Moolah for Murals

This Long Beach mural is by Art Mortimer. (Click on the image to see a larger version.) To read more about him and his murals, read the April issue of Southwest Art magazine.

Earlier this month, the National Endowment for the Arts released a report stating that artists are unemployed at twice the rate of other professionals. It might be no coincidence that the art world seems a-Twitter with talk about the Works Progress Administration lately. Is it time to bring it back?

During the Great Depression, artists were among the hardest hit. The government started the Federal Art Project (a division of the WPA), hiring about 5,000 unemployed artists to paint murals in schools, courthouses and post offices.

In Los Angeles, some of these murals have survived and sowed the seeds of a movement that flourishes today. The city’s rich history and multicultural heritage is splashed across its buildings, storefronts and highway ramps from East Los Angeles to Long Beach. With about 1,500 murals, Los Angeles has been called the mural capital of the world. The street art adds a shot of beauty and color to the concrete metropolis.  

Statewide, the California Public Art and Mural Society keeps the WPA spirit alive, with its artists accepting commissions often from small towns to revitalize crumbling downtown areas where mom-and-pop businesses once thrived.

So, the new stimulus package contains lots of moolah for construction and repair of roads, federal buildings and schools. Has the time come to slice off some of the pie for our nation’s struggling artists to enrich our small towns and big cities?

—Bonnie Gangelhoff

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8 thoughts on “Moolah for Murals

  1. Mary McGowan

    I am delighted to hear about these murals. We have a few wonderful examples on buildings in Cambridge, Massachusetts where I live. Mostly they have been created by community groups working with artists, some with city funding. There are examples going back to the 60’s and others that are quite recent. Any public money given to create public art would give us pleasure for many, many years. I have seen artists working with local school children to create the murals. The community benefits in many ways.

  2. Greg Hathaway

    I am honored to say that I’m a friend of Art Mortimer’s, and have attended ribbon-cutting ceremonies for several of his murals. It was so heartfelt to see how a Community is brought together by these wonderful pieces of public art! So I commend you on your efforts to make sure that we do whatever we need to do so that these great artists can continue to bestow their gifts upon us!

  3. Bonnie Gangelhoff

    Wow. Thanks for sharing the info about Walldogs. I checked out the website and now I’ve added something new to my cache of knowledge about murals across the U.S.

  4. Judy Grossman

    Great article. California’s small towns have put together many mural organizations and increased tourism for their towns, which, of course, increases business. A different twist on this is the annual celebration of Walldogs in towns across the country. Walldog was the term given to sign painters that traveled and painted large signs on sides of buildings, their ghosts are seen ocassionally on old brick buildings. In the early 1990’s a group of sign painters decided to honor the Walldog history by having Walldog Events in a different city each year. These events are a little different than a regular mural painting. Anywhere from 8 to 16 or 17 artists are invited to design murals that pertain to the local history, using old signs or photos of the area as their themes. Then they invite sign artists and muralists from around the country to come and "play/paint" for an extended weekend. Anywhere from 75 to 300 artists have come to these events and paid a small cover charge for the chance to come together and paint these designs in one amazing weekend. Yes, I said, they pay. Odd, huh? We’re talkin’ anywhere from $20. to $100 for the chance to play with fellow artists. In 2004 it was in Lodi, CA. They since have painted even more murals. Last year it was in Minneapolis. This year it is being held in Pontiac, Illinois in June. The whole town comes together for the celebration, businesses donate money, food, celebration events, and lots of time to put the whole thing together. It usually takes up to 2 years of planning. This whole thing unites community and artists, respecting the old, enjoying the new, promoting good faith between the two.
    No, it doesn’t employ artists(other than the ones that design the murals), but it does enlighten communities to expand their view of what art can do for the community, which in turn helps art and artists, in the long run. And afterall, anything that can help strengthen the arts is a bonus.
    Interested in finding out more:

  5. Andrew Crummy

    Art Mortimers murals and the many other murals completed by many great artists in Calfornia are world famous. They are part of a global movement that just keeps growing. California should be very proud of its outdoor mural tradition.

  6. Art Mortimer

    Murals can make a tremendous difference in the quality of life in a community. I have seen it many times as I have worked in many different communities. Good public art becomes an important and vital part of daily community life. Historical community murals also bring a sense of history and place into communities which, in modern times, can seem to have very little connection to their past for present-day residents. Historical murals bring the past up into the present and make it a part of the community’s daily life.

  7. Rosemary Carstens

    Good post! I’ve always enjoyed seeing these murals wherever they exist. Los Angeles has plenty, of course, and is one of the original places this type of art began to appear. San Francisco’s street murals have also been around since the sixties–and the interior ones by Diego Rivera can be seen there, too. Check out the Mission District next visit–