A restoration in progress of Glenn Avila's iconic Freeway Kids mural. Photo by Daniel Aguilar, via Notes on Looking.

A restoration in progress of Glenn Avila’s iconic Freeway Kids mural. Photo by Daniel Aguilar, via Notes on Looking.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Think of Los Angeles and many natives, if not most of the world, will think partly of its street art. The city is filled with media on the streets, from soaring murals to clever but illegal wheat pastes to scrawled out gang tags.

But for the past ten years, LA’s murals have been an endangered species. While the issue has been a complex one, an extensive summary came from The Atlantic Cities blog noted how much of the current ban emerged from the city’s conflict since time immemorial between commercial forces and, well, everything else:

But around this same time, those loose rules [on mural making] were also creatively interpreted by advertisers, who were using hand-painted signage to promote various products. The city, seeking to stop advertisers from taking advantage of the system, tried to make new rules to govern where “signs” could be placed in the city, with an exemption for the murals that had been included in that umbrella term.

This basically meant a freezing-in-place of legal murals (illegal street art and graffiti are another matter entirely), while new murals existed in an odd gray zone. A proposed ordinance allowed for vinyl “murals” but not handpainted ones, and single family homes would not be allowed to commission works.

In a recent piece in LA art blog Notes on Looking, Carlyn Aguilar, who’s been following this issue closely, captured the cognitive dissonance many LA natives feel about the ban as they move around the city:

When I drive down the 101 freeway with out-of-town guests, as an art lover I have to admit that I am utterly embarrassed to show them the ugly vinyl banners bouncing around in the wind that are currently hanging on sites where murals used to be, those amazing murals that gave me inspiration as a child growing up in LA in the 80s.

Months after that depressing post, Aguilar — along with many other LA writers — has happily reported that the city will indeed be getting its murals back. According to the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles press release, single family homes will still be excluded for now — properties must have two more units — and the extensive application process requires a 45-day waiting period. This sounds fine in theory, but given the role of murals in social commentary, this will greatly hamper the ability for a community to spontaneously create a work. Murals that go up must remain for two years, no doubt a way to discourage advertisers.

The exciting part is that the Mural Conservancy is actually restoring many of the city’s more historic murals, including Kent Twitchell’s Monument series and Glenn Avila’s famous LA Freeway Kids mural on the 101. It will be some time yet, but given how much the world’s interest in street art has shifted in the past 10 years, the city may just stake a claim once more as one of the mural capitals of the world.

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An Xiao

Artist An Xiao (aka An Xiao Mina) photographs, films, installs, performs and tweets and has shown her work in publications and galleries internationally. Find her online at @anxiaostudio...