979, DCP sponsored a Wall Art Seminar for 
artists, architects, teachers, administrators, business 
people, and civic leaders. Beginning with talks on the 
history of wall art since the caves followed by workshops 
on the technical, funding and legal issues, the conference 
seemed oriented toward persuading the establishment 
that wall art could serve its priorities. 

Washington 

In 1967 Adams-Morgan was a run-down area with 
once fine houses near the more "desirable" areas of the 
Northwest section of the city. Since the fifties there had 
been about three thousand people of Latin American 
origin living there. But between 1967 and 1979 their 



324 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

number had grow n to eighty thousand, w ith a quarter of 
a million in greater Washington. They had come from El 
Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Ecuador, 
Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, and Bolivia. Many of them 
were "illegals," and lived in fear of deportation. It was 
estimated that as many as thirty-six thousand worked at 
night cleaning up the offices of the Federal bureaucracy. 
The Immigration Service arrested thirteen in its own 
agency. An even greater threat were the real estate 
speculators who in the late seventies were buying up the 
aging houses and renovating them for a more prosperous 
clientele. While Adams-Morgan was a lively area. 
Latinos also felt persecuted. But they created their own 
institutions and among them the Centro de Arte that 
operated workshops in graphics and music and also did 
murals. One of these was a large three-story work done 
in 1978 on the side of a bank that looked across a parking 
area towards a busy intersection. At the upper right 
skull-faced gamblers are playing with bucks and 
Monopoly-sized houses while kids scramble among gar- 
bage cans, other folks stare out windows or are locked to 
a fanged TV. Meanwhile one-eyed spirits haunt the 
mural suggesting the dream world of locals, Pancho 
Otero, one of the painters, says: the puzzle of their life in 



the United States full of anticipation and disappointment 
and memories of a home they had left for a better life 
here. But the painters also wanted to show how people 
came together through art, music, dancing, and 
friendship. At the left the artists added the caption "A 
People Without Murals Are a De-Muralized People," 
which in Spanish sounds even more like "demoralized." 
The humorously drawn squat figures that are a cross 
between cartoons, Picasso and the illustrations of an 
Aztec codex, were designed by Carlos "Caco" Salazar 
and painted with the help of his brother Renato, Otero, 
Jim Richter, May Foster, "Galo," and others. On 
weekends the painters invited passersby to join them on 
the scaffolding. The group had done additional murals, a 
portable work in Rock Creek Park, another at a legal aid 
office and a large indoor wall at the Centro Wilson where 
Latinos went for social services and recreation. Funds 
had to be scraped up, and they did not expect to do 
murals in 1979 but hoped to begin again the following 
year. They had received some assistance from the D.C. 
Commission on the Arts, which had operated a Wall 
Mural Program in the early seventies, and in 1979 was 
funding eight other muralists and twice as many assist- 
ants. 




Carlos Salazar, designer, painted with Renato Salazar, 
Pancho Otero, Jim Richter, May Foster, ''Gato,'' and 
others; caption by Carlos Baron: A people without murals 
are a de-muralized people, " 1978, Adams-Morgan section, 
Washington, D. C. 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) / 325 



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— 


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^fl//)/& Waldrop and crew: Forward Together (right), 

1977, and Growing Together (left, partial view), 

1978, Lancaster, South Carolina. 



South Carolina 

By the mid-seventies community murals had begun to 
be created outside the big cities where they had initially 
taken root. During the second half of the decade murals 
were done in outlying areas like Lancaster County, 
South Carolina, where Ralph Waldrop served as 
muralist-in-residence during 1976 and 1977, and directed 
students murals in every public school in the county. He 
also completed Forward Together, a ninety-seven-foot 



Ralph Waldrop and crew: Growing Together (partial 
view), 1978, Lancaster. 



work in downtown Lancaster that offered monumental 
figures based on random photographs of local residents. 
Its theme, he said, was a united community opposed to 
racism.^' In 1978 he directed a crew that painted the 
backs of thirteen shops on the main street with the images 
of Lancaster residents, which were reproduced from 
slides projected at night. Looking out on parking lots are 
oversized portraits of local kids and adults going about 
daily life. Blacks mix with Whites on the walls while in 
fact they live on opposite sides of town. On one wall a 
Black dentist bends over a patient and a Black police 
officer patrols while a White resident lounges absorbed 
in his newspaper. One wall is filled with blowups of 
children's drawings of themselves. Waldrop moved to 
Columbia in 1979 to continue his work. Describing him- 




326 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

self as a "hustler," he has been able to support his family 
doing socially concerned murals and involving people in 
embellishing their own spaces. He takes their pictures, 
holds photo contests through the press, publicizes pro- 
jects on local rV, and uses teenage paint crews. Working 
with a team of nine, he did twenty-six monumental faces 
for the International Year of the Child, taking three 
hours to prepare the long wall, three more for trans- 
ferring the images by slide projector at night, and three 
for painting the professional-looking two-tone, high- 
contrast faces. Between 1975 and 1980 he completed 
109 murals. 

Memphis 

The first community mural to be done here is also one 
of the most impressive of the national movement. A 
Tribute to Beak Street was completed in 1980 by a team of 
forty art students under the direction of Charles Davis 
and George Hunt as a project of Shelby State Commu- 
nity College. It was painted on the side of a clothing store 
within sight of the downtown pedestrian mall. The big, 
colorful wall traces the history of Black music from a 
stream of rainbow melody that issues from the horn of an 
African tribesman and turns into railroad ties, a piano 
keyboard, guitar strings, river waves churned up by a 
sternwheeler, and finally the folds in the gown of a blues 
singer. Along the way there are vignettes of Black slaves 
and cotton hands, gambling, W. C. Handy or Satchmo, 
Boss Crump, and Elvis, who got his start in blues. 
Davis says he did his first mural, Afro-Occidental Projec- 
tions in Miami in 1974 as part of an Art in Public Build- 
ings program, which he followed with other walls at the 
University of .Miami and the .Model City Cultural Arts 
Center, where murals are still being done. 



Atlanta 

Downtown Atlanta abounded with supergraphics in 
1976 when the first community mural penetrated to the 
edge of the area. Here Amos Johnson, Vera Parks, and 
Nathan Hoskins painted a Wall of Respect, a sequence of 
professionally executed Photo-Realist portraits of Col- 
trane, King, Douglass, Malcolm, Du Bois, Tut and 
African masks, Joe Frazier, Angela Davis, and Duke 
Ellington. The following year the facade of the Neigh- 
borhood Arts Center in one of the city's ghettos was 
embellished by a big panel with figures symbolic of 
different Black cultures done by a group of White and 
Black artists — Steven Seaberg, Amos and Truman John- 
son, and David Hammons. The murals continue on the 
inside where youngsters shared the work. John Riddle, 
the center's director, painted in 1975 and 1976 six large 
silhouette panels in the auditorium of the Shrine of the 
Black Madonna, the local religious and social service 
center of Black Christian Nationalism. In 1978 local 
Black muralists were to be paid for the first time with 
city funds. ^° The following year Lev .Mills saw mounted 
in a new MARTA subway station in a Black neighbor- 
hood a pair of handsome Mexican mosaic murals he 
had designed. 



Tuskegee 

Nelson Stevens came to Tuskegee in 1979. It was he 
who had done the faces that seemed to be alive with an 



Amos Johnson, Vera Parks, and Nathan Hoskins: Wall of 
Respect, 7976, Atlanta 





Problems and Promise (1976-80) / Ul 

Steven Seaberg, Amos and Truman Johnson, and David 
Mammons: Untitled, 1977, Neighborhood Arts Center, 
Atlanta. 



Nelson Stevens: Centennial Vision, 1980, Tuskeifee 
Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama. 



inner fireworks on the mural for the Black construction 
workers' hall in Boston's Roxbury in 1968. Between 1974 
and 1977, while teaching at the University of Massachu- 
setts, he directed thirty walls in Springfield done by his 
students with titles like / Am a Black Woman, Black Music, 
and The Old, the Young, and the Beautiful. He then went on 
to Howard University and was invited to the Tuskegee 
Institute to teach mural courses and do a major work for 
its centennial in the inner court of the new administration 
building. Painting on the two-story-high panel at night 
during the spring of 1980, he did portraits of Booker T. 
Washington, George Washington Carver, and Black 
leaders from Sojourner Truth to King against rhythmic 
maps of Africa, the United States, and Alabama as well 
as horticultural imagery. They are rendered in Stevens's 
accomplished style of weblike color but are tighter and 
more photographic than his earlier work. 

New Orleans 

Perhaps the only socially concerned mural to be 
painted here during the mid-seventies was The Contribu- 




tion of Blacks to Louisiana History, a large compendium of 
portraits and vignettes executed in 1975 at Southern 
Louisiana University by Jack Jordan, chairman of the 
Art Department, and Jean Paul Hubbard, a faculty 
member from the Baton Rouge campus. A compensation 
the city offered Treme after it wiped out a substantial 
part of the Black neighborhood for Louis Armstrong 
Park and a performing arts auditorium was a recreation 
center. There Richard Thomas was commissioned in 



328 / COMMUNITY MURAI.S 




1979 to do a mural, which he designed as a sequence 
of panels commemorating Satchmo. There are adept 
simulations of an early poster and photos and a funeral 
for him in the clouds, much of this airbrushed. On a low 
wall inside Thomas worked with young people whom he 
asked to paint what would pass before it, which resulted 
in a witty frieze of legs and hands. Thomas, who has 
done accomplished socially concerned easel work, has 
also completed murals for another rec center and a 
library. He was trying to make up his mind about a 
career as community muralist but felt out of touch with 
such artists around the country and isolated in New 
Orleans where, it seemed, he alone was doing social 
walls at the end of the decade. 



Other Murals in the East 

Phillip Danzig, who had worked on the Grant's Tomb 
mosaic benches in Manhattan in 1973, served as 
architect-in-residence in New Jersey during the second 
half of the seventies funded by the state Council on the 
Arts. Together with CETA youth he did a panel mural 
on the social struggles and strikes of 1911 and 1913, 
calling kPaterson, Past and Future, in Newark in 1977 he 
began a tile mural project with tenants of Columbus 
Homes public housing, who designed two-and-a-half- 
by-six-foot panels for the lobbies of six buildings.^' 

A number of Nelson Stevens's students went on to 
direct their own projects — Clement Roach and Clyde 
Santana for the New Jersey Arts Commission'^ and 
Arturp Lindsay in Hartford, Connecticut. Among the 
murals Lindsay did there was In Homage to Puerto Rican 
Historical Figures, which was painted with CETA assist- 
tants, and its progress was followed by the state's public 



Richard Thomas: Louis Ouis Lou, 1979, Treme Com- 
munity Center, New Orleans. 



TV.'' Meanwhile in New Haven Ruth Resnick and 
Terry Lennox were doing community murals with 
CETA youth, and in Norwich local muraiists worked 
on the City Hall and the Public Works building with the 
help of Eva Cockcroft. 

The Popular Arts Workshop organized in 1976 in 
Lansing, Michigan, did murals for a minipark depicting 
historical buildings of the community that had disap- 
peared, and went on to do another wall painting for the 
Lansing Center for the Arts and an underpass work 
inspired by the city's annual ethnic festival.^'* 

In Cleveland that year Gloria Mark, working with 
local young people in a multiethnic neighborhood, 
undertook a mural on an abutment with two monumental 
Black hands clasping across maps of Africa and the 
United States. They called it Afro-American Unity. Two 
months after completion red paint was splashed over it, 
but the artists decided to let this remain as a symbol of 
the struggles of Black people. Several months later one of 
the black hands was painted white, and this was allowed 
to stay as an appeal for cooperation. But when a swastika 
was added, Mark called neighborhood people together to 
discuss the defacement with the result that forty-five of 
them repainted the mural. In July 1977 the work was 
extended to 192 feet by adding symbols of the different 
cultures of local residents — Black, Hispanic, Native 
American, Asian, Eastern European, and Appalachian. 
Looking at them in opposite directions are a series of 
Janus-faces painted in colors representing the races. The 
artists now retitled their work Culture Rhythm, and it was 
not again defaced.'* 

Between 1972 and 1977 Cleveland was the scene of 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 329 




Local youth directed by Gloria Mark: Culture Rhythm, 
1977, Cleveland. (Photo Gloria Mark) 

dozens of murals with varied purposes and styles both 
downtown and in the neighborhoods. They were spon- 
sored by the Cleveland Area Arts Council under the 
directorship of Helen Haynes, and funding had come 
from the NEA, CETA, the local housing authority, and 
business. But muralists like Gloria Mark were dropped 
by the CAAC when it shifted in the direction of 
establishment art. In 1978 Mark met muralists from 
London and spent part of the following year painting 
with them in racially mixed areas of the English capital. 

Chicago 

During the second half of the seventies there was a 
new wave of mural activity in the Pilsen Barrio. A fire at 
Casa Aztlan in 1974 had destroyed some of Ray Patlan's 
work in the auditorium, and he departed for Berkeley the 
following year. Some of his murals were touched up and 
some replaced by Marcos Raya and others between 1975 
and 1978. Behind the stage Raya painted in a Photo- 
Realist, high-contrast style a march of local people com- 
ing forward, and next to it a draftsmanlike view of 
Mexican pyramids. In the stairwell Aurelio Diaz, bor- 
rowing from Siqueiros, did an impressive image of a 
worker whose massive fists are like the machinery he 
masters in contrast to a laborer on an adjoining wall who 
is chewed up and spat out on a conveyor belt. The 
pre-Columbian designs on the exterior of the building 
were renewed and portraits of leaders from Hidalgo to 
Che added. 

Between 1975 and 1978 more murals were painted 
throughout the neighborhood, particularly by Diaz and 
Salvador Vega, both of whom were members of 
MARCH (Movimiento Artistico Chicano). At Dvorak 
Park in 1976 a new very large work replaced the guerrilla 



mural indicting the police that Patlan and a gang had 
done years before. Now Vega, Diaz, Raya, and Juanita 
Jaramillo took on much more. The mural begins at the 
left with a midnight attack on Chicanos by hoods, politi- 
cians, businessmen, the Klan, police, and the military. 
An "illegal" is felled at the border, a worker is chained to 
a machine and a prostitute is sprawled on the ground. In 
the center beneath the .Mexican eagle struggling with the 
snake, a husband at the head of a throng vehemently 
bursts from the wall drawing his wife and daughter after 
him. And at the far right a mother is giving birth. 

The children's paintings on the retaining wall of the 
railroad embankment on Sixteenth Street were extended 
during 1977 and 1978 and older artists created a frieze 
that stretches for blocks. There is a monumental Olmec 
head and other sculptural pre-Columbian faces, the vis- 
age of Che, heraldic assertions of Chicano power, and a 
young woman raising her hand and calling out Yo soy 
Chicana. (I am Chicana). The work of Aurelio Diaz 
appears a number of times. Here and elsewhere in Pilsen 
he painted with young people, gangs and derelicts, be- 
lieving that although barrio people grew up without a 
sense of history, they had the heart to paint about their 
lives and through this learn about their past. Local people 
came to him not only to do art but to ask him his advice 
on what to read. Diaz was from Michoacan and spoke 
only Tarasco until he learned Spanish at fifteen and later 
came to this country to "learn about the U.S. system." 
By 1979 he had returned to .Mexico, but Casa Aztlan 
was hoping he would come back to work with Pilsen 
artists that summer on the mural at the new Benito 
Juarez High School that was finally to be funded after 
years of delay. 

Meanwhile in the Austin area of the West Side in 
1976, the Public Art Workshop continued its work. Mark 
Rogovin coordinated three murals in underpasses, giving 
experience to thirty CETA summer youth and 




Marcos Ray a: Untitled, 1975-76, Casa Aztldn, Pilsen, 
Chicago. 



Aurelio Diaz: Untitled, 1975-78, Casa Aztldn, Pilsen, 
Chicago. 



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Aurelio Diaz: Untitled, 1975-78, Casa Aztldn, Pilsen, 
Chicago. 





Salvador Vega, Aurelio Diaz, Marcos Raya, undjuanita 
Jaramillo: Untitled, 1976, Dvorak Park, Pilsen, 
Chicago. 



Dvorak Park Mural (partial view). 




332 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Aurelio Diaz, Oscar Moya, Mardoqueo Raygoza, Jorge 
Bdrcenas, and others: Yo Soy Chicana; Olmeca; and 
other titles, 1977, Sixteenth Street railroad embankment, 
Pilsen, Chicago. 



Caryl Yasko and Lucyna Radycki in cooperation with 
residents and construction workers (CMC): Roots and 
Wings, 1976, Southwest Side, Chicago. 




neighborhood volunteers. Themes related to a nearby 
library, the "Y," and the need for a day-care center. 
Support came from the Austin assembly and develop- 
ment corporation, a local church, and public agencies. 
Kathleen Farrell painted at an Amalgamated Clothing 
Workers day-care center; and PAW did mural workshops 
in Chicago elementary schools and advised inmates at the 
state prison at Michigan City, Indiana, on how to do 
portable murals that were to travel around the state. ^^ 

Caryl Yasko and Lucyna Radycki of the Chicago 
Mural Group opened new possibilities for murals in 1976 
on the Southwest Side with a work that combined a 
painted upper section with a lower part in cast concrete, 
for which local teenagers and adults carved forms out of 
styrofoam. These include a locomotive, a Polish eagle, a 
Sacred Heart, a Star of David, a mother and child, and 
musical motifs. From this soil a massive painted tree with 
faces representing different ethnic groups lifts itself. 
Further along the roots burgeon into trunks and branches 



that intertwine like two human figures joining arms. The 
main trunk embraces a mound that bears the inscription 
"There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. 
One is roots the other wings." And leaping up in the 
background amidst golden leaves is a winged horse. The 
mural was titled Roots and Wings. Cement was provided 
by a local contractor, and neighborhood concrete work- 
ers volunteered their skills. What was important about 
the technical innovation was that it provided the attrac- 
tion and means for many nonartists to participate in 
creating a local monument. 

The imagery of roots had a hold on popular conscious- 
ness at this time. It had been stimulated first by the 
ethnic rediscovery of heritage in the sixties that spread to 
Eastern European and other groups. There was the 
publication of^Alex Haley's book in 1976 and finally the 
Bicentennial. Clearly what lay behind much of this was 
the rootlessness of people in modern society. This imag- 
ery was handled in a different way by another CMG 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) / 3 3 3 




Roots and Wings (detail) 



Jose Guerrero, Celia Radek, and Cynthia Weiss (CMG): 
Fruits of Our Labor, 1976, Northwest Side, Chicago. 




334 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

mural that year that shows people of different races and 
ages working at the roots of modern society, which are 
also its productive apparatus — its ropes, pipes, gears, 
springs, nuts, and bolts that leaf out and blossom into a 
lush tree beneath which children are playing. The im- 
aginatively worked out details correspond to the two 
stories of the building it is painted on which has a shop 
downstairs and an apartment above. Artists Celia Radek, 
Cynthia Weiss, and Jose Guerrero called it Fruits of Our 
Labor. 

Also on the Northwest side that year, John Weber 
directed a youth team in a racially mixed neighborhood 
that painted monumental residents embracing their 
homes against a background of old-fashioned wallpaper. 
As smaller figures repaint walls and enjoy their leisure, 
others fend off the threats of speculators, arson, free- 
ways, and unemployment. A vignette of a pinball 
machine gave the mural its popular title: Tilt, but its 
official name is Together Protect the Community. When the 
painters found they had a few feet left over at one end, 
they added hanging mufflers to acknowledge the shop 
whose wall they were working on. 

Meanwhile Esther Charbit and local assistants painted 
Central Lakeview Tapestry on the side of a Woolworth's 
that wove together the over-life-size faces of residents in a 
high-contrast graphic style. The varied races and cul- 
tures of the neighbors enrich the composition, which was 
clearly the social as well as aesthetic point of the painters. 
Such neighborhood or school self-portraits were an early 
and have remained a continuing form of community 
murals. It has been a natural way for groups of people to 
affirm their bonds and provided an alternative to 
portraits of ethnic leaders and celebrities. 

One of the most beautiful and stylistically ingenious 
murals was A Time to Unite which Mitchell Caton, Calvin 



Jones, Justine DeVan, and assistants did on an old 
retaining wall in a Black neighborhood on the South 
Side. The time the clock at the center tells is the Bicen- 
tennial, and the mural combines motifs and styles of 
African and Black American culture with scenes of 
human solidarity. A colorful watchworks overlays Afri- 
can textile patterns and masks. African wall painting is 
juxtaposed to the patterns of the back porches and brick 
fronts of local apartment houses. Native dancers are done 
in hard-edge, high-contrast, while the tenement, har- 
monica and guitar duo and family at opposite ends are 
presented in a soft-focus, Photo-Realist manner. Al- 
though the family is in a painterly style, the little girl on 
her father's lap has a patterned dress that is flatly ren- 
dered to suggest African designs. Culture and heritage 
are the basis of the unity appealed for. The sensitivity of 
the craftsmanship is risked, however, by the block capi- 
tals of the caption, which are reminiscent of a movie 
poster. The muralists obviously sought to attract people 
passing on the boulevard, but to take the mural in 
requires that you stop and spend some time with it. It is 
then that the block caps become overbearing. It might be 
said, on the other hand, that the subtle painterly passages 
do not belong in outdoor work. But in fact this is a place 
where people stroll and wait for the bus, a good site for 
up-close viewing. The work demonstrates the aesthetic 
opportunities that community murals offer. 

