The city and the residents of Santa Ana lost a treasure and artefact of the community when Sergio O’Cadiz’s mural on Raitt Street was painted over last month. Unfortunately, murals by prominent Latinos are suffering a similar fate throughout California. Judith F. Baca’s “Hitting the Wall” disappeared in March in Los Angeles.
In East San Jose, Jose Meza Velasquez’s “El Mural de la Raza,” was white-washed despite strong community support calling for its preservation. This trend is alarming, and it even sparked an exhibition called “¡Murales Rebeldes! L.A. Chicana/o Murals under Siege,” which chronicles the rise of Chicano murals in Los Angeles and their gradual disappearance. Mr. O’Cadiz is featured in the exhibition.
Community-based murals, such as Mr. O’Cadiz’s mural, are worthy of being preserved and restored. They validate the existence of the community that resides there. For Latinos in America, a positive message that elevates their contributions is especially important given the current political and social climate we are experiencing. The Latino community is vilified through racist rhetoric and policies. Latinos have been recent targets of mass shootings and ICE raids. At a time when the Latino community is so vulnerable, the disappearance of our murals represents the loss of beacons of hope. It only exacerbates the negative messages we hear: You are not welcome here; you can be erased. It is vital that our friends and neighbors understand the cultural and historic significance of community-based murals. It is about more than just applying paint on a wall. It is about having a place to display our culture and values.
While there are federal and state laws that should protect these murals, the laws on the books are clearly not preventing these events from occurring. Federal and state laws recognize that artists have an interest in protecting moral rights in their work. The California Art Preservation Act also recognizes a public interest in “preserving the integrity of cultural and artistic creations.”
Under the California Art Preservation Act, a property owner must notify the artist or the artist’s heirs of his or her intent to cause physical defacement, mutilation, alteration or destruction to the mural. Then, the artist or his heirs have 90 days to either remove the work or pay for its removal. According to some art experts, most murals are removable through the use of some form of specialized techniques to preserve the murals. It’s also worth noting that the Act also gives non-profit organizations that promote the artistic interests standing to bring a claim under the Act.
It seems that Mr. Cadiz’s heirs were not given notice of the owner’s intent to paint over the mural. Assuming neither Mr. Cadiz or his heirs waived their rights in and to the mural, then Mr. Cadiz’s heirs may have a claim for the damage to the mural. Even though Mr. Cadiz has passed away, state law allows a deceased artist’s heirs to assert the artist’s rights for up to 50 years following the death of the artist.
Community-based murals are valuable works of art. We need our communities to stand up to protect them. Additionally, support from local leaders can provide another vehicle for protection. It is commendable that the Santa Ana City Council and its art commissioner are discussing the possibility of enacting policy to protect murals in the city. Additionally, I would ask the Council consider including a requirement that new development incorporate community-based murals, murals that are designed with the neighbors’ input. These are small, but powerful ways to promote inclusion through public art. Our communities deserve to have murals that reflect their stories, their history, and their triumphs.
Enedina Cardenas is an attorney based in Cupertino where she represents artists and protect their artistic endeavors. She is one of the attorneys for muralist Jose Meza Velasquez, whose mural “El Mural de La Raza” in East San Jose was painted over without notice. Their lawsuit seeks to enforce Mr. Velasquez’s rights under the Visual Artist Rights Act and the California Art Preservation Act.
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