Gompers High artists express, Richmond embraces
on July 1, 2011
Richard Muro expertly waved a spray paint can over the brown lines on the wall, stopping after each stroke for a rattling shake. Residents and dignitaries milled about behind him, but he was focused on the finishing touches of a masterpiece.
“We had a mural here before, then it was gone,” Muro said, stopping to gaze at the art, which sprawls across the side of an industrial building just off the Richmond Greenway. “Now it looks more beautiful than ever.”
About 50 residents, Gompers High School students and leaders including Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Councilman Jeff Ritterman gathered Thursday to mark the restoration of the Gompers Garden Mural, a massive swath of color and life that depicts a lush, vibrant jungle environment on a concrete wall.
About 10 student artists were aided by some adult advocates, including Gompers teacher Gretchen Borg and Muro, a 26-year-old artist and volunteer at the city’s RYSE youth center.
In October, it went from a melange of graffiti art to a dull wall, painted over by Code Enforcement agents, who were following the letter of the city’s anti-graffiti ordinance.
The move prompted an outcry from proponents of public art as well as students and administrators at Gompers High School, many of whom had created the original public art piece with the permission of the building’s owner.
During Thursday’s unveiling, McLaughlin told the crowd that the city had learned from its “mistake” and that the council approved a moratorium in April prohibiting the city from removing murals on private property where the property owner has given consent. The council also allocated $1,000 for the paint needed for the new mural.
“We understood the policy needed changing,” McLaughlin said.
Several speakers from the city and Gompers High – the oldest continuation school in West Contra Costa County – addressed the throng of residents and press, hailing the new mural as a victory for public art and free speech.
“I think we are all winners here today,” said Phillip Mehas, an ACLU attorney and member of the city’s Arts Commission. Mehas praised the dozen or so student artists who created the mural for standing up for their rights, lobbying the city for change and creating a work of beauty.
The mural is located off Eighth Street near Ohio Avenue, and faces a community garden that lines the Richmond Greenway, a pedestrian and bicycling path.
After the ceremony Rafael Ortiz, an 18-year-old artist and Gompers High student, smiled as he looked at the work he and others made possible.
“This is all a little hard to believe,” Ortiz said. “But it makes me feel special to be part of it.”
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