On another retaining wall in the same neighborhood 
William Walker did a very simple but monumental work 
in 1976 and 1977 that he titled St. Martin Luther King. At 
first it appears to be a crucifixion of the Black leader, but 
as you look closer, you see that he is standing in a niche 



Local youth directed by John Weber (CMG): Together 
Protect the Community, 1976, Northwest Side, 
Chicago. 




Problems and Promise (1976-80) / 335 




Local people directed by Esther Charbit (CMG): Central 
Lakeview Tapestry, 1976, North Side, Chicago. 



Mitchell Caton, Calvin Jones, and Justine DeVan 
(CMG): A Time to Unite (partial view), 1976, South 
Side, Chicago. 




336 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




and stretching out his arms as if to expose the wrong he 
sees and to embrace it all. Much larger than life, this is a 
massive King, which, like his stare, conveys intense 
power. King, Sr., was on hand for the dedication. 

In 1977 Walker took on the court case of Delbert 
Tibbs, a Black man who had been convicted of murder in 
Florida in what many regarded as a frame-up. The 
conviction was appealed, and in an Illinois Central 
underpass in Hyde Park where middle class commuters 
walked by daily. Walker depicted Tibbs' attorney and 
supporters demanding a fair trial or release. In the center 
on a chessboard, a motif Walker frequently used, Tibbs 
is placed bound up in the black and white, rather than 
red, tape of legal argumetits. The chessboard is extended 
into the actual pavement, involving viewers. At the left 
are Tibbs' own words. Titling his work Justice Speaks, 
Walker contrasts the small figure of Tibbs with the sheer 
weight and entanglement of the legal establishment while 
the tunnel's concrete ceiling bears down. Tibbs was 
eventually released by the Florida Court of Appeals. 

In 1976, at the other end of the same viaduct at 
Fifty-seventh Street, Astrid Fuller, who had done murals 
at nearby underpasses in previous years, was seeking 
permission to do a sequence of panels on a subject she 
knew well — social work. Holding an M.A. in the field 
and having practiced for years, she wanted to depict the 
early achievements of the profession. But nearby con- 
dominium dwellers protested that they did not want 
"slum art" where they passed every day.'' The con- 



William Walker: St. Martin Luther King, 1977, 
South Side, Chicago, with the artist. 



troversy was aired in the press, and support for the 
mural, which was being sponsored by the National 
Association of Social Workers, came from International 
House, the Chicago Artists' Coalition, the Independent 
Voters of Illinois, and the Lawyers for the Creative Arts. 
Finally the way was cleared, and Pioneer Social Work was 
completed in 1977. In a series of scenes that combine 
realism and symbol, social workers are shown helping 
the poor struggle against slum life and the treadmill of 
industrial work. The campaign to separate the detention 
of juvenile and adult offenders is illustrated. Also de- 
tailed are the accomplishments of settlement houses: their 
teaching of English to immigrants and employable skills 
to women, their providing for community arts and rec- 
reation. Social workers are shown defending the civil 
rights of anarchists and campaigning, as Jane Addams 
did, against World War I. The work was carried out with 
the clarity and wit characteristic of Fuller. 

In 1978 working independently of the CMG, she did 
yet another underpass mural, this one at Sixtieth Street 
opposite her Rebirth of four years earlier. Her spirit of 
fantasy now turned the problems of unemployment into 
a pantomime and ballet in which a trellis of dollar signs 
separate the cultured haves and the desperate have-nots. 

In 1977 CMG artists could not qualify for CETA 
positions, and NEA funding was cut off. The group had 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) / 337 




William Walker: Justice Speaks, 1977, Hyde Park, 
Chicago. 



Astrid Fuller (CMC): Pioneer Social Work (partial 
view), 1977, Hyde Park, Chicago. 




338 / COMMUNITY MURAI.S 




to depend on other support, and Weber returned to the 
Express Car Wash billboard where the CMG had done 
its ACLU mural, which had now peeled and rotted. 
Rebuilding the surface, he undertook a new set of 
images — clashing eagles, a tangle of pipelines, firing- 
squad victims, and a sunlike African mask. It is a cryptic 
set of symbols that require some puzzling out, but they 
seem to add up to the struggle over the earth's resources, 
the repression of liberation movements, and the rise of 
the Third World.'* He called xt Prophecy . 

Also that year, Justine DeVan with the help of local 
artists painted an energetic Black Women Emerging on a 
retaining wall on the South Side across the street from 



Pioneer Social Work, (partial view). 



Caton's Nation Time. At the left African dancers carrying 
symbols of their culture and the liberation flag burst from 
the wall along with a rifle-bearing woman. In the center a 
woman with a diploma and another with a gavel look out 
hopefully, as symbols of the other professions women 
sought to enter hover close at hand. And at the right 
women break out of the ring of menial chores so that a 



John Weber (CMG): Prophecy, 7977, Northwest Side, 
Chicago. 




Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 339 




Justine DeVan with local assistants (CMG): Black 
Women Emerging, 1977, South Side, Chicago. 



mother has time to care for her children. Each of the 
well-drawn figures reaches by her gesture or gaze out of 
the wall. 

In Defense of Ignorance was the ironic title Mitchell 
Caton and Calvin Jones gave to a mural they did on the 
South Side in 1977 contrasting the pursuit of empty 
affluence with a meaningful life of service, which re- 
quired education. They attached the contemplative face 
of a modern Black man to the body of a Sphinx and 
added other symbols of African civilization to suggest the 
importance of knowledge of the past and the potential of 
Black people. While students are bending intently over 
their desks, an ostentatiously dressed Black businessman 
and his wife in white furs look about unsure of them- 
selves, implying the folly of running after nouveau riche 
trappings. At the far right the shadowy silhouette of a 
tearful Black profile is the scene of a conflict of arrows as a 
pencil is trying to open it up. This explicit criticism of 
the Black establishment by Black artists was new ground 
for murals. 

Holly Highfill, who had been painting independently 
for years among Appalachian migrants in Uptown, did 
Stop Arson for Profit in 1977 as part of a campaign to halt 
hired torches working for landlords who want to collect 
insurance on unprofitable apartment buildings. Here on 



a wall along a main shopping street racially mixed resi- 
dents are restraining an arsonist dressed in all-white garb 
with a torch in one hand and dollar bills in the other. 

In 1978 John Weber and Barry Bruner worked in a 
Puerto Rican barrio on the Northwest Side with eight 
CETA youths. They decided to paint directly on the 
large areas of plaster and brick of a three-story common 
wall that had been shared by a still intact building and 
rooms that had been demolished. Imaginatively treating 
these surfaces as just what they were, they painted a 
blown-up wedding photo hanging on a wall, a figure 
climbing steps and (against the brick) outdoor scenes of 
picketers for jobs, pedestrians at the actual corner bus 
stop, and the local piraguero with his snowcone cart. 
There were also protests against insurance red-lining, a 
scene of island music and a memorial to Roberto 
Clemente. They called their work Nuestras Vidas — Our 
Lives. At the lower left corner the painters added a small 
version of a mural Weber had directed in 1971 in another 
Puerto Rican neighborhood — Rompiendo las Cadenas 
(Break the Chains). The apartment house the work had 
been painted on was to be demolished and the mural 
became a symbol of the effort to save low-rent housing. 
Eventually demolition was blocked and local ownership 
became possible. 

A few blocks away from Nuestras Vidas other CMG 
artists, Jose Guerrero, Oscar Martinez and Judith 



34()/(:()MMUNI TY MURALS 




Mitchel Caton and Calvin Jones (CMC): In Defense of 
Ignorance, 1977, South Side, Chicago. 




Holly Highfill with local assistants: Stop Arson for 
Profit, 1977, Northside, Chicago. 



Motyka, painted Smash Plan 21, a protest of Chicago's 
project to redevelop the barrio and much of the inner city 
by the year 2,000, which would mean the eviction of 
present low income residents. Beneath the repeated 
monumental face of a young woman raising her chin in 
resistance, local people carrying a banner reading "Save 
Our Homes" go on to topple city hall. 

Rounding out Chicago murals for this period, Eugene 
Eda was at work in 1978 and 1979 on a free-standing 
porcelain enamel mural near the site where the Wall of 
Respect had been created. It was to be a four-winged set 
of walls six feet high and accommodating therefore eight 
sides of images, which included portraits of Black leaders 
and symbols of their achievements. Although Eda said he 
was less sympathetic to the Panthers than he had been 
ten years earlier, the model showed a black cat springing 
out of a "NOW." The anticipated cost was sixteen 
thousand dollars, which was being provided by the 
NEA, the Chicago Council on the Arts and various city 
departments. Eda himself was employed as a CETA 
artist-in-residence. He hoped to see the work completed 
in the fall of 1979 and intended to call it the Martin Luther 
King, Jr. , Memorial Wall. 

Other Midwest Sites 

Kathleen Farrell, who was associated with the Public 
Art Workshop in Chicago and had helped do the first 
community mural in Joliet in the mid-seventies, by 1978 
had directed or instigated fifteen murals there. That year 
on the side of a two-story building she led a team that 
included the local Teamster president, union members, 
and college students; Mark Rogovin and Barbara Russum 




Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 341 

helped. The wall, sponsored by the Will County Feder- 
ation of Labor and its Machinists Union, was a montage 
of men and women workers at their machinery and 
putting forward a union contract at the bargaining table. 
They called \t Justice on the Job. 

Rogovin had been carrying PAW activities yet further 
afield over the past two years by directing murals in 
Nebraska. In 1977 he did workshops at the state univer- 
sity in Omaha and the following year he was in Lincoln 
directing a mural with the inmates of a federal correc- 
tions facility, another at a Chicano community center 
and a third at the university. '' 

Meanwhile Caryl Yasko of the CMG was now in 
Wisconsin where with Niki Glen and John McNeilles 
she worked on a wall two blocks from the state capitol in 
Madison in 1977. The four-story surface was without 
windows but had three irregularly placed doors at upper 
levels that ojsened out into midair. But the artists incor- 
porated them into their design, taking them for what 
they were — doors that could be opened. The composi- 
tion turns them into the heads of comets that spring from 
a human brow like ideas, while the monumental face of a 

Eugene Eda with model (j/" Martin Luther King, Jr., 
Memorial Wall, 1979, Chicago. 



Kathleen Farrell, director, with trade unionists, college 
students, and Public Art Workshop: Justice on the Job, 
1978,Joliet. 



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342 /COMMUNITY MURAI.S 

golden woman looks up in anticipation, and the earth 
shrouded in a swirling cloud cover hurtles through space. 
All of this is rendered in beautifully transparent color 
that transforms the wall. The artists titled their work Our 
Search for Knowledge in an Everchanging Universe. It was an 
ingenious solution to the physical site and appropriate to 
the nearby university and capitol. 

Yasko used similar sweeping forms and transparent 
color in another large wall in a gym in Racine that she 
completed in the spring of 1979. 

Summary of the Fourth Period 

Murals between 1976 and 1979 began with a great 
number of works that were either officially sponsored by 
Bicentennial committees or that independently took up 
themes related to the anniversary. None of these done by 
veteran community muralists were jingoist. These paint- 
ers used the occasion to commemorate the contribution 
of working people and ethnic groups to the building of 
the nation and local life. Where before heritage murals 
were addressed mainly to a neighborhood, now they also 
turned outward toward the public at large, as in the case 
of the Tujunga Wash Mural and Our History Is No Mystery. 
While the occasion was taken advantage of to call for 
interracial cooperation of all those who had been dis- 
criminated against because of their race, sex, or income, 
it was also used to appeal for ethnic solidarity, as in the 
case of A Time to Unite. Rios, Machado, Maciel, and the 
Haight Ashbury Muralists took up the theme of "A 
Bicentennial without Colonies" and protested the misuse 
of U.S. economic and political power abroad, particu- 
larly in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Nicaragua. In Berkeley. 
A People's History of Telegraph Avenue memorialized the 
progressive struggles of the sixties. Other works Vike Roots 
and Wings, though not explicitly Bicentennial, arose out 
of the general interest in the heritage of local people and 
the resources it provided. 

Murals celebrating specific ethnic cultures continued 
to be painted during the latter half of the decade. There 
were the facade Monroe directed for the Afro-American 
Historical Society in San Francisco, Gaton's Blacks from 
Egypt to Now, Crumpler's Fire Next Time, Aliseo's Espiritu 
Latino, and the D.C. Latino work with the caption "A 
People Without Murals Is A De-Muralized People." But 
there were also mixed ethnic works affirming the varied 
cultures of people as a means of bringing them together 
like Commonarts' Song of Unity and the wall Hernandez 
did for the Plaza Cultural in Loisaida. The satisfactions 
and cooperation of racially diverse neighbors was the 
import of the widespread use of local portraits. In San 
Francisco Cervantes, Jamerson, and later the Precita 
Eyes Muralists also emphasized the bonds of community 
people to which their diverse backgrounds contributed. 

As earlier works, these ethnic and interracial murals 
had in common the defense and development of their 
working-class neighborhoods in line with their residents' 



priorities, which continued to be the main thrust of 
community murals in general. A Chicano Park pylon 
protested the inundation of junkyards. The Dvorak Park 
mural in Chicago's Pilsen showed the barrio under siege 
by the city power structure and fighting back. Re- 
peatedly murals demanded decent jobs and affordable 
housing. Wall art continued to be done to protest the 
destruction of moderate and low-income residences by 
renewal authorities, landlords' neglect, banks' red-lining 
and arson for hire. Weber's Tilt and City arts' Crear una 
Sociedad Nueva depicted neighbors' efforts to fend off 
freeways and real estate speculators. Works like Brad- 
ford's WAPAC mural called for the diversion of public 
funds from big investors to local construction firms and 
tenants using their own skills as equity to rehab their 
housing. 

Related to these community themes were those murals 
that embellished neighborhood institutions and defended 
public services on which people of modest incomes de- 
pended. City arts coordinated two murals protesting 
budget cuts for public education. In Chicago Caton and 
Jones distinguished between education that could pro- 
duce a civilization and the empty pursuit of private 
affluence. The walls of neighborhood health services, 
public and private, were painted by Carrillo, Rios, Her- 
ron, and the Nevels to persuade people to take advantage 
of them. On one, Thermann presented sexual freedom as 
a form of nurturing. Rios did a simple but impressive 
mural for a community law office and Fuller told the 
history of social work. The Commonarts muralists illus- 
trated the results of training at a skills center, and Breeze 
painted a celebration of sports for a San Francisco play- 
ground. 

Murals not only attacked the establishment because of 
chronic unemployment; works like Our History Is No 
Mystery and Black Women Emerging continued the call for 
the access "of women to all vocations including home- 
making for those who choose it. Our History, Farrell's 
Justice on the Job, and Schnorr and Yamagata's pylon 
on the lettuce pickers' strike reaffirmed the importance of 
labor organizing. 

An increasing number of prisoners' murals were as- 
sisted by professional artists such as Rogovin in Indiana 
and Nebraska, the Nevels and Patlan in Oakland, 
Gayton, Bergman and Williams in San Francisco, and 
de Vargas in San Diego; in the San Fernando Valley, 
SPARC worked with juvenile offenders at Tujunga 
Wash. 

The concern of muralists for human well-being led to 
works dealing with their wider environment. The Berke- 
ley Co-op Winds of Change not only extended the audi- 
ence of murals to a broad middle and working class 
clientele but presented their efforts as consumers as part 
of a larger struggle of nature itself against the squander- 
ing of life. Works around the country warned against 
pollution and the ravaging of the whole ecosystem, in- 
cluding whales. The turning of science and research 



toward the health of humankind was contrasted by Her- 
ron with the doubtful value of the tangle of freeways, 
space travel, and the bomb while poverty prevailed in the 
barrios. In Los Angeles Bravo was concerned with the 
humanizing of technology, and Hernandez on the Lower 
East Side connected murals with inner-city farming, 
local solar and wind energy, and the cooperative rehab- 
bing of tenements by tenant owners. And the China 
Books mural in San Francisco suggested related forms of 
cooperative labor. Judy Baca and the SPARC artists who 
created the Survival Sunday mural made explicit that the 
quality of life and work that the people who produce 
society's wealth get, the character of their housing and 
whether they have jobs at all, are political decisions that 
they would have to control before their needs were met. 
Exhibiting the mural at the antinuclear rally made clear 
also that these questions were closely connected with the 
kind of energy and technology society depended on and 
who decided. Murals were thus making contact with 
forms of production that could be operated and con- 
trolled by neighborhood people, kinds of work, and 
technology that responded to real human needs, includ- 
ing those of expression. Wall art was providing an 
example itself of collective work in the community. 

During this period in some cities murals had become 
mainly decorative, and in other places there was danger 
that they would become knee-jerk responses to patriotic 
or even ethnic pieties. The Bicentennial encouraged this, 
but it was a passing event and would have no long-term 
effect on murals. A more serious concern was expressed 
during a discussion in 1978 of local artists and labor 
organizers at the Logan Barrio's Hermandad Mexicana. 
Al Johnson, a Chicano and member of the barrio's plan- 
ning association, conceded that the indio imagery of the 
murals was important in reestablishing roots. But he 
wanted to see murals explicitly address current issues. 
And his listeners agreed that they would like to see more 
like the portable labor mural of Salvador Torres that 
hung nearby and had been carried in demonstrations and 
served as a backdrop at rallies. 

Ethnic symbols, as well as fists, chains, and doves, had 
lost their ability to promote reasoned action when not 
focused on specific issues. Supporters of murals jwinted 
out that ethnic heritage was sometimes treated uncriti- 
cally and involved bad history. There was the risk that 
the past and its symbols would become merely orna- 
mental and picturesque, and that the establishment was 
pressing muralists into that position. This is what had 
befallen the Mexican mural movement since the sixties. 
These questions will be examined in more detail later, 
but they arose in the mid-seventies and contributed to 
disagreements among muralists. As we saw, the Galeria 
de la Raza in San Francisco withdrew from sponsoring 
murals in 1976 because of the judgment of the staff that 
they were no longer coming to grips with the tough 
problems that confronted local people. The Galeria 
turned instead to posters and billboards because it 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 343 

thought they could be more topical and relevant due to 
the simplicity and cheapness of producing them; 
moreover, the approval of the authorities was not re- 
quired. 

There was increasing criticism by veteran muralists of 
the self-absorption of some newcomers who used paint- 
ing in public as a way of doing something "trendy" and 
only advancing their private careers. Victor Ochoa, di- 
rector of Chicano Park painting, said in 1978 that some 
pylons in recent years had been done without sufficient 
sensitivity to the barrio's feelings. Both Salvador Torres 
there that year and Rene Yaiiez in San Francisco already 
in 1976 were concerned that CETA, while providing 
needed funds, also had made it possible for some 
muralists only to go through the motions of responding 
to the communities they worked in. Real responsiveness 
was extremely demanding, especially for artists trained 
to individualist habits of work. Some softening of com- 
mitment was likely when painters became itinerant pub- 
lic employees, as frequently happened under CETA, 
without personal attachment to local people or a 
muralists' group that had frequently worked in a par- 
ticular area and felt a responsibility to it. Still there was 
widespread conscientiousness among the muralists, and 
new socially concerned groups like Commonarts, 
SPARC, and Precita Eyes Muralists had come into exis- 
tence during this period. 

Community muralists disagreed concerning whether it 
was necessary to take an explicit social or political point 
of view in their painting, and further whether a mural 
should express the local consensus or what they regarded 
as the most progressive ideas in the community to edu- 
cate or even challenge local opinion. But many of those 
who continued to paint in the neighborhoods did so out 
of social conviction and regarded murals as instruments 
of raising consciousness and urging activism. They saw 
themselves as artists using their craft in a long-term 
political struggle to help workers and community people 
gain control over their lives. 

During the winter of 1978-79 a number of muralists, 
among them Lucy Mahler and Eva Cockcroft and the 
new director of Cityarts, Kathleen Gupta, observed that 
neighborhood people now wanted affirmative works and 
proposals for change rather than political protest. Weber 
agreed that there were "fewer fists." This desire for more 
positive statements was reflected in new work connected 
with community vegetable gardens, sweat equity hous- 
ing, appropriate technology, and health care. The group 
portraits of neighbors might be short on concrete pro- 
posals but they celebrated their bonds and encouraged 
their working together. 

Among muralists generally there was increased inter- 
est in technique. At the Second National Mural Confer- 
ence in Chicago in 1978, presentations were made on the 
use of porcelain enamel, cast concrete, and mosaics.*" 
Luis Arenal, director of the Taller Siqueiros in Cuer- 
nevaca, Mexico, described the methods of e/ Maestro, and 



344 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

they were demonstrated by his coHeagues who held a 
week-long workshop after the conference. One person 
suggested that first-rate technique might quiet censor- 
ship. This current of interest gave rise to the concern of 
some that a preoccupation with formal matters over the 
content of murals might be on the rise, which was seen as 
running counter to the spirit of the movement. 

While there may be some cause for concern here, most 
of these technical experiments in materials and design 
were being made in fact by politically committed 
muralists, such as Caryl Yasko, who had worked with 
cast concrete, and the Commonarts painters who were 
shortly afterwards to work in high relief with papier- 
mache. Although technical matters always present the 
possibility of distracting artists from the social function 
of murals, so far most experiments with materials and 
design were undertaken as a means of improving the 
social effectiveness of art. The most important technical 
questions were concerned not only with a more expres- 
sive image but also with how to develop the process of 
working with the community. For instance, Cityarts' 
early use of the Polaroid camera and silhouette pro- 
jections as a means of helping untrained young people 
produce effective images was an important technical 
achievement. John Weber in the fall of 1978 spoke with 
enthusiasm of the mural he had worked on with Barry 
Bruner and a youth team during the summer in which 
they used the old plaster and brick together with painted 
elements. He said he felt a "tremendous need to experi- 
ment." That he was able to satisfy this in a mural in 
which nonprofessionals participated points to the merg- 
ing of aims that is characteristic of the mural movement. 
For it has sought to meet demands for artistic as well as 
social development, which has included the community 
being involved in making art. The fundamental 
technological challenge remains how murals can help 
change the everyday work and life of a community not 
only by their messages but also by their example as a 
collective and responsible mode of production. 

