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Mural Repair Grant Stops Short of Need

Freeways: State will pay $1.7 million to restore 27 of Los Angeles County's 51 ravaged artworks.


The cost to repair Los Angeles County's neglected and vandalized freeway murals--and restore the county's reputation as mural capital of the world--would exceed $2.6 million, according to a study commissioned by the state Department of Transportation.

The study confirmed that a $1.7-million grant set aside by Gov. Gray Davis in March won't be enough to repair all 51 freeway murals in the county.

Based on the study, drafted by the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, the governor's grant can restore 27 artworks that were ranked by a panel of artists, curators and others as the area's most significant murals. The future of the remaining 24 murals remains uncertain.

That estimate does not include the cost to Caltrans for traffic control, insurance and other expenses the agency may incur in assisting the restoration efforts.

Caltrans spokesman Dennis Trujillo said his agency plans to request bids soon from conservation firms to begin the repairs. He said those murals that are not restored under the $1.7-million grant may be repaired "as additional funds become available in the future."

The artists who painted the murals have yet to be notified, but officials at the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department said they will urge Caltrans to draft a restoration plan that includes the participation of these artists.

Several Los Angeles-based mural artists who were contacted said they are willing to help restore their artwork and happy that state funds have been earmarked for the effort. But they said the restoration work may be difficult because some of the murals are nearly 20 years old and many of the artists no longer live in Southern California.

"I'm sure that everybody is 100% behind fixing these works," said Glenna Avila, who painted "L.A. Freeway Kids," a mural on the Hollywood Freeway near the Los Angeles Street exit that depicts children at play. The study concluded that her 240-foot long mural is a "very significant" art piece that requires more than $131,000 in restoration work.

Avila said the mural has been marred by graffiti and water damage. Over the years, she has tried to paint out the graffiti, but has been overwhelmed by the extent of the water damage.

"As an individual artist you can't tackle something like that," she said.

Many of the most heavily damaged murals were commissioned just before the 1984 Olympics by the Olympic Organizing Committee and local corporations, with the support of Caltrans. Most of the damage cited by the study was caused by vandalism, deterioration and dirt accumulation.

But the study by the Cultural Affairs Department took a shot at Caltrans, noting that the agency obscured five significant murals by painting over them with gray paint.

One such mural, "Eye on '84" by artist Alonzo Davis, depicted three colorful tapestries on the Harbor Freeway near the 3rd Street onramp. The Cultural Affairs Department study said that the mural has been obliterated and suggested that Caltrans give Davis the opportunity to restore the artwork at a new location.

The study also found that Kent Twitchell's "7th Street Altarpiece," depicting a man and a woman facing each other with their palms out, may be damaged beyond repair. Twitchell said he was willing to help restore the mural, located on the Harbor Freeway in downtown Los Angeles, or repaint it at a new location, whichever is cheaper. He said he spent about six months completing the mural just before the 1984 Olympics.

He said the idea behind the mural was to greet Olympic visitors with palms out, a Native American gesture that shows the greeter is not carrying any weapons.

Judith Baca's "Hitting the Wall," a mural that depicts a woman marathon runner breaking through a wall, was ranked as a "very significant" artwork by the panel. But the panel said the mural, on the Harbor Freeway at the 4th Street exit, is in poor condition and would require up to $56,000 in repairs.

Baca, who spent nine months painting the 94-foot-long artwork, said the mural celebrates the first time women were allowed to compete in an Olympic marathon.

"It's one of the hardest things I ever did," she said, adding that she painted much of the mural while breathing from an oxygen tank to avoid exhaust fumes from the freeway traffic.

Los Angeles has earned the reputation of mural capital of the world for the 2,500 or so murals painted on public and private property throughout the county. Only 51 of them are along freeways.

In the past, graffiti taggers have shown respect for such work by keeping their markings off the murals. But in the last two years, a new generation of brash young vandals has started to violate that "taggers code," as evidenced by the proliferation of graffiti on freeway murals.

Caltrans initially responded by painting over vandalized murals with drab gray paint. But after loud complaints from artists and others, the state agency adopted a policy in May of notifying artists by certified mail when a mural of theirs has been vandalized.

Still the problem with vandalized murals did not improve, prompting Gov. Davis to set aside the $1.7 million in restoration funds.

However, the funds came with some tough new restrictions, including guidelines for the locations and the types of materials used on new freeway murals.

Under the proposed guidelines, muralists must post a bond or sign an agreement to maintain their mural, possibly for 10 years or more.

But Baca rejects the idea that mural artists are responsible for maintaining the artwork for such a period. She said that she was given $18,000 to paint her mural, but that after paying expenses she earned only about $1,000.

"These are gifts to a city and to a particular public event," Baca said.

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