Murals of solidarity sprout throughout Santa Monica’s business districts

By Richard M. Crasnick

The author is a native of Los Angeles and has resided in Santa Monica for the past 33 years.  He owns a boutique toy company, FIKI Sports, manufacturing tabletop sports games.  He holds a degree in journalism from CSUN.

On May 31, Santa Monica was ground zero for wholesale looting.  From 2nd Street to the eastern city limit more than 150 businesses, mom & pop stores and national chains were damaged or defaced.

The city has cleaned up, officials have made excuses and the community has marched peacefully. What has been left in its wake are boarded up storefronts in the downtown business district and webbing throughout the city.

While some protest, others paint. Like blooming summer flowers, murals are sprouting up throughout the city.

It wasn’t by accident. “Paint the City Peaceful” did not exist two weeks ago. However, a group of concerned citizens looked upon the recently blighted city and the boarded-up storefronts as an opportunity. The boards would become large canvasses for messages of hope, love, peace and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We believe art can heal and change the world and today was proof of that,” stated Spencer William Koon, one of the organizers of June 6’s mural-fest and co-founder of Paint the City Peaceful.  “Today was incredible!  The turnout was amazing and we are so grateful.”

On this Saturday afternoon no fewer than a dozen artists were painting along Wilshire Boulevard from the Third Street Promenade east to Lincoln Boulevard.

Jaime Guerrero, 33, was working on his mural at the corner of 5th Street and Wilshire at the First Republic Bank office.  He titled it “Love is in the World” and the mural depicts Mother Gaia, the ancestral mother of all life, holding a large heart with smaller hearts descending into a world of beauty, with pink skies, cascading waterfalls, lush green mountains and a crystal blue lake.

“The world needs love more than anything right now,” said Guerrero. “That’s what this mural is about, spreading love.”

A muralist by trade, he left Otis College of Art and Design early so he could get “paid” for producing art. His company Art Chemist has work adorning many buildings throughout Los Angeles including a Kobe Bryant tribute at the Just Ride Los Angeles Bike Store in downtown L.A.

“There’s passion for correcting the injustices,” said Guerrero. “It’s being addressed by the youth, the young people, like 18 to 25, they’re really looking for change in the system.”

Guerrero had a sizeable area to paint and was joined by a Culver City native who goes by the name of Mufasa. He studied at the San Francisco Academy of Art University and has been painting murals for 15 years since he was 13 years old.  “I saw it (Paint the City Peaceful) on Instagram and hit up Jaime. He had just learned about it as well. We’ve worked together before.”

Across Wilshire and just up the block Ava Youssefi of Santa Monica was putting the finishing touches on a stunning mural featuring Breonna Taylor. Taylor, who would have turned 27 on June 5, was gunned down in March in her own home by Louisville Metro Police in a controversial search warrant entry which is now under FBI investigation.

“I just found out that I am [around] the same age as Breonna was when she was killed,” said the 27-year-old native of Seattle, “I was really touched by that and wanted to honor her memory.”

“It’s just so beautiful, the community coming together,” she continued.  “It feels good to be out here, I’ve made new friends and the people walking by are so appreciative.”

On the storefront next to Youssefi, good friends and co-workers Kasey Blaustein and Cat Ferrier were busy on their mural calling for an end to police brutality and judicial injustices.

“A friend of mine DM’d me with a link to Paint the City Peaceful and I just thought it was something to be a part of,” said Blaustein, the founder of Kasey Jones, Ink, whose clients include Amazon, Target and Kettle Chips.

Along with protest signs stating “Enough is Enough” and “Come Together” Blaustein’s mural has a local flavor featuring the landmark Clock Tower Building, the iconic Santa Monica Yacht Harbor sign and the world-famous Ferris wheel of Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier.

“With what happened last week (looting) the community has come together and we wanted to reflect that it happened here,” said Blaustein.

Meanwhile, businesses on Montana Avenue, many of which had boarded up as a precautionary measure, also transformed their covered storefronts into temporary canvasses. For three artists at Ten Women Gallery (1128 Montana Ave.) — Lang Maddox, Rebecca Marie, and Ana Boghosian — this provided an opportunity to demonstrate solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters and briefly extend their gallery out onto the streets.

“When we got the email that it would be smart for us to board up, I asked myself how we could bring something else to the sadness of the looting that changes it to a message of hope and a message of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, which is what we should be focused on right now,” Maddox said. “It’s small, but we’re all just trying to do everything we can to support this movement, and this was something that, as artists, we could contribute.”

Although the glass of the storefront has been restored, Maddox’s piece remains in the window and she remains committed to aiding the Black Lives Matter movement through sales of her art — heart-shaped BLM stickers and prints available through her website (langcreations.com). One hundred percent of proceeds will be donated to the civil rights organization Color of Change.

While Paint the City spent last Saturday taking down murals so that local businesses could open up, quite a few still remain up on 5th Street and Wilshire, said Koon.

“We gotta keep with it!” he said.

What a difference a week or two makes.

Editorial Intern Meera Sastry contributed to this story.

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