But there was more to the problem of technique. 
Weber in 1979 raised an issue that has increasingly 
absorbed many of the veterans: "It is impossible for me to 
go much further investing myself in non-permanent 
work," he said. "Consider that by the end of the century 
all but three or four of my major works for a period of 40 
years will be gone. . . . We haven't solved that yet." 
This concern was given point by the disintegration or 
destruction of some of the best work of the 
movement — the first Wall of Respect, Walker's Black Love 
and Packinghouse Worker, Caton's Nation Time, Rogovin's 
Protect the People's Homes, Okada's Chinatown Today, and 
many more works. There had been a continuing search 
for more durable materials, but already at the 1978 
muralists' conference the question was asked as to 
whether it was important for murals to survive as long as 
museum pieces, whether their function was not to serve 
the immediate needs they were designed for — it might be 



for only a few years — and then to be replaced. Such a 
possibility seemed to be a blow to an artist who devoted 
most of his efforts to murals, a blow which photographs 
could hardly assuage. There was also the loss of some 
great art that could continue to move and instruct view- 
ers. At the same time the absorption with finding "per- 
manent materials," it was realized, could interfere with 
murals getting done and speaking out quickly on the 
urgent issues that needed to be addressed. The only 
long-lasting murals were those done indoors or with 
monumental material — concrete, mosaic, tile, and baked 
enamel. These, like the more permanent paints, were 
expensive and therefore not readily available to meet the 
immediate needs of communities. Until reasonably 
priced media were developed, muralists would have to 
choose between priorities or do both ephemeral and 
longer-lasting works. 

By 1980 the community mural movement had been 
building for thirteen years. There had been the initial 
improvisations, many of them militant, during the first 
years of ethnic and cultural nationalism. Then followed 
the consolidations of the veterans of these early struggles 
into organizations for a second and much broader surge 
of activity, which was the result of inner-city groups 
discovering the utility of murals for building community 
consciousness on a widening range of issues. They cul- 
minated in a third stage characterized not only by the 
spread of mural activity but especially by large ensemble 
undertakings or the multiplying of works in particular 
areas. What marked a fourth stage was not only a con- 
tinued broadening of subjects and at least a shift away 
from protest in some areas in the last few years, but also 
the reaching of new groups of people by murals. Bicen- 
tennial and CETA funding made it possible for socially 
conscious muralists to do public art where it had not been 
done before. By 1978, although the dramatic expansion 
of the early and mid-seventies in concentrated areas had 
settled down, there was a more general spreading of 
mural activity within cities and around the country. But 
this was partly due to the drying up of opportunities in 
old areas and the painters' search for new ones. New 
problems and uncertainties that had been building since 
1974 began to be felt with special depth two years later. 
The easiest to identify were the threats to funding. These 
came first with the tapering off of NEA support, which 
was initially made up by Bicentennial funds and CETA. 
But the allocations for the nation's anniversary were 
quickly exhausted, and then the CETA money faltered 
as its requirements severely restricted who could be 
hired, or it became vulnerable to the manipulation of 
local politics and the arts establishment. This will be 
explored later. Meanwhile as early as 1976 muralists 
were among the first to experience the fiscal crisis of the 
cities as local funding was threatened. In 1978 a tax- 
payers' revolt in California brought an end to the funding 
of City wide Murals by the city of Los Angeles. The 
following year all the CETA murals in San Francisco 
were to be terminated. 



Cityarts in New York by 1978 was obliged to depend 
on the organizations that it co-sponsored murals with to 
bear half the costs — more than ever before. It was unable 
to secure sufficient funding to support a number of its 
veteran artists and was compelled to take on new painters 
who had CETA appointments, while it also had to seek 
out muralists' assistants who were willing to work un- 
paid. It was able to maintain the continuity of the group 
by asking old timers to serve on its board of directors. A 
great deal of time was taken up by pursuing grants. 
Alfredo Hernandez observed that one of the reasons that 
Cityarts was doing work outside the Lower East Side, 
which had been its turf, was the need to seek out new 
sjX)nsors. This of course risked the thinning of Cityarts 
involvement in its community, although projects did 
continue there in 1978. Kathleen Gupta said in 1979 that 
Cityarts still was committed to its immediate neighbor- 
hoods and their economic development and that the 
group was trying to work through the contradiction 
between the breadth and depth of its involvements. 

Veteran muralists were being lost to the movement at 
least temporarily. Tomie Arai, until 1978 director of 
Cityarts, retired from full-time involvement because she 
said she needed to work on her own development as an 
artist. Alan Okada, a codirector before her, said that he 
had not done a mural since 1975 because of the drifting 
away of other veteran artists and he did not want to work 
with the untrained, which he believed would have inter- 
fered with his own growth. Strongly committed to 
political art, Okada felt that that thrust had faded in 
murals and that more was being done in graphics. 
Moreover, murals, he said, were getting too expensive 
and a single work often took eight months of arrange- 
ments before you even got to the wall. Other mural 
veterans who were still working at wall art, Lucy 
Mahler, Eva Cockcroft, and John Weber also spoke of the 
need to do more personal art. Cockcroft's easel art was 
concerned with women's role in the Iranian Revolution 
of 1979, and Weber's dealt with the Thai rising of two 
years earlier in which one of CMG's earlier members, 
Santi Isrowuthakul, was involved. 

In early 1979 Weber said that it was "a miracle that the 
CMC lasted as a large co-op," with most of its members 
staying with it for years; however, he suspected that "we 
only have a few more seasons left in us as a group." "But 
who knows?" he added. He believed that if the organiza- 
tion could no longer provide work for its regular artists, it 
would not perpetuate itself administratively, for in- 
stance, by taking on new CETA artists, for it was at 
heart a collective. Weber said that he thought community 
murals were after all perhaps a young artist's field be- 
cause of the difficulty of supporting a family by them. It 
was his impression that few new Black artists had gotten 
involved with murals since 1972 with the exception of 
those stimulated by Nelson Stevens in Massachusetts. 
Five years, it seemed to him, was the limit of the 
involvement of most muralists. (In fact, most of the more 
accomplished muralists have stayed with it longer.) 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 345 
Monique Goss, who had to leave "Beautiful Walls for 
Baltimore" in 1978 after three years with it as a muralist, 
two as director, because her CETA salary expired, de- 
scribed the federal program as a "dead end" that "gives 
artists a temporary sort of false security." The fifty 
muralists who had been through Beautiful Walls were 
now stepping over each other, she said, trying to find 
jobs in the private or public sectors. She had turned to 
seeking mural work from business, trying to persuade 
restaurants, shopping malls, and retail shops to substi- 
tute quality art for the large commercial signs that iden- 
tify their premises. As early as 1976 Wayne Cambern, 
who had done the humorous mural of an Italian/erfa, was 
painting portraits of the independent merchants who 
purvey vegetables, meat, and fish at the Lexington 
Market, a large, old-fashioned food emporium. The 
aproned tradesmen stood out on the big inside walls against 
vignettes of schooners, local landmarks, a monumental 
strawberry shortcake, and other edibles. Hieronimus 
decorated the meeting room of the other building of the 
market with two centuries of the city's notables enjoying 
local produce. Elsewhere he was doing decorative work 
that identified a haberdashery without lettering. Simi- 
larly the Galena de la Raza was helping Mission District 
artists find small commissions to do Raza decorations on 
nearby shops. While some of these projects supported 
local identity, their contribution to social awareness 
risked passing into picturesque decoration. Back in Bal- 
timore, Monique Goss, who was having to paint authen- 
tic ducks around the rotunda of a suburban mall, said 
that she felt trapjjed between her desire to do socially 
responsible and quality art on the one hand and survival 
on the other. 

John Weber reported that much of the trade-union 
support for murals in Chicago was fading in 1978; at best 
it had depended on a few progressives in the Amalga- 
mated Meatcutters and United Electrical Workers un- 
ions. However, he was planning to do a mural for the 
Illinois Labor History Society in 1979. While unions had 
assisted murals in Chicago and Joliet, nationwide or- 
ganized labor had not provided the support it could be 
exjiected to give. But as the seventies came to a close 
there was increasing interest in working class culture by 
unions, the film industry, and researchers. Charles 
White, the Black muralist and graphic artist of the previ- 
ous generation, was to receive a retrospective exhibit that 
unfortunately became a posthumous one presented by 
District 1199 Hospital and Health Care Employees as 
part of a two year "Bread and Roses" program it was 
launching concerned with working-class art, drama, and 
films. 

Censorship, overt and implicit, during this period was 
increasing, as murals became more common and city 
halls became the principal conduits of their public fund- 
ing. Early in 1979 Weber in Chicago and Gupta in New 
York both were saying that what they perceived as a 
decline in community activism was having an effect on 
murals. Weber observed that it was quiet in the 



346 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Wayne Cambem: Lexington Market Murals (partial 
view), 1976, Baltimore. 

neighborhoods that the CMG had painted in and that 
there was little leadership to organize residents. He 
added that while muralists could take satisfaction in 
having contributed to ethnic and working-class people 
coming to regard community art as a right, the local 
power structure had succeeded in integrating this expec- 
tation into programs it could dominate, like the 1 percent 
of the expenditure on public buildings set aside for art, 
which Chicago adopted the previous year. He believed 
that the grass roots were losing the initiative in the 
making of its art. The city's community arts program, 
which received half of its funding from the federal gov- 
ernment, was, like CE FA, manipulated by bureaucrats 
and would become, he feared, part of the patronage 
system of the political machine. Weber said that he felt 
that the sense of community relationship was growing 
weaker overall, though not uniformly. "Still," he ob- 
served, "the popular base is there and mural work of 
some kind is bemg done virtually everywhere." 

Fhere had been reverses during the mid-seventies in 
the response to the pressure of minority people for jobs 
and education, and they continued to provide the low- 
income labor pool that industry could draw on according 
to its needs. Racial segregation in the neighborhoods and 
local schools of the North was greater than twenty-five 



years earlier w hen the Supreme Court ordered schools to 
desegregate "with all deliberate speed. "^* But the appar- 
ent exhaustion of activism in some arteas where muralists 
had painted did not extend to other neighborhoods, 
unions, and groups where energies were replenished and 
murals were sought after. Hispanics in particular across 
the country strengthened their organizing not only in 
politics but also to secure public funding for community 
art. After the waning of the peace and civil-rights 
movements in the mid-seventies, progressive grass-roots 
organizing and community self-help projects were on the 
rise towards the end of the decade. Moderate-income 
residents were now fighting gentrification as low-income 
people had before to prevent their displacement by urban 
renewal. Working-class people and the poor were or- 
ganizing to renovate housing, install appropriate technol- 
ogy, and experiment with urban farming. Working and 
middle-class people resisted the raising of rents and with 
increasing frequency waged successful campaigns to 
create citywide rent control. There were growing de- 
mands for the restoration or improvement of public 
services, particularly in education, health, and commu- 
nity arts. While one-fifth of U.S. electric utilities were 
publicly owned, pressure mounted to convert more, and 
important victories were won in securing lifeline rates for 
seniors. Election reforms after Watergate included grass- 



roots efforts to replace downtown supported at-large elec- 
tions of city councils with neighborhood representatives. Al- 
though gay people around the country lost some elections 
to protect their rights, they nevertheless felt freer than 
ever before to speak out openly, and they became a 
political force to reckon with. The proportion of or- 
ganized workers in the national workforce was declining, 
but this was countered by the growth of unions among 
farm, clerical, and public service workers and teachers 
from elementary to university levels. Stronger, too, was 
the rank-and-file movement that had begun in the sixties 
to democratize unions by making leadership accountable 
and requiring membership approval of contracts. In- 
creasing wildcat strikes were an expression of local au- 
tonomy especially in the face of efforts by management, 
government, and some labor officials to write no-strike 
contracts. And the new White middle-class activism that 
was quickening around the issue of nuclear energy was 
being connected by murals with the problems of the 
ethnic working class. As the elections of 1980 approached 
and many who had voted before for the ostensibly liberal 
party became increasingly disenchanted, new coalitions 
were forming among labor, the minorities, consumer 
groups, and socially concerned professionals. A widen- 
ing range of people, among them those who waited in 
lines at filling stations, became aware that they were 
being exploited by the corporate power structure. There 
was also a revival of the conviction that had survived 
from the sixties that if politics were to serve local needs, 
it had to be locally based, and that for democracy to 
function, it had to be a full-time concern of people at 
work and in their neighborhoods. The upshot of all this 
for murals was that the issues of the late seventies that 
were becoming the issues of the eighties required a 
medium of local expression and offered broadened op- 
portunities for wall art. 

The Second National Mural Network Conference in 
1978 demonstrated the continuing vitality of the move- 
ment by its drawing people from all over the country. ^^ 
Presentations were made by muralists from areas which 
had not been represented before — Saint Louis, Cleve- 
land, Brooklyn and South Carolina. And artists came not 
only from Mexico but also from Britain, where commu- 
nity murals had sprung up during the seventies in part 
from the example of the United States. The conference 
gave further proof of the interest of artists who were 
deeply involved in their localities at the same time to 
learn from others working elsewhere. The muralists 
could look back on a dozen years of remarkable achieve- 
ment. There were also serious problems that confronted 
them, but as in the past there were the artists' imagina- 
tion and energy. 

The path towards a solution of these difficulties would 
have to begin with strengthening the relations between 
muralists and the communities they work in. The mutual 
support that artists and communities could provide each 
other had only been partially explored. Whether skilled 



Problems and Promise (1976-80) I 347 

craftspeople could find in the neighborhoods and local 
institutions the opportunities for a new kind of personal 
growth and whether communities could find in murals 
a significant part of their communications and educa- 
tional media was still being tested. These questions also 
turned on whether communities could gain adequate 
economic and political control over their own existence. 
The muralists were contributing to this autonomy in 
ways that went beyond the impact of their images. Some 
of the painters, although they moved from area to area, 
were in fact doing community organizing in the course of 
working with residents to produce a mural, while others 
who did most of their painting in one community fre- 
quently took an active part in its politics. The long-term 
involvement of the muralist in a particular area, using his 
organizational abilities to help build local institutions and 
independence, was also a means of mobilizing support 
for the public funding of murals and against censorship. 

This direction seemed to offer promise, particularly 
since neighborhoods were beginning to demand public 
appropriations for the community arts. In general artists 
in the past had had to bear the main burden of finding 
funds for murals that were intended to benefit the whole 
community. But the time was arriving when local people 
would share that responsibility. As early as 1968 the 
Alvarado School parents secured art instruction for their 
children which eventuated in school murals, and since 
then community people in San Francisco had pressed 
also for neighborhood art centers. In Los Angeles letters 
to city hall from the neighborhoods made possible the 
funding of Citywide Murals for two additional years. In 
1978 the chairman of the California Arts Countil said 
that its meetings were being lobbied by neighborhood 
people. But even if they were successful, they would 
have to make certain that they retained control of the art 
in their areas and that it did not become manipulated by 
city hall and big business. A new arts constituency was 
taking shape, and the muralists could provide leadership. 

The muralists were also experimenting with the model 
of the professional as a facilitator of community-based 
production and technology, helping local laypeople de- 
velop abilities to take large roles in providing services for 
themselves and their neighbors. Similar efforts to em- 
power people and make them less .dependent on experts 
and administrators were occurring in education, health, 
and the law, and the muralists were working with them. 
With their roots in the community and connections to 
related art and social action close at hand and in distant 
places, the muralists were seeking to carry forward a 
cultural revolution that they had helped begin. 



NOTES 

1. Helaine Seletsky, "Brown and the Arts," Bicentennial Arts 
Biweekly, June 27, 1975, p. 1. 



348 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

2. From ''Aims," N.MN (National Murals Newsletter), no. 1, 
1977, p. 1. 

3. McBride, p. 17. 

4. Postscript to .Michael Rossman, "Testimonial to a 
Dream," California Living section, San Francisco Sunday Exam- 
iner and Chronicle, October 24, 1976, p. 8. 

5. Peter Kyehl, "Big Blue Whale Spared by S.F. Fire 
Commission," 5'a« Francisco Chronicle, January 27, 1977, p. 13. 

6. "Walls of Fire," Arts Biweekly (San Francisco), June 15, 
1977, p. 1 ff. 

7. Ibid., p. 6. 

8. Reported Ann Thielen, CETA Artists & Gardeners 
Coordinator, San Francisco Art Commission. 

9. George Benet, "A Citizen of Art," The Express (Berkeley), 
December 8, 1978, p. 3. 

10. "La .Vlexicana: site for new Chicano mural," La Cronica 
Latina (Berkeley), August 18, 1978. 

1 1 . Emmanuel .Montoya, "San Mateo County," NMN, no 
3, 1978, p. 15. 

12. Reported by Rafael Sanchez, "Crusade Leader Says: 
'We Can Save Ourselves!' " Chicano Federation of San Diego 
County, June 1978, p. 3. 

13. Ibid. 

14. Some of this information is drawn from "Seattle Stu- 
dents Reclaim Mural," Common Sense, San Francisco, June 
1975, p. 13. 

15. Glenn Troelstrup, "Former Delinquent Paints His Way 
Out of A Corner ," Denver Post , April 23, 1977, p. 2. 

16. Virginia Culver, "Church's Secession Depicted on 
Canvas," Religion News Weekly, p. 1, Denver Post, June 24, 
1977, p. 1. 

17. Art in Public Places (catalog). New Mexico Arts Divi- 
sion, 1978. 

18. NMN, no. 1, 1977, p. 4. 



19. Ibid. 

20. Notes on 2d National Muralists' Network Confer- 
ence, 1978, p. 6. 

21. NMN, no. 1, 1977, p. 4; NMN, no. 2, 1978, p. 4. 

22. NMN, no. 1, 1977, p. 4. 

23. NMN, no. 2, 1978, p. 4. 

24. Stewart Dill McBride, "Tenants tilting at windmills — 
and winning," Christian Science Monitor, September 23, 1977, 
p. 16. 

25. Ibid., p. 14 ff. 

26. Robert Nazario, Foreward, "Windmill Power for City 
People," New York: Energy Task Force, 1977. 

27. McBride, p. 14. \ 

28. Ibid., p. 15. I 

29. NMN, no. 2, 1978, p. 4. | 

30. Ibid. 

31. NMN, no. 2, 1978, p. 11. 

32. John Weber, "Community Murals: An Update," New 
Art Examiner (Chicago), May 1978, p. 7. 

33. NMN, no. 2, 1977, p. 2. 

34. Ibid. 1 

35. Ibid. 

36. Rogovin and Russum, Report to NEA, November 15, 
1976. 

37. NMN, no. 1, 1977, p. 6 and no. 2, 1978, p. 6. 

38. NMN, no. 2, 1978, p. 7. 

39. Rogovin and Russum, Report to NEA, November 15, 
1977 and 1978. 

40. Notes on 2nd National Community Muralists' Network Con- 
ference, 1978. 

41. David Chambers (University of Michigan professor of 
law and president of the Society of American Law Teachers) 
"Troubling School Integration Case" World Section, San 
Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle, August 5, 1979, p. 46. 



PART II 
MEANS 




William Walker's sunshaded scaffolding for History of 
the Packinghouse Worker, Chicago, 1974. 



PROCESS 



Professional Murals 

William Walker was sketching in the first lines on the 
priming of what was to become The History of the Packing- 
house Worker on the wall of the Amalgamated Meatcut- 
ters' local in a Black neighborhood on Chicago's South 
Side. A young man rode up on a bicycle and asked if he 
could help. They chatted and Walker suggested that he 
go home and bring back some examples of his art; if they 
were promising, the painter would help him get started 
on another wall. Here he wanted to work out some 
problems by himself. In general this is how Walker has 
worked, and he has been generous with his advice and 
help to others. There have been a few collaborations with 
other artists — The Wall of Respect, the Detroit murals and 
the later Daydreaming — but his work typically has been 
on his own. 

Shortly after the offer of assistance, five young men 
came by with both suspicion and curiosity in their eyes. 
What was he doing, they asked. Walker, who was in his 
late forties and beginning to gray, was, as others have 
described him, above all a gentleman with a strong sense 
of propriety and serious respect for people. In a slow, 
measured way he thanked them for coming up and asking 
about his work. He explained that he was doing a mural 
for the meatcutters' union. It was about the union's 
history and struggle for dignity, a struggle by people of 
many races including Blacks. He wanted them to ap- 
preciate the importance of the struggle, he said, and the 
importance of the mural, which would become part of 
the neighborhood. It was important, he went on slowly, 
for them to respect the mural and take care of it. His 
listeners were clearly being won over. One of them said 



that he was a sign painter. He looked at Walker's brushes 
and they began talking shop. Finally, Walker again laid 
on them their responsibility to take care of the mural and 
asked them to come by again to talk. 

