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Mural Tour Paints a Picture of South-Central L.A. Heritage

August 20, 1992|RON EGGERS | Ron Eggers is a free-lance writer who occasionally contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

In recent months, South-Central Los Angeles has mostly been in the headlines alongside such topics as urban unrest, the plight of the inner city and the need to rebuild.

But South-Central is a diverse, dynamic community that some say is being shortchanged by the overwhelming negative publicity. It's an area made up of numerous middle-class communities and business districts with a rich African-American heritage.

That heritage is reflected in the many murals around the area, some of which a tour sponsored by the Venice-based Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) will view on Saturday.

According to tour coordinator Robin J. Dunitz, there is a lot to see in the city. "Los Angeles is one of the mural capitals of the world. Some people say there are more murals here than anywhere in the country." There are an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 murals in and around Los Angeles.

The tour includes more than 20 stops. Some are exterior installations, on the sides of office buildings and retail stores, others are inside corporate offices and lobbies. "The whole idea is to show people the cultural diversity and offerings of the community," Dunitz said.

Two murals inside the lobby of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Co., which date back to 1949, are of historic significance. They were done by New York artists Charles Alston and Hale Woodruff. Both concentrate on the theme of "The Negro in California History."

Another mural at the same site, which is actually the first stop on the tour, is titled "The Insurance Man" and was done by well-known muralist Richard Wyatt in 1985 to commemorate the founding of the first black-owned insurance company in the state. Also included on the schedule is a mural by artist Charles White, whose "Mary McCloud Bethune" at the Exposition Park branch library was one of his last works, painted in 1978.

The noon break will be at the Watts Tower Art Center. Participants can buy their lunch in the area or brown-bag it.

There is also a stop planned at South-Central's First A.M.E. Church to view Bernard Hoyes' "In the Spirit of Contribution." The church was a rallying point for local and regional leaders in their efforts to calm the April unrest. It still serves as a center for the rebuilding effort.

Virtually everybody is curious about what happened in South-Central Los Angeles in late April, but most people are reluctant to explore the area on their own. Cleanup and rebuilding started even before the trouble ended, and it has been going on ever since. Much of the damage, however, can still be seen. There are burned-out stores and razed strip malls on street corners. Graffiti still covers some walls.

The SPARC tour is not only a good way to see the various murals, it is also an excellent opportunity to see the results of the unrest; to see the remnants of the destruction, as well as to see a community that is quickly rebuilding itself, Dunitz said.

Additionally, it is a good way to meet people from diverse backgrounds, she said. "Some of the previous tour participants have been very heavily into art; others are more into popular culture. There are generally quite a few teachers as well as some students. It's really quite a variety of people. It makes for an interesting time."

The tour will be conducted by Cecil Fergerson, past curatorial assistant for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and muralist Elliott Pinkney, whose works "Documentation of Black Progress" and the Watts Tower installations "Ceremony for Smokers" and "Peace and Love," among others, are part of the tour.

Tour participants will meet at SPARC, with bus departure set for 9 a.m. There is also a South-Central Los Angeles pickup site, located at the first stop, the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Co., 1999 W. Adams Blvd. at Western Avenue. The tour is scheduled to last until 4 p.m. The cost is $25 for the general public and $20 for SPARC members, which does not include lunch. Reservations are suggested.

This is part of a series of mural tours sponsored by SPARC, a nonprofit, multicultural, community arts organization dedicated to producing, preserving and promoting public art, particularly murals. The most recent tour, which focused on murals in Long Beach, was nearly sold out. The next one, on Saturday, Sept. 19, will concentrate on the many Hispanic murals of East Los Angeles.

For more information call Robin Dunitz at (310) 470-8864, or contact SPARC, 685 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA 90291. The phone number for SPARC is (310) 822-9560.

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