Once deemed the Mural Capital of the World, LA became a ghost town for muralists. Started in 2003, the ban was directed at advertisers and simply took many artists with it. At the time, LA was concerned about corporate messages being hidden in the many public art displays around town, a guerrilla marketing tactic that made it hard to differentiate someone pushing a product and someone trying to create art. A blanket ban on murals ended the all public art displays, corporate and otherwise, but the city has been persuaded after a long decade that public art can be allowed back. LA’s own Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, a non-profit dedicated to preserving and documenting murals, drafted the legislation as a combined effort between the city and hundreds of local muralists and artists. Even though the ban has been repealed, it hasn’t come without restrictions.
Murals are still banned from public buildings, being restricted to privately owned buildings exclusively, and those murals can happen only after the artist pays $60 and fills out the appropriate application form. To prevent advertisers taking advantage of the changes, murals must stay up for 2 years. Unless, of course, the city itself decides otherwise. Artists are still being met with restrictions and red tape at every turn and even if they do manage to get everything in order, there is still a strong chance the city will paint over the mural if certain protocols aren’t met. The city, despite lifting the ban, doesn’t seem to eager to let local artists do good work on private property.
Even the public is on the fence about whether the ban is a good thing or not. A large mural downtown, for example, only barely managed to get made and had to justify itself against a petition with 12,000 signatures and an intervention by the Mayor’s office. Neighbourhoods have to also “opt-in” to the repeal, limiting the space where artists can work even further. Just where, what, and exactly how these murals are being made seems to be at the forefront of many people’s minds.
Of course, the ban was unevenly enforced during its 11-year reign. Celebrities like James Franco managed to get murals up when they wanted, while others were forced to take them down. Now, artists have a bit more freedom and are less likely to face any legal ramifications for their art, but the regulation still makes public art a public concern.
LA’s ban and subsequent repeal brings along a large number of questions about public art, corporate advertising, and how a city and its citizens regard murals and the people who make them. Many citizens worry about graffiti and vandalism, or murals they think are inappropriate or being made in their neighbourhood in a city where shock still seems to reign supreme. The efforts by the city are an example of listening to artists and concerned citizens, even if the result is difficult and cumbersome. Muralists still seem to be the villain, or at least a barely tolerated presence in the city that once claimed to be the Mural Capital.