Community murals are not only of and for ordinary 
people, they are also by them. But the neighborhood or 
the members of sponsoring groups participate in a variety 
of ways. Often the artist is a resident, or lives close 
enough to understand the area well, and he comes to be 
known and trusted, as in the case of Walker. Frequently 
the painter is commissioned by a community group, as 
Walker was by the union. The artist consults perhaps 
only with its officers who indicate what they would like 
and require the approval of his design before he moves to 
the wall. In other cases the artist makes a presentation at 
a membership or community meeting. Fie may show 
slides of his work and the murals of others. He may 
request members to suggest themes and ideas for the 
design. He will return to check his proposal with the 
officers or membership and then do the wall entirely by 
himself, perhaps with one or two assistants. Some of the 
most sophisticated and moving murals have been done in 
this manner. In these instances the artist is often highly 
experienced and wants to achieve the best he can in terms 
of his personal expression of local concerns. 

In San Francisco's Mission District murals during 
their first years were done almost exclusively by young 
professional painters who worked either separately or as 
teams. They did not seek extended discussion with the 
members of their sponsoring group and did not invite 
nonartists to participate as assistants. They lived in the 
.Mission, knew it well and felt that they could speak for 
local people. When their commissions came from a 
Neighborhood Legal Aid office, a Model Cities center, a 



351 



352 / COMMUNITY MURALS 



m.u 





Consuelo Mendez transferring the design of Para EI 
Mercado to the wall, San Francisco, 1974. 



youth employment and job training office, a recreation 
center, a taco short-order restaurant, a bank, or a clinic, 
the artists sought little more than the approval of their 
designs by officials or managers rather than a sustained 
involvement with the people who worked in these places 
or lived nearby. Most of the artists were associated with 
the storefront Galeria de la Raza and talked over their 
designs with one of its directors, Rene Yaiiez, who 
served until 1976 as coordinator of most of the local 
murals. He handled the funding and tried to get feedback 
from neighborhood people, sometimes by means of 
questionnaires, the results of which he passed on to the 
artists. But in general they operated largely on their own 
in designing and executing each work. Yanez explained 
his encouraging of the young artists to work without the 
active participation of neighborhood people as a concern 
for quality. The artists themselves had to learn more 
about their craft, he said, rather than work with young 
assistants. At the same time Yaiiez spent a great deal of 
time in workshops with young people and helping them 
when they brought their work to the Galeria for his 



comments. He said that the people of the Mission de- 
served professional quality in their murals and that the 
young could only come to recognize excellence by being 
exposed to it. It was also clearly a matter of pride to him 
that the Galeria only sponsored quality work. As Yanez 
hoped, the murals of the professionals did stimulate 
young people, and in 1975 a new group, Los Decolores, 
who ranged in age from sixteen to nineteen, began to do 
work commissioned by Mission High School and 
neighborhood organizations. That year also Las .Mujeres 
Muralistas, also associated with the Galeria, began to 
draw youngsters into working with them by giving them 
a small area on Para al Mercado and then by completely 
involving them and adults in all phases of a series of 
murals they undertook at Bernal Heights public housing. 

Participatory Team Murals 

The process that most involves a community in doing a 
mural brings a trained artist together in sustained 
dialogue and work with residents and young people who 
together select the theme and design and then carry them 
out on the wall. The process begins in varied ways. In 
New York the artists associated with Cityarts Workshop 
have the responsibility to seek out sponsoring groups and 
the teenagers who will participate. A team may begin 
with three to five local young people, and if they are 
turned on, they bring their friends. As many as sixty 
teenagers have worked on a wall, and literally hundreds 
have participated in single Cityarts mosaic projects like 
the benches at Grant's Tomb.' The mural assistants are 
usually paid for their work through public funding. 
Susan Caruso-Green, former codirector of Cityarts, has 
said that a month is usually necessary for a project 
director to find a group of teenage assistants and a 
sponsor that will provide the wall and two months to 
develop the theme and do a mockup. Four or five "con- 
cept meetings" are what it takes to develop a theme. At 
these the young people are shown slides of other 
neighborhood murals and the history of mural painting 
to give them a sense of how art has served people and to 
stimualte their ideas of design. Finally, two more months 
are necessary to execute the smaller paintings, but as 
many as nine were required from start to finish to do 
Arise from Oppression. 

In Boston, artists and high school students interested 
in working on murals volunteered and were connected 
through Summerthing, an office in city hall, which 
brought them together with neighborhood organizations 
that had requested murals. Gary Rickson, who worked 
with the program, says that he saw that the team as- 
signed to him came to understand and respect the point 
of view of the community they were working in where 
their designs had to be officially approved by a sponsor- 
ing group. 

The painters of the Public Art Workshop and the 
Chicago Mural Group tell how after years of work they 



Process I 353 




'■y Rickson with young muralists, South End, Boston, 



began to be approached by sponsors — a tenants or 
homeowners' organization, a church, a school, a labor 
union, or a social service agency. Once a mural has been 
done in a neighborhood, other local groups become 
interested. Writing in 1975, John Weber said that of the 
more than 150 murals done in Chicago since 1967 at least 
80 involved the consultation of the community and re- 
quired the public presentation of designs. Nonprofes- 
sional residents, he added, participated in the painting of 
at least 75.^ 

Mutual involvement between a CMG artist and com- 
munity usually begins with a meeting of the.membership 
of the sponsoring group. Ten or a hundred people may 
attend. The artists shows slides of murals he has done 
and some painted by others to give people an idea of the 
possibilities of the medium. He also explains the respon- 
sibilities of the sponsors. Weber says the CMG asks them 
to secure the wall and collect funds particularly from its 
membership and local merchants to pay for the paints 



and scaffolding. CMG artists and teenage assistants are 
paid through public funding. Weber has resorted to 
asking neighborhood people to buy a share in a planned 
mural at fifty cents a brick. Caryl Yasko and Niki Glen 
undertook a "Buy a Brick" campaign in Madison, Wis- 
consin, to raise funds for a mural two blocks from the 
state capitol. Thirty local small businesses, five organi- 
zations, and two hundred individuals contributed 
$11,766 in cash and materials for the work — Our Search 
for Knowledge in an Everchanging Universe. Yasko says, 
"the small businesses on whose walls we paint are the 
traditional allies of the muralist."^ What is important is 
not only covering expenses but that local residents come 
to feel that the mural is theirs. 

Judy Baca, as director of Citywide .Murals in Los 
Angeles, which was financed by city funds between 1974 
and 1978, says that the process she supervised began 
when her office got a call from a schoolteacher, local 
artist, or gang leader who indicated that he or she and 
perhaps a group already assembled wanted to do a mural 
or that he wanted to organize a team. Sometimes profes- 
sional or semiprofessional painters and their teams were 
recruited by local service organizations, recreation cen- 
ters, or probation departments. A meeting with residents 
where the mural was contemplated was called, and the 
artist presented some examples of his work. If there 
were other artists who also wished to direct a project in 
the neighborhood, they were also invited, and the resi- 
dents selected one. Residents usually made suggestions 
concerning the theme, and the artist was asked to return 
with five sketches of possible murals in four weeks. The 
minimum size of the mural to be designed was four 
hundred square feet. If the artist was working with a 
team of teenagers, the sketches were to be done with 
their assistance. Citywide maintained a collection of 
slides on the history of murals that were available to the 
teams. Those teenagers who were hesitant about drawing 
were asked at least to contribute ideas. Later they would 
have a chance to participate in the painting. When the 
artist and his assistants returned with their design pro- 
posal to the second neighborhood meeting and he was 
interested in making a well-organized presentation, the 
response of the perhaps sixty people who came was 
remarkable, Judy Baca says. Copies of the design were 
posted in public places in advance to give people a chance 
to think about them. At the meeting there would be 
serious discussion in which adults and young people 
shared; children sometimes argued with their parents; 
and out of this real rapport often evolved. On one 
occasion community people who had been vandalized by 
the teenagers of the White Fence Gang sat down with 
some of them who were on a mural crew to discuss a 
design. If the drawings were not satisfactory, the artist 
was asked to do more, and if they did not receive 
approval, he was released and another artist was chosen. 
The artist was also required to collect at least two 
hundred signatures from local people approving the de- 



354 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Judy Baca before a panel ofThe Rising of the Mujeres 
in ber Topanga Canyon studio, 1979. 



sign. This was not only proof to Citywide that there was 
substantial backing for the work; it was also insurance, 
Baca says, against censorship by public officials. There 
were variations on this procedure over the years. Some- 
times the artist preferred to concentrate on collecting 
signatures by going door to door rather than going 
through public meetings. He was also responsible to get 
permission for a wall from its owner and Citywide. 
When he had all the approvals, he was paid $50, and 
materials, including paint, brushes and scaffolding, were 
provided. The young people who worked with him were 
paid by the city $2.22 an hour in 1974 and he received 
$345 on the completion of the mural. 

Citywide .Murals also sponsored wall paintings by 
elementary school children and senior citizens, who 
worked as unpaid volunteers. The children's murals were 
regarded as extensions of their regular curriculum and 
were done either at their school and play yard or at the 
zoo or comparable sites. Senior citizens were looked on 



by the project as people of often neglected talent who had 
time to devote to painting and who could make a creative 
contribution either to a senior center or the neighborhood 
in general. There were often retired professional artists 
or talented amateurs among them who could direct a 
mural. ^ 

Whatever the method of assembling the working group 
from city to city, the artist frequently undertakes an 
intensive discussion with it about the public concerns, 
the issues and problems that are important to its mem- 
bers and the community. When a likely subject is arrived 
at, the dialogue turns to their understanding of it. Mark 
Rogovin prefers to work with small groups, usually 
teenagers who emerge from the first meeting with the 
sponsoring organization and are interested in the long 
process of selecting a theme, developing a composition, 
and doing the painting. He remembers the thread of 
possible themes the Black teenagers discussed with him 
when they were working on the mural that was to 
become Unity of the People in 1970, a time when there was 
high racial tension and violence and Blacks were divided 
on how to respond. His assistants were from a church 
group in Chicago's West Side and at first suggested a 



Process I 355 



religious theme, tiien the history of their religious or- 
ganization, a depiction of its recent activities, then drugs, 
and finally the subject of Black solidarity that they agreed 
was of widest importance in the neighborhood. 

While Rogovin and his community assistants were 
discussing the design of another mural. Break the Grip of 
the Absentee Landlord, the question of what color to paint 
the slumlords arose. Initially the Black teenagers had 
thought that white would be right, but then had to agree 
that there were both Black and White owners who were 
exploiting tenants. Further discussion arrived at a con- 
sensus that what was to blame was not so much the 
landlord's race as the whole system of ghetto-gouging 
and, more generally, social arrangements preoccupied 
with maximizing profits. By keeping the discussion open 
and not being satisfied with quick conclusions, Rogovin 
had turned the question about the color of paint to be 
used into a chance for his young associates to think 
through a more fundamental problem. They decided to 
paint the landlords gray. Rogovin comments that it was 
insufficient merely to do a painting on racism in a Black 
neighborhood. Blacks already knew all about that. What 
they needed to know about was the landlord, the investor 
who, probably White though possibly Black, took ad- 
vantage of them. .Moreover, he says Blacks and Whites 
should not be turned against each other when both are 
exploited; they should be shown what exploits them — 
the system itself. What is important, he concludes, is to 
work together towards changing it. And the mural shows 
just that interracial cooperation. 

John Weber at dedication o/" People of Lakeview Unite 
that he worked on with local youth, Chicago, 1972. (© 
Rosenthal Art Slides) 



While Rogovin moves from the first meeting of the 
sponsoring group to team sessions, Weber seeks to bring 
a large number of his first audience back with their 
friends for subsequent discussions about the theme of the 
mural. It took more than two dozen such community 
meetings stretched over a year to win agreement on the 
theme and design of a mural sponsored by nine organiza- 
tions in an interracial neighborhood. The result was 
People of Lakeview Unite, which shows a block party 
with participants waving at passersby.* These meetings 
are occasions for residents to think through their con- 
cerns and possible solutions. Weber's meetings with 
working-class White residents in Chicago in 1970 pro- 
vided the chance for their fears of Black people moving 
into the neighborhood to surface and be discussed. The 
result was The Wall of Choices that clarified the alternative 
ways of dealing with the situation and made a plea for 
cooperation. Usually people are at first divided on what 
is to be done and these meetings may help them resolve 
differences. While the artists hope to bring people to- 
gether, they have not regarded murals as simple mirrors 
of neighborhood views. Weber has said, "Community art 
must be controversial. Art need not leave everyone 
comfortably pleased. Art can also challenge us, stretch us 
and expand us."^ Similarly, Rogovin and others see the 
function of murals as not merely echoing the common 
denominator of local opinion but raising consciousness. 
They believe their work should articulate the most pro- 
gressive ideas and aspirations of the community. What 
these are of course has to be decided by the muralist and 
the members of the nieghborhood he is working with. 
The muralists also talk about a dialogue of local murals to 
air a variety of views on controversial concerns. 




356 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

Weber acknowledges his debt to Paolo Freire, the 
Brazilian educator who brought together a variety of 
ideas about consciousness-raising that had been in the air 
for decades. Freire worked out a method of teaching 
literacy to the inner-city poor and peasantry that demon- 
strated that people's capacity to learn grew as they 
became aware of their ability to gain control over their 
lives. He discovered that their skills developed as they 
became politically aware, and Weber similarly came to 
believe that the deprived could empower themselves and 
create their own public media as they came to understand 
the cause of their deprivation and their capacity to do 
something about it.^ 

Rogovin and Weber are ready to admit that they have 
their own analysis of the problems that afflict 
neighborhoods — a class analysis, but they are also careful 
to point out, as other muralists do, that w hile guiding the 
dialogue of a local meeting or mural team, they cannot 
impose their views on the community. Judy Baca ob- 
serves that it is nearly impossible for the artist-director of 
a project to force his or her conceptions on the teenagers 
of a painting crew. They have their own ideas, she insists 
and adds, "the collective spirit is the essence of 
muralism." .Most muralists are aware that they cannot be 
doctrinaire with a neighborhood. They must arrive at an 
interpretation of local concerns and find images that are 
comprehensible and acceptable to a substantial number 
of people. If not, their work will surely be defaced wher 
it is completed. Weber points out that the CMG has been 
willing to paint in neighborhoods where there are strong 
conservative or reactionary groups as long as the 
muralists could find progressive people to work with. He 
says that the CMG does not have to start with the 
majority, but it aims at building one. 

Clarence Wood and Don Kaiser, who paint for the 
Philadelphia Museum of Art's Urban Outreach, back 



away from what they consider the political art of the 
Chicago painters. Wood thinks they are foisting their 
ideas on neighborhood people. Kaiser says that society 
has been indoctrinated enough; people can find political 
art elsewhere. They regard their program as "environ- 
mental art" and are willing to help a neighborhood do 
any kind of mural it wants. As they see it, the function of 
murals is to enhance the local milieu. However, many of 
the murals that neighborhood teams have asked Wood to 
help them do involve over-life-size portraits of Black 
leaders in the civil-rights movement and the arts, cer- 
tainly a kind of political painting, though not so pointed 
as murals elsewhere. Kaiser says that his assistance to the 
Chinese Youth Coalition in its protest of the bridge ramp 
that would wipe out part of Chinatown was only tech- 
nical; the design was the young people's. 

Additional artists play a less active role than Rogovin 
and Weber in the dialogue that selects and interprets a 
mural's theme. Gary Rickson and Ray Patlan prefer to 
leave these matters almost completely in the hands of the 
teenagers and do their own murals elsewhere. They see 
themselves as facilitators who set up the dialogue among 
the young people and offer technical advice on painting. 
The young are sometimes strongly affected by the imag- 
ery of the artist, as a group working during the summer 
of 1974 with Rickson were when they decided they 
wanted a huge eye with a falling tear to be the central 
image in their mural lamenting violence. This had been 
the main image of Rickson's Segregation B. C. , which had 
been destroyed, and the teenagers wanted to revive it. 
Patlan says that he may start off discussions with his 
team with a visual idea of his and then encourage the 
teenagers to add theirs. While the mural is being painted, 



Ray Patldn, center, with Pilsen barrio painters, Chicago, 
1974. 




Process I ISl 



he will suggest compositional modifications like carrying 
a color through the painting, but he rarely picks up a 
brush except to demonstrate his point. Clarence Wood 
tells of how the children doing the neighborhood 
portraits on Sickles Street in Philadelphia asked a ten- 
year-old girl to quit because her work was too much like 
grown-ups'. This was a kids' mural, they insisted. 

Such matters of design are the next step after the 
theme is decided on. To assist the untrained members of 
the team, the artists frequently show slides drawn from 
the mural tradition stretching from the Lascaux caves of 
15,000 B.C. through Roman and Byzantine frescoes, 
Giotto, and the Renaissance to those of the .Mexican 
Revolution and the New Deal. Or there may be a trip to 
a museum. Rogovin and Rickson ask each of their teen- 
agers to draw up a trial composition at home. One of 
their designs or a combination serves as the basis of the 
final cartoon that they work out together. In cases where 
the assistants have little confidence in their drawing, 
artists use alternative methods. Cityarts in 1970 de- 
veloped methods whereby they got young people to act 
out what they thought they would like to depict, and 
then made images either by a Polaroid camera and 
opaque projector or by training the white light of an 
empty slide projector on them and tracing their 
silhouettes on butcher paper. Another method was for 
the group to select photos from books and magazines, 
show them from an opaque projector and trace them on a 
mock-up. 

Haigbt Ashbury Muralists posing for Two Hundred 
Years of Resistance. Left to right: Jane Norling, Arch 
Williams, Miranda Bergman, Miles Styker, and Vicky 
Hamlin. 



Lucy .Mahler, who directed a project with the students 
of the Wright Brothers High School in Uptown .Man- 
hattan did the design and drawing herself, which in- 
cluded highly skilled portraits of local students and their 
elders. The young people then shared in the painting. 
Similarly Clarence Wood did most of the drawing of the 
portraits of Black heroes for the teenagers he has worked 
with, then sectioned off the color areas and let them paint 
them in "by the numbers." Some artists regard this as an 
imposition on the imagination of the young for the sake 
of appearance, but Wood claims that the first priority is 
for the young to have a sense of having participated in 
creating images that look good to them. 

John Weber says that he does not believe in letting 
young f>eople, including children of the lower elemen- 
tary grades, paint spontaneously without guidance. 
"This does not sufficiently respect the young," he says. 
"We want to develop respect for the self, for art, and for 
other people. Children must be moved to do their best, to 
grow and reach beyond the abilities and consciousness 
they began with." 

After the artist and his assistants arrive at a design that 
is satisfactory to them, they usually check it with the 
sponsoring group — its officials or a meeting of the mem- 
bership. Cityarts in New York like Citywide in Los 
Angeles often posted a colored sketch or blueprint of the 
proposed design in prominent neighborhood spots. 
Alongside paper was provided for passersby to make 
their comments. 

When the design is approved by the local group, the 
artist and his assistants are ready to go to their wall, erect 
their usually rented scaffolding, wire brush the surface 




358 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




to remove loose and rough material, and seal it against 
draining rain water. They usually prime it in white to 
maximize the brightness of their colors, but black has 
been used to make them somber. They transfer their 
design usually by gridding both sketch and wall. If they 
are working indoors, they can darken the room and train 
the image of their cartoon from an opaque projector on 
the wall or panels they will paint. This method can also 
be used at night outdoors. Alan Okada says that each 
member of the Cityarts team working on Chi Lai — 
Arriba — Rise Up, a very large mural of seven levels of 
scaffolding, painted a separate area of the composition 
that they had designed together. As they neared the end 
of the painting, each worked over the whole to insure a 
homogeneous style. It is also a common practice in group 
projects for the painters to move from area to area from 
the beginning. 

Working outdoors in public offers more opportunity 
for neighborhood participation. Passersby often offer 
criticism and fresh ideas that the painters learn to re- 
spond to. New dialogues on the subject and its interpre- 
tation ensue. Sometimes the composition is altered as a 

Cityarts muralists on the scaffolding of Chi Lai — 
Arriba — Rise Up! New York, 1974. 



Muralists' view from the scaffolding of cartoon for Chi 
Lai. 




Process/ } 59 



result. While Barry Bruner was doing a mural in Chicago 
showing construction workers on the job, a Black woman 
teacher who was watching during her lunch break 
suggested including workers of her sex. A day later when 
she came by she found that Bruner had drawn in a female 
foreman. She complained that this was unrealistic; 
Bruner made additional changes, and his critic joined 
him to do some painting. Alan Okada recalls that when 
he was directing the Cityarts mural in the heart of 
Manhattan's Chinatown on the subject of the Chinese 
immigration to this country, the artists posted a sign in 
Chinese and English inviting passersby to join them on 
the scaffolding to help them with painting. 

While a mural is taking shape, some people in the 
neighborhood frequently offer to help with storing the 
paints at night, others with moving the scaffolding. 
Doing a mural becomes a community event. Mitchell 
Caton describes how, when working on Universal Alley, 
the inexperienced assistants who had been helping him 
with the layouts and painting gradually dropped out. It 
had been hard for them not to do their own thing, he 
says. But two house painters, old timers in the commu- 
nity, volunteered and took on the laborious task of wire 
brushing the walls through the hot summer days. There 
were always people in the alley ready to help, to set up 
and dismantle the scaffolding every day, and to feed him. 
As Caton puts it. 



Alan Okada on the scaffolding of Chi Lai. 



Bystanders watch the painting of Wall of Respect for 
Women, Lower East Side, 1974. 





360 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Mural team, Wall of Respect for Women: top to 
bottom: Cami Homann, Tomie Aral, Phyllis Seebol, and 
Harriet Davis. 



