CREATIVE PLACE-MAKING AND PUBLIC ART: Murals in Balmy Alley, San Francisco
San Francisco’s Mission District now boasts a remarkable concentration of over a hundred community-based murals, painted by local artists on buildings, walls, and fences. Inspired initially by Diego Rivera and other great Mexican muralists, the street art gradually grew to incorporate graffiti, underground comics, and avante-garde forms to form an iconoclastic mixture of genres.
Local cultural centers, influenced by the Chicano political movement, have sought to define the Mission District as Latino cultural space. The Mujeres Muralistas collective, for example, began in 1971 to paint murals on the fences and garages of Balmy Alley, often depicting political struggles in Central America and elsewhere. Now more than thirty colorful murals line Balmy Alley, as you can see here.
Some of the murals take up local political themes, such as the diptych critique of gentrification, with corner credits, in the lower three images. Such spectacular works of public art provide a vivid sense of place in San Francisco’s Mission District. These and other artists have given rise to what is sometimes called the “Mission School,” which combines classic Mexican mural styles with a range of postmodern sensibilities.
References: Timothy Drescher, “Street Subversion: The Political Geography of Murals and Graffiti,” in Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture, ed. James Brook, Chris Carlsson, and Nancy J. Peters (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1998), 231-245; and ed. Annice Jacoby, Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo (New York: Abrams, 2009).
Habana Cafe invokes both the words and imagery of a local legend, while serving up Mexican and Cuban food from a street corner in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The facade of the building features a classic Biggie quote, while an interior wall features a portrait in mural form.