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September 24, 2007

LOS ANGELES—Public murals have been part of the cultural landscape of American cities for over a century, but murals in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and other communities across the nation are rapidly deteriorating – and with them the shared cultural histories of the neighborhoods in which they reside. 

Rescue Public Murals, a unique partnership of muralists, conservators, art historians and public art professionals funded in part by a $110,000 grant from the Getty Foundation, aims to save these community treasures across the U.S. by documenting them, assessing their current condition, and securing the expertise and support needed to save them. To help identify all endangered murals, the group also has asked the public to nominate decaying works of art in their own neighborhoods. The information gathered will be included in a national murals database.

Rescue Public Murals is currently assessing the condition of murals located in communities around the country. From among these, local advisory committees will identify the 10 most endangered murals in the country. This list will then form the basis for a national campaign designed to increase public awareness of the importance of mural preservation and secure funds for their preservation.

In Los Angeles, conservation assessments are underway at a remarkable cluster of more than 50 murals at two locations in the Estrada Courts housing complex on East Olympic Boulevard and South Lorena Street.  Produced by Chicano artists living in California between 1972 and 1978, the East L.A. murals were created during the height of the Chicano rights and arts movement. Today, several of the most influential of these murals are in poor condition. Examples include We are Not a Minority (1978) created by Mario Torero, Rocky, El Lion, and Zade, and If We Could Share (1976) by Lydia Dominguez.

Other murals being documented include Chicago’s Under City Stone (1972) painted by well-known muralist Caryl Yasko; and Sida en Colores, created by Carlos Callejo in El Paso, Texas.

“Murals are an important public art form, often highlighting contemporary social issues and showcasing the work of important artists,” said Deborah Marrow, director of the Getty Foundation.  “Developing a national strategy to preserve them will be of great benefit to the public and will also serve artists and scholars.”

The qualities that make these murals so distinctive – their outdoor locations and the materials used to create them – can hasten their disintegration and decay. Community-based murals from the 1960s are almost all gone. About half of those from the 1970s have been destroyed. Many murals painted in the 1980s are now in serious disrepair.  Along with the murals, the muralists are aging, too, and with them crucial information on how best to conserve these works of art.

Often located in inner city neighborhoods and lacking designated caretakers, many murals also face urban renewal pressures that can lead to their destruction. In just the last year alone, community murals documented by Rescue Public Murals in New York and San Francisco have been destroyed, illustrating the threats faced by many murals across the U.S.

Individuals and communities are invited to submit information about public murals, particularly those that are threatened or in poor condition, at

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Melissa Abraham
Getty Communications

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