This Artist Is Fighting Gentrification With Murals
MURALISM SEEMS LIKE THE PERFECT ART FORM for the Instagram era.
It’s easy to be awestruck by the bold, bright visual narratives that splash across urban walls. These murals inspire that nearly irresistible urge for many street-bound pedestrians to pull out their smartphones, capture that perfect shot, then share with their friends.
Yet many of those who roll into a neighborhood for the 'Gram don't know the history behind the art nor the ever-changing communities that showcase them.
Muralist Clinton Bopp is trying to change all of that.
WHEN BOPP NOTICED HIS FAVORITE COMMUNITIES OF LOS ANGELES were changing, he put his paintbrush to work. “With gentrification happening more than ever, it’s incredibly important to use murals to depict communities as they are now,” Bopp tells GOOD.
“Murals are a very unique way to capture that spirit and tell that story in a lasting way — regardless of what kind of gentrification could happen in the future. You just hope that murals will be preserved and remain a fixture regardless of change so that the history can remain intact and impactful.”
A history with a future
AFTER A DECADELONG BAN OF PUBLIC MURAL ART was lifted in 2013, artists like Bopp were able to reclaim their community's streets, putting their unparalleled talents to work. Known as “the mural capital of the world,” L.A.’s mural art reflects its ethnic and socioeconomic diversity.
For decades, local and international muralists have captured the nuances of Latinx and Chicanx culture in the area. These artists used vibrant images to express the experiences of the world around them. The murals helped neighborhood residents and visitors to gain some understanding of what it was like to grow up as a person of color in L.A.
LIKE MANY CITIES AROUND THE WORLD, GENTRIFICATION is erasing histories and changing the racial and ethnic landscape of Los Angeles.
But through his murals, Bopp hopes to share generational stories of at-risk neighborhoods.
"Murals have always been a form of communication and storytelling that can last generations,” says Bopp. “They instill values, history, and create conversation amongst the community across generations which uplifts everyone who sees them. It’s a powerful thing to remind people where they have been, where they are going, and where they are now.”
A school community at odds
THE IMPACT OF THIS RENAISSANCE OF MURAL ART has implications not only for Chicano communities but for kids of all backgrounds at local schools. When a local school was having issues with racial tension, Bopp collaborated with their principal to create an artistic way to bridge the gap between the area’s black and Latin American communities, which sometimes faced conflict.
“[The principal] understood the power of visual images and how they can convey messages that transcend language and cultural barriers and bridge the gap,” Bopp says. “Showing the similarities that both groups have endured sent the right message.”
Bopp's work helped to foster a dialogue between the two student groups, furthering the open communication that helped to soothe tensions between the communities.
Engaging community members
BOPP MAKES IT A POINT TO NOT ONLY PAINT IN DIFFERENT COMMUNITIES, but also gets to know them too. Getting at the history of community is a central component to the artist’s work. Bopp uses those meetings and community engagement experiences to shape his projects in ethical and meaningful ways. This engagement leads to a better project, Bopp says.
“My work involves [communities] and tells their story, so the more I get to interact with them and talk with them about the neighborhood and its history, the better the project,” says Bopp. “I even had one case where I met a woman and her daughter while I was painting the history of City Terrace and after talking with her and hearing her story, I asked if I could add her and her daughter into the mural. It wasn’t planned, it was just what felt right to make the mural have more impact.”
Bopp's art — and the art that fills the streets of L.A. — reminds city residents and visitors that L.A. culture is rich, historic, and is not going anywhere.
Muralists will make sure of that.