On a September afternoon street artist Saber replaced his spray cans in favor of planes for sky writing. His motives were simple; he wanted to spread the word about the current mural moratorium in Los Angeles. That act successfully catapulted the city’s stance on murals to the minds of people that may have never knew the ban existed.

Five months later the L.A. Department of City Planning is still diligently crafting an ordinance that effectively lifts the current block on approved murals on private property in the city.

For a city once, renowned for the abundance of murals, Los Angeles’ history with this particular art form has been tempestuous. Prior to 1986 there were no written laws about murals in L.A. There was an anything goes attitude in terms of amount and content. A mural heyday if you will and artists such as Judith Baca and Alonzo Davis flourished.

In 1986, as Los Angeles became an increasingly larger market, advertisers bombarded the city with billboard ads. The city then limited the amount of advertising allowed in outdoor space while creating an exemption for fine art murals. Advertisers sued the city claiming it was unconstitutional to restrict ads and the city must allow for all types of expression. It was at this point that ads and murals were grouped together as a form of signage, which severely limited the content and location of murals.

Since 2002, the creation of new murals has been generally banned and the ones allowed have to be contained in specified areas. The restrictions have proven very limiting to the creation of new murals in Los Angeles. Currently, murals are not even allowed on private property and could be painted over or “buffed” out by authorities.

The city recently has a resurgence to not only protect existing murals-but to allow for new ones. This new breath of life is courtesy of the City Planning Department’s Tanner Blackman and several City Council Offices. Councilmembers Jose Huizar, Jan Perry, Ed Reyes, and Bill Rosendahl have hosted outreach events in coordination with galleries and arts organizations to guide Blackman in drafting a new ordinance to separate the mural-approving process from billboards and other advertising, by way of time-place-manner permit system on private property as well preserve existing works.

Beginning in December, Blackman embarked on a 60 day public comment period to hear the community’s view on the ordinance in order to create a draft. Along with key proponents for a new ordinance, including gallery owner and founder of LA Freewalls project Daniel Lahoda, artists such as Saber, Lydia Emily, Desire Obtain Cherish and Shepard Fairey. Blackman has also worked closely with the planning and arts committees of the City Council

One of the hard parts of drafting the mural ordinance, is defining what it takes to be a mural. The subject has been endlessly debated through every meeting, with each voice more passionate about the definition as the next. Mural purists are adamant that a mural is cultural as the roots are found in Chicano history. However, this potentially leaves out street artists. Using the city’s existing definition, a mural has to contain less than 3% text, the city is trying to rid that rule as it excludes graffiti artists whose art is all text. The draft allows for murals to have tile or anything affixed directly but prohibits mechanically produced or computer generated images. These concerns are just a handful of problems the city is facing with the mural ordinance.

Despite the fight over definitions and who is qualified to paint a mural, Blackman has taken a serious step forward to help preserve the diminishing art of murals in the city of L.A.

The last comments on the draft was accepted February 8, 2012 and wrapped up at a meeting at the new LALA Gallery in Downtown L.A. As of now the city is revising the draft and will report to the Cultural Affairs and City Planning commissions, scheduled for March 2012. Until then, we patiently wait and hope that our favorite mural doesn’t get buffed out.

- written by Keisha Raines with photos by Birdman

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