Los Angeles has had a tumultuous history with street art. Under the regrettable tenure of former city attorney Carmen Trutanich, authorities cracked down on murals and equated them with graffiti.
The city later lifted its ban on murals and provided a pathway toward legalization, even though precious few today are permitted. Even a city councilman, downtown's Jose Huizar, has championed murals in his district.
What's interesting here is, throughout this shift, L.A. had become a street-art epicenter. MOCA's groundbreaking show “Art in the Streets” solidified the city's street-art impact in 2011 and seemed to bring a wave of global artists (Banksy, Space Invader) from around the world to town.
It can already be argued that the graffiti side of street art has a longer history in L.A. than almost anywhere else, including New York, as a result of a Mexican-American gang history that dates to before World War II. Los Angeles also is home to prewar murals by noted Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros.
The folks at the Melrose Business Improvement District want to capitalize on this, and on Melrose Avenue's own history as a focal point for street artists, to establish the city's first mural district.
The district, which approved the idea March 19, calls it the Melrose Mural Project.
“We fancy Melrose as the original street-art museum,” says district executive director Donald Duckworth. “It's one of the most exciting things to happen in the city of Los Angeles right now and in the world of street art.”
A spokeswoman for the district said she wouldn't expect to see any associated art until summer at the soonest. (The story of the project was first reported by the Beverly Press. We spotted it at Curbed L.A.)
The district hired artist Justin Bua (aka BUA) to curate the project. District officials said they will identify business owners with suitable walls who want to participate, and then ask Bua to find a compatible artist to get to work.
The district will try to work within the city's rules on murals, which includes registering them, but it will not try to legalize illicit murals that exist in the area now, Duckworth said. “We're doing our best to work with the city,” he said.
Duckworth, who likes to walk the district's stretch of Melrose between Fairfax and Highland avenues and take photos of street art he comes across, said he has already received inquiries from retailers who want to participate in the project.
He envisions Melrose as a mural epicenter that will attract tourists, art aficionados and shoppers. It's a deft fit, what with the forever-young avenue's many hip-hop–flavored shoe and clothing retailers attracting street art–friendly customers already.
It will have some competition from the Arts District downtown, to be sure. But it looks like Melrose has a head start here.
“The goal,” Duckworth says, “is to have Melrose become the street art capital of the world.”