Michael Schnorr and Susan Yamagata working on Coatli- 
que, Diosa De La Tierra, Chtcano Park, San Diego, 
1978. 



In the inner city ghetto, most neighborhoods have 
their wine drinkers and dope pushers. Failure type 
personaHties. A mural project reflects a positive 
structure and off-sets much of the negativity in the 
community. The artist's working every day, painting 
beautiful colors and Ideas, talking to folks checking out 
what's happening (all good). But most of all the feeling 
of succeedmg in the air — the mere fact of having an 
important goal and aggressive behavior speaks for itself 
and only by trusting and acting do we receive signs 
and wonders, art power.* 

His greatest allies, Caton says, were the children^ who 
made and selected sketches, for one part of the mural was 
to be theirs. In August there was a watermelon party in 



the alley for the kids. On Sundays there was jazz, 
occasionally a live set. A cigar box was put out for nickels 
and quarters toward the mural. The rest of the cost of 
materials was borne by the contributions of local mer- 
chants. Finally at the end ot August the mural was 
finished, and at the dedication Jimmy Ellis and his jazz 
group performed. It was the first time, Caton says, some 
of the children had ever tasted apple cider. Grown-ups 
had punch. 

The public dedication is often the responsibility of the 
sponsoring group to organize. The whole neighborhood 
and sometimes public officials are invited. Held usually 
on a weekend, there are speeches, and the artist or one of 
his assistants may point out the mural's significance for 



Process I 361 




xrniela Carrillo on the scaffolding at Mission Neighbor- 
Health Center, San Francisco, 1976. 



^ 



Osha Neumann (in front) and 0^ Brian Thiele at work on 
Song of Unity, Berkeley, 1978. 



the community. There often is a musical group as well as 
food and drink. There may be a dramatic skit or the 
reading of poetry. When it is all over, the painting has 
already begun to be a part of the community's everyday 
life, and its message and beauty begin to be assimilated. 
The mural is not a finished artifact; it is a process which 
continues as long as it is legible. Many muralists remark 
on the long-term effects of having certain kinds of imag- 
ery around people, images that they observe every day, 
that get sifted through residents' experience and come to 
acquire increasing meaning for them. The more complex 
murals require repeated viewing to be taken in, but 
viewed day after day and talked about, they come to 
speak to people. The mural process continues as well in 
the energy for action that it generates. 



Forms of Collective Art 

The initial impulse of the new mural movement was 
collective — to make art about the needs of the commu- 
nity and to strengthen the cooperation of people. It was 
natural therefore that most of this art has been done by 
groups of painters rather than by single artists, although 
some individual painters have become spokespeople for 
neighborhoods and unions. This method of collective 
work was contrary not only to the training of artists but 
also to the whole conception of self-expression associated 
in popular consciousness with art, which survived as 
almost the last vestige of individualism in modern pro- 
duction. There was thus much to overcome as profes- 



362 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




A note of appreciation. 



sional artists and the inexperienced tried to create an art 
that corresponded to their hopes for community. From 
the beginning they experimented with different proc- 
esses of working together, which were reflected in differ- 
ent visual forms. 

Some twenty artists worked on the Wall of Respect. 
Their aim was to provide a visual equivalent of pride in 
their race and their unity; thus there was special reason to 
prevent the wall from breaking up into the separate 
sections of each painter. Concentrating on the achieve- 
ments of Black people, they chose to fill the wall with 
portraits. They located them in sections devoted to lead- 
ers, athletes, musicians, and literary figures, and by 
distributing them throughout the surface they were also 
able to accommodate some narrative scenes while still 
preserving a sense of coherence. Sorne artists worked on 
a section alone, some collaborated. The unity of the work 
was also strengthened by a red, black, blue, and white 
color scheme carried out across the wall. 

The Wall of Dignity in Detroit was painted in a similar 



manner, but there were fewer portraits and more narra- 
tive scenes that depicted Black heritage. There was a 
clearer division of areas, each of which was painted by 
different artists. Across the street at Saint Bernard's 
Church Eda and Walker were able to work out an even 
tighter unity by taking advantage of their different styles 
to dramatize the earlier exodus and march to a new 
promised land. Here as in the previous walls, careful 
thought was given by the painters working together to 
unify their common material at the same time as each 
painted his own section. Meanwhile in Boston Rickson 
did Segregation B.C. and Chandler Stokely and Rap: Free- 
dom and Self-Defense as two large panels with related 
themes on the same wall. 

Only after considerable experience at community 
murals were professional artists able to work out ways of 
thoroughly melding their work so that it was seamless. 
The Chicago Mural Group began such collaborations in 
1974 when Oscar Martinez and Jim Yanagisawa painted 
in each other's sections of Latino and Asian American 
History. The delay for the CMG in doing these coopera- 
tive projects arose partly from its inability to secure 
funding for more than one professional per mural, but it 
may in addition have been the artists' unreadiness for such 




Dedication of Precita Eyes mural, China Books, San 
Francisco, with music by Steve Cervantes, 1978. 



Dedication of A People's History of Telegraph Av- 
enue, Berkeley, 1976. 




364 / COMMUNITY MURALS 





Judy Baca wearing protection against acrylic airbrush 
fumes, 1979. (Photo SPARC) 



Robert Hieronimus painting Apocalypse Mural, Stu- 
dent Center chapel, Johns Hopkins University, 1974. 



collective work. Caryl Yasko describes how she, Mitchell 
Caton, Justine DeVan, and Celia Radek virtually locked 
themselves in a room for a week in 1975 brainstorming 
together for what became Prescription for Good Health Care. 
There followed a series of collaborations of two, three, 
and four veteran Chicago muralists who worked out 
sophisticated fusions of their styles. One of the most 
impressive was The Wall of Daydreaming and Man's Inhu- 
manity to Men that Caton, Bill Walker, and Santi Is- 
rowuthakul did in 1975 also. (How they combined their 
imagery will be described in chapter 7.) One of the first 
groups of trained artists in the West to cooperate on 
particular works was Las Mujeres Muralistas, who or- 
ganized in San Francisco in 1973. And later Osha 
Neumann and O'Brian Thiele, sometimes with Daniel 
Galvez, sometimes with Ray Patlan, painted together in 
Berkeley. 

On the other hand, team murals in which nonprofes- 
sionals played a large role, came to unified collective 
work earlier, in part because they had no previous expe- 
rience and had only to learn, not unlearn habits of 



Process I 365 



painting. Cityarts as early as 1970 and 1971 arrived at 
simple unified silhouette murals and then did increas- 
ingly more complex work like Arise from Oppression in 
1972. Los Artes Guadalupanos de Aztlan, who were 
mainly untrained artists, likewise achieved a coherent 
common style by then. Other participatory murals such 
as those directed by Ray Patlan and gang murals in Los 
Angeles were also relatively unified. Where professionals 
took considerable responsibility for draftsmanship but 
otherwise involved assistants, as in the works directed by 
Weber, Rogovin, Mahler, and Wood, unity was less a 
problem. 

By 1973 a different approach to collective work was 
undertaken by Judy Baca and the local trained and 
untrained painters who worked at the Venice Pavilion. 
She says that it took four weeks of discussion for fifteen 
to twenty principal artists to relate and build confidence 
in one another before they could come up with a central 
theme, the history of the community. They decided to 
do this by a sequence of panels, each representing a 
different era. The core group of artists was joined by 
nearly two hundred local assistants, and they worked for 
over a year. Local people were not paid, but they raised 
the money for paints and supplies. A holiday atmosphere 
of mutual admiration, help and discussion prevailed 
during the work. Although the panels are added on to 
each other, they envelop their space and produce a 
concentrated effect. 

The following year Baca could bring her experience 
from the Venice Pavilion back to East Los where she 
guided barrio teenagers in doing a series of panels on two 
sides of the wall surrounding the Little Sisters of the 
Poor Convalescent Home. ITie panels were linked by 
themes of ethnic heritage, mostly Chicano, some 
Japanese, and small groups of teenagers worked on each 
panel. The same year Alonso Davis organized a similar 
project. The Wall of Visions, for residents of the Crenshaw 
Boulevard area who decided on a sequence of panels 
because it was impossible for them to find a common 
time to work together. These varied personal statements 
had in common primarily their Black subject matter. 
That year in Philadelphia students and teachers at a 
Quaker school did the Friendly Talking Wall on a con- 
struction site fence which was also made up of a series of 
separate panels, each probably done by a different 
painter and linked by a feeling of good will for all earth's 
creatures. This type of mural sequence became popular 
elsewhere around the country on temporary walls. The 
shortness of life of these fences probably had much to do 
with the kind of murals done on them, since it did not 
make sense to invest the long work necessary for a single 
integrated image on a wall that was due to come down 
soon. These sequences of panels were painted on 
schoolyards and in corridors as well. Usually one person 
painted a panel, and as a result much of the experience of 
working through decisions together was lost. Moreover, 
strung out next to each other and usually no higher than 



the reach of your hand, the panels could not readily 
achieve the monumentality and unity of a single, higher 
work. There was always the risk that these panels would 
be episodic and not build to any climax or overall mean- 
ing. 

The Tujunga Wash Mural, also done under Baca's 
direction, is an even longer sequence of panels which 
were done along the cement channel, but here there is a 
coherent development from one to the other since they 
trace a working people's history of California. This re- 
quired cooperative research and planning by all the 
eighty painters who were engaged on the project the first 
year, and separate teams were responsible for each of the 
large panels. A comparable interpretation was made of 
San Francisco's past in Our History Is No Mystery, painted 
by the Haight Ashbury Muralists, a small group of 
professionals with common social views who, working 
with some untrained local people, could maintain relative 
unity throughout the sequence of panels. 

The visual form of a mural reflects the social process that 
produced it, and hence the experience of community that 
had been achieved among the painters. In the first dozen 
years of the mural movement there was extensive de- 
velopment in the skills of working together reflected in 
increasingly more unified forms and imagery. It was 
natural for professionals and lay people who were trying 
to work their way out of isolating forms of private 
expression to begin with ensembles of panel murals. 
From these, collaborating painters moved either to single 
complex works or to sequences of panels unified by 
common themes. These last were particularly useful for 
presentations of history, and here, too, muralists tried to 
clarify what linked the episodes and what viewers could 
learn from them. 



Problems 

The problems that muralists confront occur at every 
stage of the process. The most pervasive is funding, for 
community murals are expensive, running from three 
hundred to over fifteen thousand dollars. There is also 
the danger of censorship and co-optation by the estab- 
lishment. These matters will be dealt with in a later 
chapter. Here the variety of problems that relate directly 
to the making of murals will be examined. 

As we have seen, their defacement is relatively rare 
because neighborhood people regard them as theirs. But 
it does happen. Vanita Green chose not to try to restore 
her portraits of Black women that had been vandalized, 
beciause she wanted people when they saw the faces 
under the splattering to think about it. 

In San Francisco, shortly before the date set for the 
dedication of Our History Is No Mystery, a three-hundred- 
foot long celebration of local working people and their 
struggles, the faces of all Third World figures were 
defaced with spray paint. When the vandalism was 



366 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

discovered, thirty neighborhood people joined the artists 
in removing or painting over the damage in a rush to 
meet the dedication. Shortly afterwards the muralists 
received an unsigned letter that apologized for the attack, 
explaining it as the result of having a bad night. A check 
for seventy-five dollars was enclosed. 

As Los Artes de Guadaiupanos de Aztlan in Santa Ve 
had to contend with a hostile establishment and its 
police, which culminated in the shootout at their 
Tonzntzin School, the gang painters of East Los u horn 
Judy Baca worked w ith were also targets of harassment. 
She said that a record was set in her five years of painting 
with barrio youth when during the summer of 1974 only 
four out of thirty-five teenagers w ere busted on City wide 
mural sites. She had watched the police planting dope on 
them when they were being questioned and tried to 
argue the cops out of the arrests. A number of young 
people who had painted with her had been killed in gang 
warfare. While I was photographing the mural done by 
the Classic Dolls, a young Chicanas' club, a police car 
drove up. One of the officers called out that he had 
helped with the mural. He explained with a laugh that 
the police had left the "chicks" alone. 

In 1978 in San Diego Victor Ochoa said he was ready 
to "fly the coop." He had been supervising murals at 
Chicano Park for years. He was the son of an un- 
documented worker who had been a truck driver in Los 
Angeles for ten years before he fled with his family to 
avoid an Immigration Service sweep. Raised in Mexico, 
Victor was working in a photography studio in Tijuana 
at fifteen and then came back to the United States to 
study industrial design and architecture. He served as 
director of El Centro Cultural in Balboa Park from its 
beginning in 1971 to 1974 when he became art and 
recreation coordinator at Chicano Park, employed both 
by the city and the Chicano Federation. Mural designs 
had to be approved by the ten-to-twenty-member 
Chicano Park Steering Committee, a self selected group 
of residents of Logan Barrio, which Ochoa regarded as 
conservative, a victim of its own Chicano stereotypes and 
Anglo "brainwashing." Some members of the steering 
committee had been upset by the murals showing nude 
women and the oriental versions of Quetzalcoatl and gila 
monsters. Although Ochoa felt little attachment to the 
Virgin of Guadalupe that high school students wanted to 
paint on one of the pylons during the Mural Marathon, 
he gave them all the support he could. Ochoa had also 
been trying to reassure better-off Chicano high school 
students who came from elsewhere and were anxious 
about painting in the barrio. He looked back to the early 
murals of 1973 and 1974 with the greatest satisfaction 
because of the wide involvement of local residents. He 
was concerned that some recent works by individual 
artists had been painted at Chicano Park to advance their 
careers and were not responsive to the community. But 



at the same time he lamented the ignorance and oppres- 
sion within the barrio. There were divisions and conflicts 
of personalities, especially in the agencies supposedly 
serving the barrio, which made his work difficult. He felt 
himself particularly close to the preteen kids whom he 
liked to work with because they were keen to make 
things. 

Ochoa w as v\ idely respected in Logan Heights and by 
city officials becau.se of his competence, determination, 
and reasonableness. But the work was taking its toll. He 
had been in the barrio eight years and was thinking 
seriously of leaving. He said that he wanted to develop 
his own art in connection "with people who had clear 
directions." He was thinking of going to Cuba where he 
believed he could make socially conscious art in a cohe- 
rent and supportive setting. He felt he needed the 
stimulation of a wider, international art than he could be 
in contact with in Logan. But he also knew that after 
giving him training, the Cubans would expect him to go 
back and work in his barrio. He resigned from his 
position at Chicano Park in the summer of 1979. 

The Biography of a Mural 

In 1975 after having watched the development of 
murals in the Bay Area and around the country and 
having taught courses on social and political art for a 
number of years at San Jose State University, I was 
tempted to undertake a mural project myself. Since the 
Bicentennial year was in the offing and the campus was 
planning programs in relation to it, 1 proposed a course 
designed for students with and without art training who 
would do a Bicentennial mural for the university. As I 
was not an artist, I sought out a colleague in the art 
department, Robert Freimark, who had himself done 
murals with young people and who shared my social 
orientation and desire to give students their head. Our 
department chairpeople gave their ready approval. Mine, 
in fact, was a member of the campus Bicentennial com- 
mittee and secured us a two hundred dollar grant, put- 
ting us in touch with friends of his who owned a local 
paint-supply house and a lumberyard. They agreed to 
contributions. We selected a wall and planned to com- 
plete a nine-by-forty-foot mural during a fourteen-week 
semester. The site was a broad breezew ay entrance to the 
campus where thousands of students walked every day. 
It was covered and would protect the muralists, who 
would be working in inclement weather. The wall was of 
a kind of brick unsuitable for painting directly on. 
Therefore we would attach plywood panels to it, which 
we assumed would be more satisfactory to the adminis- 
tration. We met with the university's executive vice- 
president and the director of facilities planning and were 
encouraged. They agreed to the site and asked to see the 
finished cartoon that the students would develop, but 
indicated that there should not be difficulty about ap- 
proval. 



At the beginning of the semester in September forty- 
six students registered for the course. Of these sixteen 
were w ithout art training. About a quarter v\ere Latino, 
one was Black, and one Asian-American; the rest uere 
White. The project uas explained to the students and 
they were urged to select a theme they felt that was 
important to them and all those who would view the 
mural, a statement that would justify display for years to 
come. Fhe first few weeks I showed slides of the current 
mural movement and students were asked to read the 
Mural Manual, an excellent how -to-do-it handbook. We 
also made a field trip to San Francisco to see the murals in 
the Mission District and a very large work of Diego 
Rivera at City College. During these first weeks increas- 
ing time w as devoted to discussions of possible themes 
for our mural. PVeimark and I lay back on our view s; we 
simply tried to keep the discussions moving and then to 
identify recurrent topics. For three sessions the students 
divided up into self-selected groups and continued their 
dialogue. I here u as a w ide diversity of opinion. I hree 
or four students felt that we should paint a "happy" 
mural, not necessarily a decorative one, but not one that 
would concentrate on social or controversial problems. 
The majority however believed that such issues had to be 
confronted and that solutions should be proposed. Ihe 
principal topics that emerged from these discussions 
were racism, the right relation of the individual and 
society, government corruption, population control and 
pollution, education" women's liberation, and prison re- 
form. I was impressed at the degree of political and social 
concern among the students, who had been accused of 
post- Watergate cynicism. Although some women stu- 
dents wanted to deal with the theme of population 
control, it was decided that this was a message already 
widely accepted by our prospective audience. After 
much discussion it was agreed to combine all of the other 
themes and relate them to the San Jose locale as w ell as 
their national context. This was clearly the only w ay to 
go, for each topic had a strong constituency, and it w as 
the end of the sixth week. The tentative title the students 
selected was startling — "Freedom vs. Fxploitation = 
Revolution." 

At the end of the semester when we were evaluating 
our experience there was w ide agreement that forty-six 
people coming from diverse experiences were too many 
to engage in such a dialogue. The students thought that 
twenty was the maximum. Discussions of theme and 
later design revealed that the students had had little 
experience in collective decision-making. It v\as very 
difficult for them to listen seriously to one another and 
compromise. But in fact many learned. In general they 
exercised a tolerance and patience that was sometimes 
exhausting. In the evaluation there w as w idespread feel- 
ing that Freimark and I had let these discussions continue 
too long, that there should have been more organization, 
deadlines, and guidance. FVeimark explaned that in his 
studio courses he tried to encourage students to take the 



Process I 367 

initiative, and I added that I was anxious that any more 
guidance on my part would have risked imposing my 
view s. We did frequently ask questions and occasionally 
express our own ideas. No doubt our opinions affected 
some of the results; the mural would be not only the 
students' but ours as well. Were we to undertake a 
similar project again, we would move the dialogue along 
faster with more confidence. 

Another criticism the students offered was the long 
delay before they began painting. Fhis w as painful to the 
art students, because this is their familiar mode of ex- 
pression, and hard on those with no training, because 
they were apprehensive about their ow n abilities. All of 
us agreed w ith a student w ho suggested that they should 
have been doing practice murals from the beginning. 
Fhey might have begun in small groups painting panels 
on long rolls of butcher paper, and then worked tow ard 
larger cooperative compositions. Fhis would not only 
have taught them about design and using materials; it 
would have helped them get to know one another 
quicker. As it w as, we delayed asking for artwork almost 
until the theme w as decided on. 

Fhere followed a month during which students 
brought in sketches of either parts or full compositions 
for the mural. Some of the sketches were of hardly more 
than stick figures, but they received serious attention. 
Some students brought in photos they thought would be 
useful. Fhey were shown by overhead projectors, and 
then copied on butcher paper as bits and pieces seemed to 
fall together. Some of the most satisfying sessions we had 
occurred when five cartoons, each ten feet long, were 
being done by different groups of students simultane- 
ously. This did a great deal to pick up morale, and it w as 
on the strength of these experiences that the students 
later recommended that there should be much more 
collective studio w ork. 

A new crisis arose w hen we had to face pulling all the 
cartoons and details together. The approach that w as first 
tried by some experienced art students was to employ 
some compositional devices, such as a great tree on w hich 
all our ideas w ere to be hung. Other proposals included a 
landscape based on the local valley, sweeping abstract 
curves, or patriotic bunting that would flow through the 
whole. The mural threatened to become episodic or a 
collage united by some arbitrary device. The students 
needed to be brought back to the idea that murals were 
made forceful by bold, monumental figures and unified 
composition. 

