Los Angeles used to be the mural capital of the world. Those grand works could be seen along soundwalls on major freeways, on the side of tall buildings, and even along underpasses. But thousands of pieces of artwork that illustrated the city’s history have been destroyed by taggers seeking quick fame. City officials, especially Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa could care less — the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs receives $20,000 a year to maintain those murals. That means instead of providing enough money to restore the artworks, the whole mural just gets covered over with beige paint. Philadelphia, a smaller city, receives $3 million a year to keep its murals clean. I interviewed artist Ernesto de la Loza in this story (Daily News, Jan. 7, 2007), and then revisited the issue again with muralists Judy Baca, Kent Twitchell and East Los Streetscapers in this story (Daily News, Oct. 21, 2007). Bottom line: Los Angeles doesn’t care about its public art. From one of my stories:
Near a bridge downtown, Ernesto de la Loza painted his vision of hope and despair in Los Angeles.
There is the woman who symbolizes the City of Angels, her hair flowing behind her and disappearing into her angel’s wings. She peers over the outstretched arms of a man, one side of his body strong and muscular, the other side skeletal as he struggles with the allure of drugs.
But along the bottom of de la Loza’s 100-foot mural on Silver Lake Boulevard, crews of taggers eager for quick fame have used the work as their canvas.
Their names, scrawled in black and blue and silver spray paint, signify deadly games of street combat and codes of honor. And they convey the exact opposite message of the mural’s intent.
“It’s devastating,” de la Loza said on a recent day as he surveyed the damage to his mural and traced one of the tagger’s names with his finger as if it were a scar. “These are my babies, and they are destroying it.”