City Council | BLM Mural Must Await Public Art Policy

An emotional session during which weary young activists implored the City Council to authorize signing a contract with artist Zach Brown.

PHOTO: Zach Brown | South Pasadenan News | Final Mural Design as envisioned at Orange Grove Park in South Pasadena.

South Pasadena City Council members said they won’t consider approving the South Pasadena High School Anti-Bias Club’s (ABC) proposal for a Black Lives Matter mural at Orange Grove Park until the city has a formal public art policy in place, advocates learned after a long discussion at Wednesday’s Council meeting. And while the Council directed staff to develop such a policy, City Manager Arminé Chaparyan said under the city’s current workload, it likely won’t be presented for at least a year. It was strongly suggested the students, who’ve also been unsuccessful with the school district and the city library, would be better advised finding a private location for the 66-foot wide, 7.5-foot tall mural.

It was the culmination of an emotional session during which weary young activists, with support from nearly two dozen speakers including parents, public art commissioners and others, implored the Council to authorize signing a contract with artist Zach Brown to cap the nearly two-year municipal odyssey they’ve navigated to secure project approval.

Despite diligent efforts to head them off, the students’ plan ran up against a renewed bulwark of logistical, legal, and political pressures, including Council Member Evelyn Zneimer’s complaint that while advocates represent the mural as a “community project” with “intersectionality,” its depiction of various celebrated figures excludes representation of a range of other peoples such as Hispanics, Asians, Laotians, Chinese and American Indians.

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“This is not representing all people of color,” acknowledged ABC officer Lulu Talesnick, “Only Black people because it is a Black power movement.”

Also during their marathon, six-plus hour public meeting, the City Council narrowed down the number of prospective redistricting maps it will consider at a future hearing after more public input; weighed in on a list of seven transportation projects to be submitted to Metro—including the controversial widening of Orange Grove north of Arroyo Seco Parkway; approved transfer of $21 million in city reserves from a staid state fund to a “more aggressive” vehicle at Morgan Stanley; and got word the Ad Hoc Finance Commission–which mysteriously went dark months ago—will soon submit its report and final recommendations to the Council.

The Council was also set to vote on a long-simmering and controversial ordinance to ban the sale of tobacco products in town. Members of the public waiting to speak on that issue hung in till 10:30 pm, when the Council at last decided it had to strike the item lest the meeting continue even further into the wee hours than it did. The public council meeting, the second longest in four years, adjourned at 1:32 am.

Ben Tansey
Ben Tansey is a journalist and author. He grew up in the South Bay and is a graduate of Evergreen State College. He worked in Washington State as a reporter in a rural timber community and for many years as an editor for a Western electric energy policy publication based in Seattle.