Finally we took as our central motif students and 
community people of all ages and backgrounds coming 
together around a planning table to make the public 
decisions that would affect their lives. The thrust of the 
mural was to call for the active political involvement of all 
its viewers as the way to correct contemporary abuses of 
power. A crowd was show n streaming to the table in the 
foreground from campus buildings in the back, above 
which the city's skyline and mountains rose. The idea of 



368 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




the planning table was borrowed from two murals of 
Rivera on the distribution of land to the peasants. To the 
left was a large domineering figure of Al Capone (with a 
CIA cufflink) suggesting the corruption and exploitation 
that undermined society. (The Mob also had some local 
connections.) About Capone were the unemployed and 
their dependence on drugs and alcohol, an ungainly 
chorus line of women in the roles into which they have 
been forced by sexism — a nurse, a prostitute, a secretary, 
and an airline hostess inviting customers to "fly me." 
Nearby was Fleeta Drumgo, one of the San Quentin Six 
who was kept in chains during and eighteen-month trial 
before he was acquitted. In the background factories 
belched smoke. At the far left the Statue of Liberty, 
monument to the nation's first centennial, raised her 



Final cartoon of San Jose State University students' 
Freedom vs. Exploitation = Revolution, 1975. 



torch to burn a three dollar bill with Richard Nixon's 
portrait on it. In contrast at the right there was a large 
head of Cesar Chavez and a march of farm workers, then 
Dennis Banks, leader of the American Indian Movement, 
who was currently defending an Indian burial ground in 
San Jose from being excavated for a Holiday Inn. At the 
far right were the two Black athletes from San Jose State, 
Tommy Smith and John Carlos, who after receiving 
medals at the .Mexico City Olympics in 1968 raised their 



Some of the San Jose State muralists with presentation 
design. 




arms in clenched-fist salutes as the national anthem was 
played, an act for which they were expelled from the 
Olympics and became controversial figures at home. The 
students felt that their assertion of Black pride was a 
fitting way to balance the gesture of Liberty at the 
opposite side. Moreover, the mural was to be displayed 
in an area adjacent to the physical education depart- 
ments, and one of the chairmen had asked that some 
allusion be made in the mural to their activities. This was 
the general layout that was presented to six students who 
volunteered to carry it through in detail and execute a 
two-by-thirteen-foot presentation drawing. When some 
days later they returned with it, we were all astonished 
and delighted. There before us was what we had taken 
ten weeks to arrive at and what we had begun to fear 
might never appear. 

Looking back over the design process, the students 
later offered a number of criticisms. They complained 
that some of their classmates, especially those who con- 
tributed large sections of drawing, were reluctant to 
make modifications that the majority requested. Some of 
the drafters tried to justify their unwillingness by com- 
plaining that they had done more than their share of the 
work. The untrained members of the class felt on the 
other hand that their expectation that they would have an 
equal role with the art students was not fulfilled; they 
thought the more experienced students had taken over. 
In general the students got on top of this kind of abra- 
siveness, but it was the result of an unduly drawn-out 
process and the strong differences among the students in 
ability and point of view. 

There were in fact a variety of functions the students 
could perform. One took on documenting the whole 
process by still photography. Two shot key events and 
did a series of interviews with participants on video tape. 
A number of students on my encouragement kept jour- 
nals of the process. Others were looking forward to the 
carpentry that was to provide the surface for the mural. 
Another group was to organize the dedication, which 
was to be an elaborate fiesta. Everyone was to participate 
in the painting. 

It might have been easier to let the forty-six students 
divide into self-selected groups each of which would do a 
mural. If the ultimate objective is cooperation, it may be 
counterproductive to force people w ith different outlooks 
into the same mural team. A dialogue of murals could 
have been our approach. But Freimark and I believed 
that it was important, if it was at all possible, to keep the 
students together to give them the chance of developing a 
common statement. Workmg with a group of hetero- 
geneous people, especially on a campus where they 
at least had in common their roles as students, seemed to 
us to provide young people with some of the experience 
they needed if they were ever to get together in their 
communities after college to solve common problems. 

At the time of the completion of the presentation 
drawing, four^weeks of the semester still remained. It 



Process I 169 

was still possible that, with the quick approval of the 
administration, we would be able to begin painting, 
which enough students said they would be willing to 
continue during the winter holidays and finish during the 
spring semester. The six students who had done the 
presentation drawing, Freimark, and I now brought the 
cartoon to the vice-president and facilities planner. The 
students, who were apprehensive about visiting top ad- 
ministration on our very large bureaucratic campus, were 
nevertheless articulate in explaining the mural to them. 
Then there was silence. Freimark and I made a few 
additional remarks. Again silence. It became clear that 
the administrators were not going to commit themselves 
to any judgment. The final decision was going to be 
made elsewhere. Whether they did not like what they 
saw was not clear. 

It had been decided before this meeting somewhere in 
the administration that the cartoon should be brought to 
the Campus Planning Committee for approval. This 
seemed reasonable, and we hoped it would be the last 
step. Fortunately, the committee was having a regular 
session two days later. Again the students showed their 
drawing and explained it. One member of the commit- 
tee, a representative of the Alumni Association, charged 
that this was not a Bicentennial mural; it was protest art. 
Another said that the cartoon's indictment of corruption 
was not something he would like to look at every day. 
There were some compliments. The question arose as to 
whether the mural was genuinely representative of the 
campus. A sympathetic committee member suggested 
that the cartoon be put on public display and a vote be 
taken. Although this suggestion had some plausibility, 
we responded that our class itself offered a reasonable 
sampling of the student body. We had wrestled w ith a 
theme and design for the better part of a semester, v\ hich 
should have yielded as sound a consensus of campus 
views as could be arrived at. Moreover, we said that this 
was the expression of forty-six students; it was not 
intended to represent the definitive campus view, how- 
ever that could be arrived at. It was a mural made for the 
Bicentennial; it made no pretense at being the campus 
Bicentennial statement. There were plenty of other walls 
crying out for murals. 

During the meeting the facilities planner, w ith w horn 
we had met in sessions with the vice-president, distrib- 
uted copies of a document that we were now seeing for 
the first time. Its title was Policy and Procedures on the 
Acceptance and Installation of Art Work on the California 
State University and College Campuses. In addition to the 
steps we had already proceeded through, it called for 
examination by another committee w ith community rep- 
resentation, and thence the approval of thfe university 
president. If these levels okayed the cartoon, then it was 
to go to Los Angeles, where the chancellor of the state 
university system would process it. The document con- 
tinued: 



370 / COMMUNrrV MURALS 



The Chancellor will schedule the presentation of the 
art work design to the Committee on Campus Plan- 
ning, Buildings and Grounds for recommendation to 
the Board of Trustees for action. If required, he will 
also schedule the item on the agenda of the Committee 
on Gifts and Public Affairs. 



This would take at least months. We felt that we had 
been misled. To run this gauntlet would destroy the 
project, because it would be impossible to string along 
the students until all approvals had been acquired, if they 
ever could be. And what justice was there in such remote 
authorities having the power to cut down what was a 
local student undertaking? We were convinced that this 
procedure would not have been invoked had our mural 
not touched on controversial topics. We suspected that 
the Black athletes might have been the crux, but no 
explicit objection to their representation had been raised. 
That of course would have been difficult for the admin- 
istration to do.* 

Finally, the local Campus Planning Committee did 
vote its approval of our mural without, as it put it, 
reference to its content. The project then went into 
limbo, allegedly awaiting the appointment of the mem- 
bers of the next committee by the President. We sought 
to find out whether the administration was going to 
insist on the whole series of screenings. But the vice- 
president would not respond to phone calls and requests 
for a meeting. The class, hoping to build some pressure 
on the administration, held a press conference with the 
campus daily and told its story. We would have to wait 
through the winter recess to plan the next step, but we 
promised ourselves that we would do our mural. If we 
were not allowed to use the planned wall, we would find 
some other way to make our statement and secure at least 
a temporary showing of it on campus. This firmness of 
the students gave all of us the sense that we had in fact 
accomplished something. 

When the spring semester opened in February, the 
administration had not yet responded to our phone calls 
and letters. Nevertheless, we registered fifteen students 
for "special study" who we hoped would be the core of 
others from the fall who might return when the painting 
got underway. We decided to start painting the unat- 
tached panels pending the university's decision. The 
lumber yard that was to contribute the materials agreed 
to supply them though it knew that the administration 
had tied the mural up in red tape. But when we went to 
pick up the wood, the owner told us that the university 
vice-president had asked him not to provide it. 

Three weeks into the semester we were finally able to 
extract from the administration the information that we 
woulcj have to go the full gauntlet to the system's board 
of trustees, if we got that far, and that for starters, an art 
committee had been selected by the president and would 
screen our work. This committee put a quick end to that 
line of procedure. It was composed of two local busi- 



nessmen, two alumni, two professors from the art de- 
partment, the facilities planning director, another cam- 
pus staff person, and the student body president, who 
did not show. The first question after our students' 
explanation of the content came from one of the busi- 
nessmen: "Why is President Nixon's portrait on the 
three-dollar bill?" When one student after another re- 
sponded with vigor, that line of questioning stopped. 

Then one of the art professors launched an attack on 
the competence and style of the work, and the rest of the 
committee fell in line with him. It was true that our 
thirteen-foot drawing only suggested the color. The 
other art professor called for a presentation of a full-scale 
cartoon — all nine-by-forty feet. Rivera and Orozco and 
the murals on the campus of the National University in 
Mexico City were invoked by the professional and lay 
members of the committee, and our composition did not 
measure up. Affirming its concern for excellence, the 
committee refused to acknowledge the importance of the 
public display of serious student work. What we learned 
was that it is difficult for a screening committee to oppose 
openly a mural's controversial content. But to criticize its 
artistic quality was to attack it with safety where it was 
most vulnerable. We realized that presenting a more 
polished cartoon would have made no difference. If a 
committee was hand picked, as we suspected this one 
was, to block the painting of a troublesome work, it was 
likely that it would do just that, even without being told 
to. 

It was now the end of February. We did not have 
access to materials and the students were beginning to 
disappear. Freimark and I made one final effort to get the 
administration's help. We wrote the vice-president a 
letter, expressing our sense that the administration had 
responsibilities to the students both to allow them to 
finish their course work and to express freely their view 
of the Bicentennial. We said that the elaborate screening 
procedures which had been put in their path were unrea- 
sonable for the display of student work. We proposed 
that the outdoor site be abandoned and that a portable 
mural be undertaken that could be hung indoors in the 
Student Union for as long as there was interest in it. 
That meant our backing away from our original hope of 
having the students work in public. The letter reached 
the president, and he agreed to our proposal, freed up the 
funds, and lifted the administration's stay on contribu- 
tions from the community. 

We were both elated and dismayed. It was now mid- 
March, and only five weeks remained in the semester. 
The students were already feeling the end-of-semester 
pressure of having to finish up work and prepare for final 
exams in other courses. Given the shortage of time and 
the declining number of students, we redesigned the 
cartoon for half of its original size. It was now planned as 
an eight-by-twenty-foot work. The materials were col- 
lected, the panels cradled in two-by-fours and given a 
gesso ground. The cartoon was copied on them from the 



Process I 371 



image of an opaque projector. And the students began 
painting. They stayed with the mural after the end of the 
semester and into the summer until jobs and vacations 
called them away. The actual painting of the mural was 
the easiest, fastest, and most enjoyable part of the entire 
process. 

When work was suspended, most of the white ground 
had disappeared. We had decided to work in a two- 
dimensional New Realist style because it was bold, 
readily adaptable to a large flat surface and was within 
the abilities of the students. Each local color was to be 
limited to two to three flat, hard-edged tones. One of the 
most experienced painters of the group, Felix Correa, 
oversaw the drawing and painting. Under his supervision 
the results in early July when work was suspended were 
impressive. Correa explained Al Capone's thin smile as 
the deceptiveness of the system. However, a number of 
viewers at this stage felt that the general effect was 
"sweeter" than we had intended. The tones were too 
pastel, the drawing too refined, they said. 

When we returned to the campus in September for the 
fall semester, there were still five students who were able 
to continue work on the mural: Jeannie Stoia, Graham 
Marshall, Chris Freimark, Jan King, and Jerry Astorga. 
Correa had graduated. Bob Freimark now painted 
alongside the students. Some of the areas were repainted, 
and in general the color became darker and the effect 
more weighty. The earlier refinement was lost, but a new 
power began to emerge. It was decided to fill in the large 
area behind the farmworkers with rows of cultivated 
fields, which acknowledged the achievement of early 
Italian growers and vintners in the area and aesthetically 
balanced the crowded left half of the mural. The students 
decided to paint the front office of the university admin- 
istration with its windows boarded up in retaliation for 
the red tape we had encountered. 

Having worked every Sunday through the fall, the 
painters were finally finished by the first of November. 
The Student Union art gallery provided space, and the 
Union's Board of Governors later agreed it should remain 
permanently. There was total contrast between the de- 
Jight of its student members and the difficulties the 
administration had made. When we saw the mural in its 
new public space with spotlights turned on it, we were 
bowled over. 

It was too late in the fall semester for a dedication. Our 
Bicentennial mural would have to wait until 1977 for its 
final launching and festivities. We settled on Valentine's 
Day as the appropriate time to present our gift. The 
Student Union provided the refreshments. There was a 
guitarist and singing. The keynote speaker was local 
Congressman Norman Mineta, who complimented the 
muralists on the outspokenness of their work and their 
willingness to risk controversy. He said he had only one 
criticism — they had not shown the "concentration 
camps" in which he and 1 10,000 other Americans of his 
Japanese ancestry had been incarcerated during World 




Felix Correa and Jeannie Stoia at work on the mural. 



War II. We were pleased by such criticism, for though he 
was correct he was also confirming our intention to make 
the mural a strong statement about the America we saw 
and the need for change. In his address Mineta said: 
"The mural's detractors and critics will be those who 
believe patriotism is a one-way street, that one cannot 
love, defend, and honor our country and at the same time 
recognize that we have made grievous errors in the past." 
He then went on to endorse the mural's criticism of 
American society and called on his listeners "to dedicate" 
themselves "to the risk of caring, of getting in- 
volved. . . ."* Although we had sent invitations to the 



372 / COMMUNITY MURAI.S 




The mural in progress, summer 1976. 



members of the university administration, none ap- 
peared. 

The ceremonies were concluded by a powerful speech 
by Harry Edwards, who had organized the demonstra- 
tion of the San Jose State Black athletes at the Mexico 
City Olympics in 1968 depicted in the mural. Edwards 
had been a track and basketball star and later a part-time 
lecturer at San Jose State. During the same fall of 1968 he 
had been the principal initiator thpre of one of the first 
Afro-American Studies departments in the United 
States. Since then he had been teaching for six years at 
Berkeley. In his address Edwards criticized what he 
called the "narcissism" that had overtaken both Whites 
and Blacks in the seventies. This self-absorption, he said, 
was making possible the increasing erosion of the gains in 
education that Fhird World people achieved in the pre- 
vious decade. He cited the declining enrollment of 
minority college students, the drying up of financial aid, 
and the closing down of ethnic-studies departments. He 
spoke of his being denied tenure at Berkeley, a battle in 
which he was currently embroiled (and finally won). He 
concluded that 

what affects Third World people affects them first. 
But what happens to us eventually happens to Whites, 
because who is the nigger is not a matter of color, not 
even a matter of sex. It is a matter of power. . . . 

So Blacks, Whites, Chicanos, everyone must get 
behind the push to keep the universities open. . . . 
Ihc key is organization. You have to reinstate the 
spirit of community and common struggle that was 
cnaracteristic of the sixties. These are the things that 



you can do and yesterday was already too late to 
start.'" 

As a result of Edwards' speech more than two hundred 
students marched through San Jose a few days later to 
urge that the U.S. Supreme Court reverse the decision of 
the California court on the Bakke case that held that 
special admission programs for minority students were 
illegal. And we were satisfied that the dedication of our 
mural had contributed to a renewal of activism. 

Having talked with a good many muralists around the 
country, I realize that the experience of our group was 
not unique. Those who have tried to do murals on 
university campuses report that they also get run from 
one committee to another, and that delays seem inter- 
minable. Nevertheless, the effort is worthwhile and via- 
ble. There are usually acres of bare walls, but it may 
become necessary, as in our case, to settle for portable 
panels to allow the students to be outspoken. To be 
permitted finally to paint on campus walls is either the 
sign that students and faculty have achieved some au- 
thority in their workplace or that their murals are incon- 
sequential. 

When we were reviewing the first semester's work, the 
forty-six students, in spite of their frustrations and the 
uncertainty that they would be able to do their mural, 
were unanimous in their belief that such collective works 
of art should be undertaken. Ihey were critical of the 
view that important art could only be done by profes- 
sionals. They also agreed that it was necessary for lay 
muralists to develop skills to be able to express their 
intentions effectively. In spite of the travail and the 
knowledge of where we fell short, we all felt that it had 
been worth it. 



Process I 373 




Harry Edwards speaking at dedication, February, 1977. 



Murals as Performance and Process 

Of all the visual arts, community murals are uniquely 
a performance art. Muralists commonly regard the pro- 
cess of their production as important as the final product, 
and they want the mural to continue the process they 
have begun. For them and often for their communities a 
mural' is a verb. It is an ongoing sequence of intense 
activity, more full of meaning and feeling than most 
because it draws out the imagination and skills of people 
to help them come to grips w ith serious public concerns. 
The artistry is in the doing. Particularly with the team 
murals and the collaborations of professionals, there are 
the collective action, the ability of each participant to 
share in the decisions and to be involved at every stage, 
the leaps of brainstorming together, the mutual support, 
the shared craftsmanship and learning from another, the 
chance to enlist the help and ideas of community people. 
There are hassles, delays, and failures, but there are 
colleagues to help you figure out what went wrong and 
start again. For the single artist who works closely with 
the community, either through formal meetings or in the 
street, the process is also important. For the community 
muralists in general there are not only the satisfactions of 
producing a visible and useful product, there are also the 



intrinsic pleasures of the day-to-day process. In a society 
in which the narrow ness, regimentation, and boredom of 
much work has to be compensated for by compulsive 
shopping, hobbies, and entertainment, the doing of mu- 
rals is demonstrating that the process of people working 
together can be fulfilling in itself. 

The heightened activity of the painters usually spreads 
to the neighborhood as local people are draw n into the 
process of public meetings, negotiations, requests for 
assistance, and the casual discussions at the site. It is by 
this means as much as by the explicit message of their 
imagery that the muralists hope to raise the conscious- 
ness and energy of the neighborhood. Local people make 
varied kinds of imput: often they select the directing 
artists, who may be local himself; they help formulate the 
theme and design, provide the site and frequently some 
of the materials and funding; they offer technical assist- 
ance, in the form of engineering or local history; they 
share in the painting, store the paints at night, bring out 
coffee, and mount the dedication. A mural may give local 
people experience, if not in making art, then in writing 
leaflets and press releases, in doing photo documentation. 



i 



374 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

research, and organizing. And there is the more general 
experience that all who participate get in community 
cooperation. The professional muralists say that they 
learn immensely by working in the neighborhoods, not 
only practical skills, but about individual people and 
their own society." 

Hence, the murals break through the distinctions be- 
tween product and the process of its production and use. 
They also overcome the division between patron, artist, 
and audience. Community murals are only alive when 
they stimulate collective behavior — while they are being 
done and afterwards. Otherwise they are eviscerated 
shells — pleasant to contemplate, but not living organisms 
that interact w ith their environment and generate more 
life. 

The performance and process character of murals and 
particularly their involving numbers of people in their 
production exhibits their connection with the public 
demonstration. Murals are in fact demonstrations that 
create the means of renewing themselves. 

An example of the importance muralists attach to the 
process of their work is the effort of the students of Santa 
Ana College to preserve it in the scene above their 
signatures in the corner of their large library mural. 
There they all are at their panels before they brought 
them indoors; some are on ladders, some working as they 
crouch dow n, while the big calavera takes shape under 
their brushes. 

The process of making a mural is important because it 
is a source of authentic community. Community is 
widely recognized as much more than people who hap- 
pen to reside and work next to each other. It begins w ith 
mutual help and a grow ing concern for one another out of 
which emerge commitments and the sharing of larger 
tasks. It is often rooted in a common way of life and 
heritage.'^ Community, like a mural, is a verb, an ongo- 
ing process of thought and action. It provides chances for 
its members to develop their abilities and gives them a 
role in choosing what is to be done. And when people 
feel that they are useful, respected, and growing, life 
seems meaningful. This is what happens in the making of 
many of the murals, and when they succeed, they ad- 
vance a neighborhood or other group's experience of 
community and stimulate it to further action. The kind 
of society we get depends on the kind of communication 
that occurs. Socially conscious murals arose in reaction to 
one-way mass communication and have sought to en- 
courage public dialogue. In addition they have provided 
an example of cooperative community-focused produc- 
tion. Doing and using a mural are community. 

Who Are the People? 

This brings us to a long delayed question: who are the 
people that make it credible to speak of people's murals? 
"We The People Demand Control Of Our Com- 
munities"; "The Neighborhood Is For People Not Big 



Business" read the leaflets carried by the protesters who 
stride out of one wall. Protect the People's Homes was the 
title of another work against urban renewal. A neighbor- 
hood of different racial groups w as responsible for People 
ofLakeview Unite, "i am the people" proclaims the plaque 
alongside a wall show ing a family propelling the world. 
People's Painters w as the name a group of college stu- 
dents took who did socially conscious murals. Walker, 
Weber, Eda, and Rogovin in a common statement distri- 
buted at the exhibition of muralists-in-action at the 
Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 1971 said: 

We are dedicated to becoming artists for the people, 
entering into a living relationship with this vast audi- 
ence, drawing on the people's boundless potential for 
creativity. 

It is in the name of "the people" that makers of murals 
affirm their life together and protest against what 
threatens it. 

The muralists and their constituencies have in mind a 
sense of who they are and what is owing to them and 
often others far distant as "the people." Selfhood and 
membership are reciprocal in their thinking. Their per- 
sonal identity is bound up with not only their families, 
but also with their neighbors, fellow workers, asso- 
ciations, ethnic groups, and ultimately humankind. And 
it is to this last and most abstract membership that they 
finally turn to make their claim to fair dealing. They 
affirm themselves as human persons. They would prob- 
ably paraphrase one or another of the nation's founding 
documents to give point to their ideas of their dignity as 
members of humanity. The paradox of their staking their 
own identity on so broad a membership makes sense 
when personhood is grasped as a social creation, the 
result of person-to-person interaction. Self and society 
develop together, particularly in a community which 
draws out and shapes the abilities of individuals and 
provides them with opportunities. 

