Isabel Rojas-Williams is on a Mission to Save L.A.’s Street Art

L.A. is considered the mural capital of the world and Rojas is its chief curator

imageAs executive director of the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, Isabel Rojas-Williams sees street art as our city’s untold history. “Murals are gemstones. They capture information and influences from all of the cultures that come here and reflect them outward. They show and express all of the feelings of people like me. I came from Chile 41 years ago for political reasons. I’ve been able to do things that I never imagined, not even in my wildest dreams. Murals are important because the stories they convey—the issues that are raised—aren’t written in books. They are a connecting bridge between the streets and the art institutions. A child can see a mural and ask, ‘What is this? What is it saying?’ ”

They Claim I’m a Criminal (2010) by Man One in South L.A.
They Claim I’m a Criminal (2010) by Man One in South L.A.

Photograph courtesy Ray Mond & Alex Poli/ The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles

After a 2002 moratorium, a recent city ordinance made painting murals legal again—but that doesn’t mean L.A.’s walls are a free-for-all. “In an ideal world we shouldn’t have a mural ordinance regulating art. Unfortunately because of the sign companies, we have to. The regulation does protect muralists, but only when they register their works. If artists decide not to go through the process because they want their work to be there for a short time, that’s their right. But if the mural is whitewashed, they don’t have the right to complain. I wish more people were applying for permits because then we wouldn’t have to worry about a mural’s existence. People are under the impression that the city erases murals, but it does not. The murals are erased because the neighbors complain.”

Ed Ruscha Monument (1978-87) by Kent Twitchell, who won a settlement after his mural was whitewashed in 2006
Ed Ruscha Monument (1978-87) by Kent Twitchell, who won a settlement after his mural was whitewashed in 2006

Photograph courtesy The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles

The most prominent restoration work that will begin in 2015 is on Eloy Torrez’s 70-foot-high Pope of Broadway, at 242 South Broadway. It was first painted in 1985. “I’ve been working for almost five years to get funding for the mural, which is iconic. Anthony Quinn [the actor is featured in the piece] has been claimed by Latinos, Greeks, Middle Easterners, and Italians, so it is important to the diverse Los Angeles community here. Because of the resurrection of Broadway and councilmember José Huizar’s great efforts to improve that section of downtown L.A., Greenland USA chose to provide funding for us. We hope to be done with the mural’s restoration by 2016.”

 

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