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Kent Twitchell’s 1984 mural of art teacher Jim Morphesus is located on the Hollywood Freeway. (Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Later this summer, following years of legal skirmishing and politicking, the Los Angeles City Council is expected to vote on whether to lift its decade-old ban on private-property murals.

Some questions surrounding the proposed ordinance have been around since at least 1932, when the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros painted his polemical masterpiece “América Tropical” in downtown Los Angeles, which was subsequently whitewashed and finally restored last year.

Among them are: What happens when an individual artist or property owner’s free-speech rights collide with another group’s aesthetic preferences or personal views? Who gets to decide what’s art and what’s “vandalism” — elected officials, cultural appointees, police officers, neighborhood councils? And, ultimately, what sort of open-air visual environment does Los Angeles want to foster?


Reed Johnson
Los Angeles Times