It was during the sixties that this idea of the commu- 
nity as the proper setting for human growth was reas- 
serted and struggled for in the face of racism, mass 
society, and economic and political centralization. The 
movements of Black and Brown Pride and Power were 
among the first efforts to reidentify the community and 
its control by its own members as essential to the needs of 
people. Murals became one of their instruments, and 
these wall paintings opened up the possibility of 
community-based art and communications to other 
people as well. The first murals were done by trained 
artists who had grown up in the ghettos and barrios, and 
they gave heart to socially conscious artists from 
middle-class backgrounds — some ethnic, some White — 
to become involved. These artists were moved not 
only by the oppression of the minorities but also by 
their own dismay at mainstream art careers and the 
establishment way of life. Some believed that making 



common cause with the most exploited and helping them 
organize was a means to thoroughgoing social change. It 
was also some of these socially conscious painters who 
had been initially drawn to inner-city art who helped 
interest labor unions and White working-class neighbor- 
hoods in murals. Some people of the counterculture and 
some parents seeking art education for their children 
came to murals independently. From these varied 
sources murals were taken up by street gangs, women's 
collectives, senior citizens' groups, tenants' unions, block 
clubs, neighborhood associations, churches, college stu- 
dents, prison inmates, clients of halfway houses, and in a 
few instances the well-to-do. The affluent residents of 
Philadelphia's Hicks Street discovered one another by 
doing a mural. That should not be overestimated, just as 
it is important not to exaggerate what murals alone can 
do for the inner city. But it demonstrates the utility of 
murals in bringing people together. 

What all of these makers and users of murals share is 
some active experience of community which they either 
discovered in painting together or already knew and 
sought to advance. Because this art supports a funda- 
mental social need and because it is an art in which 
ordinary people can participate, it is reasonable to speak 
of these paintings as "people's murals." It is not an art 
limited to the poor any more than to a particular race, 
although it was among the impoverished minorities 
where it developed and is still widely practiced. In a dozen 
years it has spread to moderate income groups of all 
races, people who also are using it both to develop their 
communities and to resist a power structure that 
threatens their life together. 

The creators and public of the murals do not sen- 
timentalize about "the people." While the desperation for 
a decent way of life often narrows people, getting to- 
gether to discuss ideas for murals has provided them with 
occasions to look more broadly at their condition. Their 
plight and sense of having suffered injustice may help 
them to an awareness of their rights as people and hence 
the rights of all people. Demagoguery may mislead them 
on other occasions; but when they deliberate together 
freely over the extended time that the preparation of a 
mural requires, they may arrive at views that are angry 
but they are usually based on a sense of common justice. 
The paintings are strikingly free of expressions of intol- 
erance or chauvinism. They may affirm that "Black is 
beautiful," but they do not imply by that that other 
people are not. 

Why did murals that addressed social issues express 
only progressive points of view? As a populist vehicle 
they could have taken a reactionary direction, for the 
right has also learned grass-roots organizing. Local 
people organized at this time to oppose the integration of 
neighborhoods, school busing, and affirmative action in 
employment. There was widespread support for the 
U.S. intervention in Indochina. There was still a popular 
responsiveness to red-baiting in unions, and all progres- 



Process I 375 

sive causes risked being branded as "communist." There 
were also grass-roots campaigns against the Equal Rights 
Amendment and public funding of abortions. Yet murals 
did not take any of these positions. There were, of 
course, muralists of conservative social views, but they 
tended to exclude explicit politics from their painting. 
The explanation of why murals that dealt with social 
issues represented only progressive views must lie in part 
with the fact that conservative groups usually had access 
to the mass media and there was no need for them to seek 
relatively cheap, labor-intensive public communications. 
For instance, neighborhood associations resisting hous- 
ing integration could get help from real estate interests to 
finance TV, radio, and newspaper ads. It was the grass- 
roots progressives with few ties to corporate business that 
had to improvise their own media. Moreover, the artists 
who cooperated with them found precedents in the wall 
art of .Mexican and New Deal muralists who shared their 
politics. Progressive artists and community people de- 
veloped a fuller participation of the untrained in the 
making of public art than had ever occurred before, a 
kind of collaboration inherited from the .Movement of the 
sixties, when college students and young professionals 
brought their skills and concern to voter-registration and 
community organizing among the minorities and poor 
and did anti-war work. 

Who then are "the people" implied by the murals? 
Potentially everyone. Not individuals alienated from 
their work, locale and each other, but persons actively 
cooperating, which is the precondition of the develop- 
ment of their personhood. This collaboration requires 
the full participation of each in the decisions that affect 
his or her work and life. The concept of "the people" is 
essentially equalitarian and runs counter to all discrimi- 
nation based on race, sex, or class. The first two, while 
natural, cannot be used to diminish a person's humanity, 
and the latter — the separation between those who work 
and those they work for — exists only to perpetuate 
privilege and therefore must be eliminated if "the people" 
is to be more than an idea. The making of community 
murals has offered an approximation of how democracy 
can be achieved in art, politics, and all kinds of work. 
People have made murals not because of any superior 
virtue but because deprivation had forced them to 
depend on one another and their collective creativity. 
Thrown back on their own resources, they discovered 
and are making the rest of us aware of w ho "the people" 
are and what they can do. It has been in fact a rediscov- 
ery that has been made and lost again throughout his- 
tory. To preserve it requires continuous struggle and 
imagination. 

Fraternity 

The concept of "the people" implies not only liberty 
and equality but also that other value that the revolution- 
ary tradition has sponsored from well before 1789 — 



376 / COMMUNITY MURALS 

fraternity. The revival of interpersonal relations in public 
affairs was one of the achievements of the Movement of 
the sixties and seventies that pressed not only for 
economic and political change but also for a break with 
the manipulation of people as things. What was sought 
was not merely respect for the other as a person but an 
enlarged sense of what personhood required — concern, 
openness, trust, and sharing. Fraternity was viewed as 
both a means and an end — the solidarity necessary for 
common action and a sought-for fellowship that arises 
out of mutual aid. Its disappearance as the cement of 
community was largely what the much-discussed "alie- 
nation" of the time was about. It was widely understood 
that it had been eroded by an economic system that 
placed a premium on competitiveness and reduced per- 
sons to commodities, cogs, and statistics. Racism, it was 
realized, had contributed to the breaking of social bonds 
to provide a pool of cheap and tractable labor. 

The attempt to reestablish fraternity as a component of 
public life, while taking different names and forms with 
different groups, exhibited a common impulse. Black 
Pride and Power cultivated a profoundly felt sense of 
brotherhood and sisterhood. Heightened by music and 
art. Black soul produced a self-esteem and responsibility 
that supported collective defense and community build- 
ing. Correspondingly, Raza people revived their sense of 
carnalismo and addressed each other as carnales, persons of 
common flesh and blood. For them, too, revitalizing their 
cultural heritage was a means of shoring up their tradi- 
tional communal spirit that now produced Brown Power 
and efforts at local control. Similar revivals of ethnic 
solidarity occurred among people of Asian and East 
European heritage, w hich also supported social activism. 

For minority people, emotions of fraternity were near 
the surface of their daily life, partly because of their 
drawing close together in the face of an inhospitable 
environment, partly because they still valued their tradi- 
tional ways. But middle-class Whites who had grown up 
in a competitive mass society had to work more deliber- 
ately at "relating," although they frequently had the 
spontaneity of youth in their favor. World War II and a 
continuing liberal-left humanism promoted among many 
who served and the next generations of students a belief 
that caring and fellowship had to play a role in public 
life. Writers like Albert Camus and Martin Buber ar- 
ticulated this. To some this meant working with others to 
help them liberate themselves from racism, poverty, and 
war. Public activism was a means by which people 
sought not only to gain some control over their lives but 
also to deepen their experience of community. Those 
associated with the civil rights and antiwar movements as 
well as the New Left valued personal involvement, 
facc-to-face dialogue, "gutting with people," and con- 
sciousness raising. Groups frequently met in a circle, and 
the "chair" rotated from person to person to forestall 
dominaticm by anyone. Consensus rather than majority 
votes were sought on critical issues, discussion continu- 



ing often for hours with the hope that unanimity could be 
found. Groups watched over their own inner dynamics 
and devoted time during meetings to mutual criticism 
and self-criticism, a technique revived from the Old Left. 
The slogan of the civil-rights movement, "One man, one 
vote," was given new depth as "One man, one soul." 
Tactics were developed to get through to the other side, 
to impress opponents with the ethical seriousness of your 
position. This meant dealing with colleagues and oppo- 
nents with the hope of extending fraternity. But in spite 
of efforts to make women equal partners, it remained 
largely /ra/erw/V)/, and women had to organize their own 
movement to be able to be accepted. On the other hand, 
among muralists women from very early were treated as 
equals. 

Meanwhile others, mainly White middle-class young 
people, sought forms of relating by creating a counter- 
culture. The desire for interpersonal warmth, trust, and 
mutual aid led some to communes and collective working 
situations, many to drugs and music, and some to the 
esoteric. The "good vibes" sometimes supported social 
activism but increasingly became detached from efforts 
at serious change, and much of the youth subculture was 
co-opted by commercialized music and fashions. Simi- 
larly, their parents' encounter groups, which bore wit- 
ness to society's alienation, concentrated on sensitivity 
training rather than the basic conditions that made for 
frustration, which often resulted in their becoming better 
adjusted to the system that exploited them. 

Nevertheless, White middle-class efforts to revive 
fraternity as a component of public life left behind solid 
achievements, the most important of which were con- 
tributions to the civil-rights and antiwar movements, 
rank-and-file union organizing, alternative institutions, 
the feminist movement, and activism against domestic 
nuclear energy. 

The mural movement itself was shaped by each of the 
attempts to strengthen public fraternity — ethnic, politi- 
cal, and countercultural. The muralists' preoccupation 
with process has been largely a concern for this, and they 
succeeded almost better than any other group in achiev- 
ing a breadth of interracial fellowship on the job because 
the job often drew out their ethnic background. 

The Professional Muralists' Relations to Communities 

While most of the muralists working with neighbor- 
hoods today have broken with the mainstream art world, 
some have maintained connections with it. For instance, 
Clarence Wood and Don Kaiser, who work with the 
Philadelphia Museum of Art's Urban Outreach, also 
pursue personal careers wholly distinct from their public 
interest art. Wood does abstractions and Kaiser in the 
mid-seventies was absorbed with twenty-foot-high Coke 
bottles and bowls of spaghetti; in 1979 he was exhibiting 
works that gave the appearance of big self-supporting 
brush strokes. But in the neighborhoods they help young 



Process I 377 



people do portraits of Black heroes. Alonso Davis, who 
coordinated The Wall of Visions, operates the Brockman 
Gallery in Los Angeles and does abstract painting and 
sculpture with African masks. John Weber in Chicago 
exhibits at local galleries socially conscious and techni- 
cally adroit canvases. And as the controversy over Iran 
was boiling up in the fall of 1979, P'va Cockcroft was 
showing at a New York gallery easel paintings of revolu- 
tionary women there based on a recent visit. 

Some muralists are altogether conscious of their role in 
helping organize communities. The very process that 
they engage in — working with community people to 
develop a theme and design on urgent issues — is or- 
ganizing. The artist is an educator and a leader. 

Mark Rogovin thinks that being a professional painter 
who is very serious about improving the quality of his art 
does not conflict with his efforts at social change. Al- 
though he does not think of himself as an organizer, he 
sees his role as helping communities articulate their 
concerns, which he believes contributes to their or- 
ganizing. To be the kind of muralist he wants to be, he 
says, requires that his art and activism coincide. To 
improve his art is to make it more socially effective. It 
seems to him inadequate to speak of only strengthening 
the formal aesthetic qualities of murals. Strong art means 
to him developing images that teach and set people into 
motion. 

When muralists are asked if they think of themselves as 
painters first or as professionals with skills they can 
contribute to social action, they give different answers. 
Caryl Yasko did not hesitate to say that as devoted as she 
was to change and working with neighborhood people, 
she was primarily committed to painting. But her actual 
behavior was more complex than her words would 
suggest. When we first talked in the summer of 1974, she 
was excited about a new wall she had just secured in 
Chicago's Logan Square. It was forty feet high, the 
highest she had yet worked on. She was checking out 
different kinds of scaffolding. She talked of experiments 
she wanted to do, of the challenges of a wall with 
complex surfaces, of trying to integrate vents, flues, and 
roof water tanks into the design of a wall. She wished she 
could collaborate with architects in designing buildings 
with walls planned for murals. But she also talked about 
the long process she had worked through with the com- 
munity people of Logan Square. It had been a 
breakthrough — the first mural in that White working- 
class neighborhood. She had done a number of designs 
before she got their appyroval. The one that they had 
selected was not the one she had most w anted to do, but 
she knew that she must satisfy them. Six weeks later she 
said that the negotiations for the wall had fallen through. 
However, she was determined not to sacrifice the efforts 
she and the community had put into the planning. She 
had secured a second wall and was about to begin on it 
although it was the end of the summer, and it would take 
her till the end of October to complete it. She owed it to 




Caryl Yasko on the scaffolding of Our Search for 
Knowledge in an Ever-Changing Universe, Madison, 
1977. (Photo Niki Glen) 

the neighborhood, she said. Her husband and children, 
who were with her in Chicago, would have to return 
without her to Texas where he taught. 

William Walker on one occasion spoke about his con- 
cern that there might be a contradiction between art that 
sought to become community-based and the artist w ho 
moved about freely without roots and without a commu- 
nity that had claims on him. To Caryl Yasko, who was 
present, it seemed that the apparent contradiction was 
overcome by a muralist's intense involveirient with a 
community while he or she was working with it — a series 
of public meetings and negotiations as well as painting in 
the street that might go on for more than a year. In 1976, 
a year and half later, Yasko still felt she could identify 
with successive communities and wanted to learn from 



378 / COMMUNITY MURALS 



new areas by doing murals in them. She had liked Hving 
for two years in Chicago's Hyde Park, where she had 
done two works; she then had moved to the North Side 
and done murals in yet other and very different 
neighborhoods. Later when her husband received a 
teaching appointment at the University of Wisconsin in 
Whitewater, she went on to paint walls in Madison and 
Racine, working closely w ith local f)eople and maturing 
as an artist. 

In 1974 the artists of the Chicago .\1ural Group looked 
to Ray Patlan as the painter among them who was closest 
to a particular neighborhood. At that point he had given 
up some of his own painting and was finding satisfaction 
in introducing young people to murals and helping them 
discover their own abilities. Ft was felt by some muralists 
that he was sacrificing his talent, though all respected his 
commitment to his barrio. Throughout the summer he 
would be on the streets with neighborhood teenagers, 
and during the rest of the year he taught classes in local 
schools and continued the murals on the inside of Casa 
Aztlan. He was not interested in a private artist's career, 
but he did leave Chicago to teach at the Chicano Studies 
Program at the University of California in 1975 and 
1976. He said he had grown up in the Pilsen barrio, had 
worked eleven years at Casa Aztlan, and needed a 
change. There had also been a disagreement with some of 
the staff at the settlement house, and when a good offer 
to teach murals and graphic art at Berkeley came, he 
snatched it up. From the Chicano Art Center at the 
University he was working with his students, some of 
them Anglos from the School of Environmental Design, 
on neighborhood murals. Sites varied from a Telegraph 
Avenue Mexican restaurant, a Latino student center, and 
a high school to a business-district wall that prisoners 
helped design. After two or three years away from his 
barrio, he thought he would want to return and become 
a resident muralist again. He felt there were walls 
enough there to keep him busy for twenty years or 
more. He was also concerned that doing murals had 
become so popular that all kinds of painters were 
taking a hand at them without understanding that 
people's art required close responsiveness to neighbor- 
hood residents. He criticized some of the newcomers for 
being more interested in using public walls to do their 
own art rather than the community's. To be an effective 
people's muralist, he said, it was important for painters 
to be involved in the discussions and politics of local 
organizations. When he would return to Pilsen, he 
foresaw making the barrio the focus of his activity, but 
aLso taking on mural commissions elsewhere in Chicago, 
for instance in public buildings. In 1976 he thus .seemed 
as committed to community-based art as he had two 
years earlier. In 1978 still in Berkeley, he was now a 
full-time CKTA muralist with the newly organized 
Commtmarts and was working in the neighborhoods 
though mainly on collaborations with other trained art- 
ists on such works as the La Vchi Song of Unity . 



The Chicago .Mural Group as a whole has been active 
in ongoing ways in particular neighborhoods, returning 
to do new murals there and restore works as they age. 
During the winter, when the artists cannot do outdoor 
projects, they direct team murals in the schools. John 
Weber had particularly absorbed himself with working 
through months of group process with neighborhood 
associations and teenagers to bring off works. By 1975 
C.MG felt the need to consolidate and not be drawn too 
far afield or to take on too many members. They decided 
to do fewer murals with untrained youth teams and more 
collaborations among CMG professionals with a few 
local artists. The CMG painters wanted to do fresh and 
more solid work that would command respect from local 
people who were becoming demanding judges of wall 
art. Thus they did not regard this new direction as a 
turning away from the community.''' By involving local 
artists and consulting with officials of the sponsoring 
groups, they hoped to remain in contact with it. They 
felt that their outdoor professional work was balanced by 
winter participatory projects in schools and the training 
of local apprentices who showed talent. The CMG thus 
functions as a professional public service that offers its 
skills to different neighborhoods, schools, and unions in a 
conscientious way. Individual artists spend a great deal 
of time in particular communities, but most of them 
value their mobility. 

No member of C.VIG had concentrated as much of his 
art in a single area as Ray Patlan had in Pilsen. And what 
was more striking, few if any had integrated as com- 
pletely as he the doing of murals with residence and 
social action in the same neighborhood. In contrast to 
Patlan other CMG artists were engaged in a community's 
struggles mainly as muralists, which jtsclf meant a con- 
siderable involvement. But often they did not live in the 
neighborhood and belong to the political groups where 
they painted. This division of work and residence was 
shared by many other social muralists. And in most cases 
they did not perceive it as a contradiction; they painted 
where the opportunities arose. The question remains, 
however, whether individual development cannot best be 
integrated with the development of a single community. 
It is a question that is fundamental to the muralists' 
reexamination of what a professional and a community 
should be. 

The muralists of the Los .'\ngeles barrios, on the other 
hand, are mostly residents of the areas where they paint. 
But in spite of the hundreds of murals that have been 
painted there, the energy they generated has not been 
turned sufficiently to organizing and community control. 
Clearly resident muralists are not enough. 

One of the most far-reaching and significant instances 
of the involvement of a number of muralists in their 
locale is that of the artists of the Barrio Logan in San 
Diego. Murals began there as an instrument to the very 
survival of the neighborhood, and the painters envisaged 
their painting as part of their community's reconstruc- 



Process I 379 



tion. They not only expressed their vision of the future in 
paint, but helped form a community association which 
they have tried to make function as the official planning 
authority for the barrio. Both their social and artistic 
achievements were impressive, but progress was slow, 
and the coordinator of the Chicano Park murals, Victor 
Ochoa, after four years in that position, felt frustrated by 
the struggles and resigned. 

Los Artes Guadalupanos de Aztlan also have bound up 
their murals with their involvement in the social institu- 
tions of the Santa Fe barrio which included helping 
found a school aimed at reshaping the way of life of local 
Chicanos. Concentrated involvement in the local scene 
did not preclude painting elsewhere, in Denver, 
Phoenix, and Las Vegas, New Mexico. But the shoot-out 
at their school and the subsequent trial dried up their 
funding, in spite of the acquittal of all Chicanos, and 
brought an end to the muralists' work together. 

Esteban Villa, one of the founding members of the 
RCAF, says that it has been criticized for working 
outside of the barrios of Sacramento and particularly for 
its traveling. But, he adds, w hen it paints elsew here, as it 
has in San Diego and Burley, Idaho, it has taken as many 
artists and young people as possible, with a view to 
broadening their experience. It had close ties with 
Chicano centros around California and was active in the 
statewide Concilia de Arte Popular that lobbied the gover- 
nor and legislature. Its posters were exhibited in Cuba, 
and it showed Cuban posters in Sacramento. It did not see 
any contradiction between its intense involvement m its 
home barrios and its going outside them. 

In general. White muralists, particularly those from 
middle-class backgrounds, are more mobile. But this is 
not true of all of them. For instance, Mark Rogovin has 
lived for ten years above the storefront Public Art Work- 
shop in a Chicago Black ghetto. Besides providing ser- 
vices to local young people and the base of local mural 
work, it is a resource center that exchanges slides and 
literature on social art with people throughout the coun- 
try. 

During a lunch break in a Los Angeles murals confer- 
ence in 1976 Rogovin mentioned that Jim Yanagisawa 
had said to him recently that muralists were going to 
have to be more selective about where they did work. 
Yanagisawa had argued that they should paint only in 
neighborhoods that showed the possibility of political 
movement. Judy Baca, who was present, said, "No." She 
had to help with painting wherever her people were and 
needed and wanted murals. She did not mean a particu- 
lar barrio, but Chicanos all over Los Angeles. But in fact 
she was also working with groups from all races in the 
city. Neither she nor Yanagisawa seemed wrong. Differ- 
ent muralists have different kinds of links with the 
communities they work in, and it is well that this is so, 
for the artists will then have that much more to learn 
from each other. 

