A DIY movement to transform neglected urban walls in Santa Monica and Venice into community assets through public art has now gone global as the Beautify Earth campaign
By Michael Aushenker
When Beautify Earth co-founders Evan Meyer and Ruben Rojas discuss posting on walls, they’re not talking about Facebook.
A nonprofit campaign to blanket cities around the world with murals as a way to increase neighborhood pride, Beautify Earth began about two years ago after artist Meyer noticed a “gross,” graffiti-marred wall near the corner of Lincoln Boulevard and Pacific Street in Santa Monica.
“I spoke to a business owner that I knew [and said] I can very legitimately paint that wall so that people driving down on Lincoln Boulevard — 30,000 people a day — can have a great visual experience instead of this blighted wall,” Meyer recalled.
He got the go-ahead, and the Novel Café got a mural.
“I realized I don’t want to look around and complain about how ugly things are. Instead of complaining, we should be asking ourselves, ‘What can I do?’” Meyer said.
What else could Meyer do? Enlist artist after artist to transform more and more walls, an effort that solidified as the Beautify Lincoln movement.
And it wasn’t long before other walls became canvasses for public art.
The list of Beautify Lincoln projects has grown to include murals at Printing Palace, Wallpaper City & Flooring, Legal Grind (the Abraham Lincoln mural), Satdah Thai, Hair and Nail Palace, Barrett’s Appliances, Metropolitan Cleaners and Cardio Barre. Artists finished work last week on murals at both Marina Auto Sales & Upholstry and, a block east of Lincoln, Broadway Wine & Spirits.
But this is only the beginning.
After enlisting an army of volunteer artists, Beautify Lincoln led to Beautify Crenshaw and Beautify South Central, which begot Beautify Brooklyn, Beautify Rockaway Beach, Beautify Miami, Beautify Silver Lake and now — after Rojas, a financial advisor, crossed paths with Meyer during a leadership workshop — the umbrella nonprofit Beautify Earth.
“I drew the logo for the group and [Meyer] said, ‘Dude, we’ve gotta put that on the wall,’” Rojas recalled of their first meeting.
Beautify Earth’s board of directors includes Heather Rabun, who brings a performing arts background; Sergio Tuculiza, who heads student outreach and education; and Paul Katz and Josh Manes, who coordinate Beautify Earth’s activities on the East Coast.
“The results are exciting,” said Rojas. “We’re not doing this to get credit. It is viral, it is a virus.”
The next step: Beautify Earth is competing for a grant to fund the creation of 50 public murals in South Los Angeles (the contest is decided by popular vote: see below for details). They also want to establish more kids programs, and Rojas talks about somehow incorporating a sharing economy model.
Meyer, 32, ultimately hopes to “enlist local artists and local committees to convince their governments and make it obvious that even a child’s painting is better than an ugly wall.”
Or as Rojas, 34, puts it: “Anything is better than the color of neglect.”
Both express frustration at the sight of boring walls: “I think the color beige needs to go away,” Meyer said.
Business owners, meanwhile, have reported upticks in revenue after allowing Beautify Earth to transform their facades, surprising even Meyer, who runs a contract rideshare program by day.
“I didn’t expect how impactful it would be,” he said.
“Outdoor walls are the new gallery space. Murals are part of the Los Angeles culture. We live through our windshields in this city,” Printing Palace muralist Seth Wilder told the Los Angeles Times in a story about Beautify Lincoln last year.
Despite the success of the Beautify Earth campaign, Meyer and Rojas have already lost a couple of battles on the homefront. When TRiP changed ownership, the colorful horizontal stripes painted on its walls went away with remodeling efforts. More recently, a new Starbucks replaced the former Tommy’s Burgers on the southwest corner of Pico and Lincoln boulevards, and with Tommy’s also went its Hans Haveron mural.
Yet this does not rankle the duo.
“It has us talking with Starbucks [about doing a new mural] right now,” Rojas said.
“The hardest part is finding walls and having people say ‘yes.’ Because they think there’s the catch. What’s the catch? There really is no catch. We want to put a piece of art on a wall so people will be happy,” Rojas continued.
Meyer traces his inspiration for the initial Beautify Lincoln movement to others’ DIY artistic endeavors.
“I usually attribute it to the spirit of Burning Man and the [mural-rich] community of Winwood, Miami,” said Meyer, praising late Winwood muralist Tony Goldman and Albanian artist Edi Rama, who in his country “took ugly buildings and turned them into colorful buildings. You started to see the life and the energy of what came out of that.”
This forward motion so far has been “all done without funding. This is us!” Rojas said. “The question becomes: How do we get that same contagiousness happening everywhere?”
Forging ahead, Meyer and Rojas see Beautify Earth going worldwide, with public art murals in Europe, Asia and South America.
“We want to talk to anyone out there doing similar things with murals,” Meyer said.
“If you want to change the world, you can’t wait for someone to do it,” Rojas said. “You’ve got to do it yourself.”
To learn more about Beautify Earth and how to volunteer on a project, visit beautifyearth.org. Check out photos of the group’s work at instagram.com/beautifyearth. To vote for Beautify Earth in the LA2050 Grants Challenge, visit maker.good.is/projects/beautifyla.