The experience of town artists in Britain was described 



to U.S. muralists by David Harding, who showed slides 
of his work in Glenrothes, Scotland, at the West Coast 
Murals /Graffiti Conference in Los Angeles in 1976. He 
made a deep impression on a number of them w ith his 
account of resident public artists who w ere employed for 
extended periods of time and treated as professionals. 
John Weber said in 1979 that he would like to see similar 
positions in neighborhoods and cities in this country w ith 
artists being hired for, say, five years and accountable to 
local people. He envisioned artists living and practicing 
in housing projects, for instance. In one he or she might 
be a muralist, in another, a dancer, a poet, or director of 
plays. Mark Rogovin and Barbara Russum have said that 
"There should be a public art workshop in every block," 
for their experience at PAW has been that their store- 
front studio is used mainly by young people but also by 
adults from within a block or two. 

Thus muralists currently find themselves in varied and 
sometimes unsettled relationships with communities. 
Many live in the area where they paint, and some of these 
are involved in local politics and organizing in addition to 
their mural work. Others arc members of groups, agen- 
cies, or institutions that provide services over an area 
which is so large that it is often difficult to form ongoing 
ties except on a professional basis. Yet all of these 
painters are exploring new relationships with com- 
munities. 



Professionalism 

The muralists' concept of their professionalism is af- 
fected by their desire to empower people in their com- 
munities. The mural movement grew out of the neglect 
and distortions that minority people suffered at the hands 
of professionals in public education and communications. 
And this experience was matched by the kind of service 
they received from other mainstream professionals. But 
the people of the inner city were only the most obvious 
victims of a more widepsread unresponsiveness of profes- 
sionals to clients that has developed in advanced indus- 
trial society as technicians and specialists acquired inter- 
ests different from the people they were expected to 
serve. Critics have pointed out how professionals' exper- 
tise and access to high technology, their idea of standards 
and control of the number who could enter their calling, 
have become bound up with the advancement of their 
personal careers.'* .Meanwhile the manner of delivering 
services has made the public increasingly dependent on 
professionals. Some difference has begun to have been 
made by paraprofessionals; but with relatively little 
training lay people have begun to provide many of these 
services to themselves and one another w ith often greater 
sensitivity to their actual needs than professionals could 
offer. As a result, the traditional bourgeois model of the 
conscientious expert has been challenged, and a new 
concept emerged of the professional, who, while re- 



380 /COMMUNITY MURALS 

maining available for specialized skills, also facilitates the 
self-help and mutual responsibility of ordinary people. 
I his is in fact a revival of the idea of community.'* Fhe 
professional muralists have followed a course parallel to 
this "deprofessionalizing" that has (Kcurred in education, 
health, legal, and other social services, in "sweat equity" 
housing, in urban agriculture, and in a wide range of 
enterprises.'® 

The full-time muralists have realized that there is no 
professional substitute for the responsiveness of people to 
their own needs in the area of public communications. 
The problem has been to help them learn to take advan- 
tage of sympathetic professionals and to develop media 
they could use. This meant the adoption of techniques 
that could be readily learned, that encouraged participa- 
tion and made possible effective expression. While the 
artist has helped and trained local people to do murals 
both with him and by themselves, he also has been able 
to do wall painting on his own or with colleagues which 
challenged current ideas in the neighborhood or ex- 
perimented with new forms of expression. 

These new roles for the professional muralist have not 
meant the eroding of the standards of art but the meeting 
of needs that were previously neglected and the raising of 
the collective iniatiative of local people. The new func- 
tions of art have brought with them new standards of 
quality which take into account whether a work is re- 
sponsive to the special needs of neighbors, whether it 
involves them in its making and strengthens their self- 
determination. 

While most lay people who participate in the making 
of murals will not go on to make a career in the visual 
arts, their experience can help them discover the im- 
portance and satisfactions of public dialogue and ac- 
tivism, and encourage them to seek social involvements, 
not as professionals but as citizens. Their work on murals 
also provides them with a model for vocations that are 
community-based. 

NOTES 

1 . Eva and James Cockcroft, "Cityarts Workshop — People's 
Art in New York City " Left Curve, Summer 1975, p. 4 f. 

2. "Chicago's Wall Paintings: An Artist Sounds Off," 
Panorama section, Chicago Daily News, March 15-16, 1975, p. 
17. 

3. NMN, no. 2, 1978, p. 5. 

4. Information about Citywide Murals comes from discus- 
sions with Judy Baca and "Citywide Mural Program," a pro- 
posal she prepared for the l^)s Angeles Board of Recreation 
and Parks in 1974. 

5. Tern Horowitz, "Muraiizing in Chicago," Chicago Express, 
July 19, 1972, p. 5. 

6. "A Wall .Mural Belongs to Everybody," Youth, Sep- 
tember 1972, p. 63. 

7. .Weber recommended reading Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of 
the Oppressed for an account that illuminated his own methods 



and those of other muralists. PVeire, until he was exiled from 
Brazil, trained professionals to teach reading in the slums of 
Recife and the countryside. By developing an approach that 
was not a cultural imposition on the illiterate but rather a 
means of encouraging them to express their own perceptions, 
he was able to help them build a workable elementary literacy 
in thirty to forty hours. Their ability to make out the news- 
paper and write simple statements in so short a time was 
released by introductory sessions that gave people who be- 
lieved they were ignorant and incapable of change a sense of 
their capability and an eagerness to learn. 

A teacher would meet w ith a "cultural circle" of twenty-five 
to thirty participants and begin by projecting slides of draw- 
ings show ing people like themselves in their familiar world. He 
would encourage them to discuss these scenes and demonstrate 
to them that they had opinions worthy of respect and that in 
fact they made not only their own living and their tools, but 
also the ideas, language, and social arcangements that permit- 
ted them to come to grips with the world. " '1 make shoes,' " 
said one participant, " 'and now I discover that I have as much 
value as a Ph.D. who u rites books' " (Paolo Freirc, Education 
for Critical Consciousness [New York: Seabury, 1974], p. 47) " 'I 
know that I am cultured,' " an elderlv peasant said emphati- 
cally. . . . Because I work, and uorking 1 transform the 
world.' " (Ibid., p. 47 f.) Before trying to teach his pupils to 
read, Freire sought to help them understand that the reflection 
and labor with which people shape nature create culture — a 
humanized world. (Ibid., p. 46) Their discussion generated in 
the illiterate a pride in what they came to see was a uniquely 
human achievement — a world made by people that could itself 
be transformed. Therefore they could conclude that their own 
situation was open to unforeseen possibilities. 

Freire says that the educator's role is to offer the illiterate 
"the instruments with which he canteach himself to read and 
write." (Ibid., p. 48) He achieved literacy not through 
memorizing but through gaining the perspective that he was a 
creator who could transform himself and his world in dialogue 
and cooperation with others. Fhe members of the circle were 
then ready to undertake training in literacy itself, which 
depended on selecting a brief set of words that were important 
to them and which contained all the phonemes in Portuguese. 
From these they could quickly learn to make out other words. 

Learning, as Freire sees it, is inherently democratic and 
education for freedom when it allows students to be active 
participants in creating their own know ledge and culture by 
encouraging them to think about how and why they exist the 
way they do and to intervene to transform it, if that is what 
they want. (Ibid., pp. 4, 160) He says that he sought a literacy 
program "capable of releasing other creative acts, one in which 
students would develop the impatience and vivacity which 
characterizes search and invention." (Ibid., p. 43) Central to 
the learning process is the developing of what Freire calls 
"critical consciousness" (Portuguese: conscientizacao, sometimes 
translated as "consciousness-raising"). (Pedagogy of the Oppressed 
[New York: Seabury, 1973], p. 19) This is the reflection that is 
necessary for people to be able to transform conditions by 
identifying the conceptual and social constraints on them. Its 



object is to help those who are learning to read and write to 
examine the preconceptions that are imbedded in their lan- 
guage and ideas, the way they "named the world." (Ibid., p. 
133) This provides a way to break through the fatalism with 
which they regard their condition, for reflection, Freire be- 
lieves, will reveal that their self-depreciation is in fact the result 
of colonialist and racist stereotypes of the local ruling group. 
This demystifying of reality can not be done in the manner of 
propaganda but only by a person trained to help people think 
the matter through. It is crucial that they work out the 
problem themselves, for the purpose of the process is to make 
them masters of their perceptions so that they can take control 
of their lives. (Ibid., pp. 97, 118) This Freire regards as 
"cultural revolution." (Ibid., pp. 132, 156 f.) 

The relevance of Freire's ideas to the people who make 
community murals is not difficult to trace. His use of slides to 
stimulate dialogue and his getting participants to reflect on the 
language they were learning to read and write are comparable 
to the chance that is presented when people come together to 
make a mural. It can become an occasion when the professional 
muralist can help them develop a critical consciousness of their 
images and their actual condition to determine whether they, 
too, are the victims of stereotypes and who profits from them. 
Coming to understand that the way people see the world is a 
projection of someone's interests, they can begin to revisualize 
it in accord with their own needs and abilities. The mural 
process thus becomes a means for people to liberate their own 
thinking and provides them an instrumentality for their self- 
education so that they can break through the apparent blind 
alleys of their existence. The essential feature of "cultural 



Process I 381 

revolution" that it holds out is no particular program but the 
process of dialogue and expression by which f)eople can grow 
through critical thought and intervene to change not only the 
way they see things. 

Freire was in Chicago for a conference on alternative schools 
in 1977, and Weber, who took him to mural sites, says that he 
was delighted by what he saw. 

8. "Universal Alley," report to the C.MG, 1974. 

9. "Freedom Through Enlightenment," remarks by the 
Honorable Norman Y. Mineta, mural dedication, San Jose 
State University, February 14, 1977. 

10. Quoted by Tony Bizjak, "Edwards charges minority 
exclusion" Spartan Daily (San Jose State University), February 
16, 1977, p. 1 f. 

1 1 . Some-muralists like Carlos Almaraz speak in the manner 
of Mao not only of serving the people, but of going down to 
them to learn about their life and to work among them. 
(Almaraz, "The Artist As A Revolutionary," Cbismearte, Fall 
1976.) 

12. Cf. Eva and James Cockcroft, "People's Art and Social 
Change," Radical America, March-April 1978, p. 7. 

13. "North Side Report— Summer, 1974," C.MG, pp. 2, 9. 

14. Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality (New York: Harper and 
Row, 1973). 

15. Raymond Williams, Culture and Society (New York: 
Harper Torchbooks, 1966), p. 330. 

16. John C. Turner and Robert Tichter, Freedom to Build 
(New York: Macmillan, 1972). Also, John C. Turner, Housing 
by People (New York: Pantheon, 1977). 



7 



AESTHETICS AND STYLE 



The Mural 



There is no admission price 

standing 

between us and these colors 

There is no frame 

other than the sky, the rain, the sun, 

the people, the polluted air. 

There is no guard 

reminding us 

not to touch 
not to stare too long 
not to lean against 
not to piss on it. 

Is this a work of art? 

And where are the precautions? 

Where are the insurance companies? 

Where is the silence that goes, 

hand in hand, 

with all those art pieces that h 

n 

^inm 
u 
s 

e 
u 



Is this a work of Art? 

Yes, it is! 
A work of art, 
like you & I, 
brother/ sister. , 

These images on the wall 

have come to live among us, 

to hang out in this neighborhood, 

to grow old and wrinkled, 

to die among us. 

This museum is always open, 

always free, 

always generous, like mama's love! 

Is this a work of art? 

You better believe it! 

This is where it all came from! 

GO ASK THE CAVEMEN. 



This poem was written by Carlos Baron, a Chilean 
refugee who teaches drama at San Francisco State and is 
on the board of Commonarts in Berkeley. It was read at 
the dedication of the Berkeley Viva la Raza mural in 1977 
and the following year at a ceremony beneath the mural 
in D.C. where the painters added Baron's slogan: "A 
People Without Murals Are a De-muralized People." His 
poem captures the widespread sense of neighborhood 
people that the official culture of their society is cut off 
from them while there is an important need for public art 
in their lives. Where murals have appeared, they are 
understood as acts of caring and community, and the 
poem implies that this is the primordial source of art. It 
suggests too that people and their life together are also 
kinds of art, and that murals contribute to this. The 
poem points to the principal achievement of these 
murals — the recovery of art by ordinary people as a vital 
part of .their everyday existence. In developing com- 
munications media to meet crucial needs, these walls 
began to reconnect art and daily work so as to make for a 
fully human life in the community. 

This is of momentous significance because art as a 
\ehicle of serious meaning had become as remote from 
most people as the museums of the poem, and common 
occupations offered declining chances for most workers 
and professionals to act creatively into the world to meet 
their needs. People had lost control over their percep- 
tions and production, and as a result, art, work, and 
human needs had lost contact. 



Aesthetics and Style / 3S3 
AESTHETICS 

Art, Work, and Community 

The source of creativity is the labor process itself. It 
changes nature, shapes it to meet human needs and 
provide new satisfactions. By changing the world and 
their relations to it, people change themselves and grow. 
And the pleasure of growth — of greater comprehension 
and more fulfilling interaction with the world — is at the 
root of aesthetic delight.' 

The poem's example of cave art recalls that people's 
making of their own images was once an essential part of 
most productive work. When cave dwellers depicted 
animals on their walls to insure a successful hunt or 
perform a seasonal ritual, the making of visual symbols 
was as important to them as the fashioning of spears. As 
people relinquished their belief in the magical power of 
imagery, they continued to give meaningful shapes and 
figuration to their walls, utensils, garments, and all the 
gear of living. With these visible forms, they oriented 
themselves in the world, fixed and communicated their 
ideas, aroused and guided their activity, molding their 
consciousness at the same time as nature. Because this 
imagery expressed their understanding and values, it was 



Carlos Bardn: the words; Centro de Arte painters: the 
image, 1978, Adams-Morgan section, Washington, D. C. 





W^^TJii iS^^vSr^ ' 



Ife 



3H4 / COMMUNITY MURALS 




Rock Painting, c. A. D. 1000, Cueva Pintada, Sierra de 
San Francisco, Baja California. (Photo Paul Freeman.) 



essential to their survival and growth. While human 
beings were otherwise weak in relation to their environ- 
ment, the unique source of their power and astonishing 
development has been their visual along with their verbal 
symbols, the media of their thinking and communicat- 
ing. And everything they made that had visual form — 
their mental pictures, murals, and equipment for 
everyday life — was symbolic in so far as it expressed 
their meanings.^ 

The meaningfulness of their imagery could not be 
imported or imposed from outside people's own experi- 
ence; it was produced as they came to grips with their 
developing needs and discoveries and reshaped nature 
and their vision of it. The meaning they expressed in the 
visual forms of the things they made was the meaning 
they found in their work: its utility in sustaining life and 
comfort; the orderliness and sensory appeal that could be 
discovered in or given to things; their work's capability of 
communicating their ideas. Also meaningful were the 
pleasures of a skilled process that drew out the abilities of 
workers and through which they grew. And in addition 
there were the satisfactions of working with and for 



people they cared about, gaining their esteem and re- 
newing community. When work was meaningful in these 
ways, it showed in the things they njade and heightened 
the sense of life for producers and users. And since the 
ancients, it has been regarded as art.^ 

Art has been the common term that described all 
skilled making by artisans whose work was only com- 
plete if it expressed their meanings in its visible forms. 
Mural coordinator Rene Yariez was following this usage 
when he observed that "if something has good craftsman- 
ship and a little soul, it shows. . . . Anything that is done 
well and with love, honesty, and skill is art."^ The belief 
that shapes and imagery that signify are necessary to all 
skilled work is exhibited in the commonplace pots and 
pans of the old Greeks, African tribesmen, indios, and the 
products of all workers who have been masters of their 
labor. A drinking cup or bowl had not only to be 
serviceable, it had also to exhibit a locally meaningful 
shapeliness and design, perhaps retell an edifying or 
amusing tale, or preserve a familiar scene. It thereby 
reinforced or expanded the experience of a community. 
Correspondingly public murals throughout history have 
commemorated important events, projected fundamental 
realities and urged action. This art in domestic and 
public workmanship that shaped daily existence, made 
for a culture, a meaningful way of life. 



!f'iy4^'^^^- 




youth crew directed by Judy Baca (Social and Public Art 
Resource Center and City wide Murals): ''1900 Immi- 
grant California,'' Tujunga Wash Mural, 1976, San 
Fernando Valley. 





Victor Ochoa, Rauljaquez, and local youth: IVarrio Si, 
Yonkes No! Behind: Michael Schnorr and Susan 
Yamagata: Coatlique, Diosa de la Tierra. Further 
back: Tony de Vargas: Mural for Pinto Union. All 1978, 
Chicano Park, San Diego. . 



Isaac Shamsud-Din: Vanport — The Promise, 1978, 
Albina Human Resources Center, Portland. 




James Dong and Nancy Horn: V Mural, 1976, "'Some 
Events in American History'' exhibit, San Francisco 
Museum of Modern Art. 



Miranda Bergman, Vicky Hamlin, Thomas Kunz, Jane 
Norling, Arch Williams, and Peggy Tucker (Haight " 
Ashbury Muralists): Our History Is No Mystery ^ 
(partial view), 1976, San Francisco. 





David Bradford: WAPAC mural, 1977, Fillmore, San 
Francisco. 



Dewey Grumpier: Fire Next lime, 1977, Hunter's 
Point Recreation Center, San Francisco. 




Margo Bors, Susan Cervantes, Jose Gomez, Denise 
Meehan, Tony Parrinello, and others (Precita Eyes 
Muralists): China Books Mural, 1978, Mission Dis- 
trict, San Francisco. (© All rights reserved) 



Daniel Galvez, Janet Krenzberg, Osha Neumann, 
O'Brian Thiele, and others: A People's History of 
Telegraph Avenue, 1976, Berkeley. 




Pedro Romero: Servicios de Salud para Su Familia 
{Health Services for Your Family), 1979, Pueblo. 



Mary Pat ton and local artists: Douglass Street Mural, 
1976, Park Slope, Brooklyn. (Rosenthal Art Slides) 









// 




^i 



Gilberto Guzman: Gold Star Mothers, 7977, Bataan 
Memorial Building, Santa Fe. 



John Weber and Barry Bruner (CMG): Nuestras 
Vidas — Our Lives, 1978, Chicago. 



_ Mitchell Caton, Justine DeVan, and Calvin Jones 
^ (CMG): A Time to Unite, 1976, Chicago. 





Caryl Yasko, Niki Glenn, and John McNeilles: Our 
Search for Knowledge in an Ever-Changing Uni- 
verse, 1977, Madison. (Photo Caryl Yasko) 




Students directed by Robert Freimark and .\iiin Harnett: 
Freedom vs. Exploitation = Revolution, 1975-76, 
San Jose State University, San Jose. 




Charles Davis and George Hunt, directors, and art 
students of Shelby State Community College: A Tribute 
to Beale Street, 1980, Memphis. 




Mitchell Caton, William Walker, and Santi Isrowuth- 
akul (CMC): Wall of Daydreaming and Man's Inhu- 
manity to Man, 1975, Chicago. 




Jose Delgadillo: Untitled mural, 1973, School of Design 
and Crafts, Mexico City. 




Leopoldo Flores: Staircase murals, 1974, Casa de la 
Cultura, Toluca, Mexico. 



As social beings, people have produced according to 
the values and forms that they have worked out together, 
and their life in common has made possible the develop- 
ment of individual personality and talent that have kept 
communities growing and vital. But for labor to be art 
requires that working people individually and together 
maintain control over their perceptions and production, 
and this they have had frequently to struggle to achieve 
and preserve.'^ Because people have to work out their 
own meanings, art is inherently incompatible with servil- 
ity. When it becomes official and academic, it becomes 
sterile. 

In the latter half of the twentieth century, most 
Americans working in a centralized corporate economy 
and exposed to a barrage of imagery and messages from 
its mass media, have been hard pressed to maintain 
control over their labor and ideas. The conditions of 
modern industrial production geared primarily to 
maximizing profits for absentee investors have provided 
little opportunity to workers for initiative or expression 
to give meaning to their lives. And this has been reflected 
in falling worker morale along w ith high rates of absen- 
teeism and personnel turnover, wildcat strikes, al- 
coholism, and dependence on drugs.* New generations 
of production and service workers and increasing num- 
bers of professionals have reiterated in their turn the 
complaints of two centuries concerning the displacing of 
skills by technology, the fragmentation of work, its 
boredom, impersonality, regimentation, and pace. Sur- 
veys indicate that what people w ant is work that is useful 
and interesting, jobs that offer initiative, expression, and 
growth, companionship and esteem, and over which 
workers can exercise control.^ These are the lasting 
values of craftsmanship. But the system has sought to 
divert workers' attention to wages and fringe benefits 
(that are necessary enough), and to leisure, alluring con- 
sumer goods, mass entertainment, and recreation. 

The contemporary fine arts, increasingly supported by 
business and government, have also distracted people 
from meaningful action. High culture has provided both 
artists and their audiences v\ ith the pleasures of sensory 
form, ingenious workmanship, and the savoring of 
expression, but all as ends in themselves. In the face of 
alienating vocations, the arts during the last two cen- 
turies became a refuge of personal creativity by aban- 
doning practical uses and social aims. This satisfied many 
artists and their patrons for whom causes and ideology 
appeared either discredited, naive, or threatening. The 
disinterestedness prescribed by mainstream aesthetic 
theory in the mid-tw entieth century came to characterize 
both "works of art" and "art appreciation." "Works of 
art" in the current sense, have in fact appeared occasion- 
ally through history as luxury goods and in mod