In the midst of the Mural Rescue Program Petition campaign one mural, 'Toward Freedom' by John Pitman Weber, needs your help! PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 February 2009 18:20

Yet another Los Angeles mural is on the verge of extinction but this time it is not due to neglect.  Rather, it is because a new non-profit wishes to deliberately eliminate the mural from one of its walls, not only by whitewashing but by sandblasting.  This mural is the only public work in LA by artist John Pitman Weber.  Los Angeles residents have the opportunity to stop this atrocity by demanding that the non-profit be allowed to move into the building ONLY IF the Help Group maintains this precious artwork.  Details below:

'Toward Freedom' by John Pitman Weber (1992)


The Help Group – a non-profit that serves children with special needs related to autism, Asperger's disorder, learning disabilities, ADHD, mental retardation, abuse and emotional problems – is posed to move into the building where the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center used to reside.  On its exterior, facing Burbank Blvd is a mural entitled Toward Freedom by artist John Pitman Weber.  On July 16, 2008, pursuant to the Visual Artist's Rights Act (VARA) and the California Artist Preservation Act (CAPA), Mr. John Farrimond, VP of The Help Group, sent Weber a 90-day notice of intent to remove the work.    

Toward Freedom, like all of SPARC’s Neighborhood Pride Program murals, was painted for a specific community – a community that still resides in that neighborhood, despite the fact that the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center has moved to Van Nuys.  The mural followed “the SPARC process . . . [It] was approved by the Cultural Affairs Commission.  It [was] not a privately contracted work (Judith F. Baca).”  To eliminate it is to disregard the community’s efforts and history.      

The Help Group justifies the mural’s removal by maintaining that it is not consistent with their mission and non-sectarian status.  But Exodus, the mural’s subject, is not a story that is relegated solely to the Hebrew Bible.  It is a story of Diaspora, a story that all immigrant groups, and therefore most of the inhabitants of the United States, can relate to.  “It is relevant to all people including the children who will use the new building (Judith F. Baca).”  To further emphasize the mural’s universality, John Weber has offered to remove any religious iconography, but the Help Group still insists on sandblasting the mural off of the center’s wall.  The question becomes, “What is the ‘Help Group’ teaching the children by destroying art?  Who are they helping but themselves at our expense (Judith F. Baca)?”

The Group claims to be the “largest, most innovative and comprehensive nonprofit organization of its kind in the United States serving children with special needs.”  They say that they “believe that dignity, hope, opportunity and love are the birthrights of all children.”  But they are attempting to eliminate, not only a work of art, not only a work that was supported by an entire community, not only a piece which intended to “touch on UNIVERSAL themes of human history . . . histories of virtually every group in the US whether they got here as immigrants or as enslaved or conquered peoples (John Pitman Weber),” but a mural that is one of the very few works of Los Angeles’ mural legacy that still brightly shines on a city wall, well preserved and free of graffiti.  To eliminate it is to kill a rare bird.  We are vehemently opposed to the removal of this mural and will not support the Help Group’s desire to move into the old Valley Cities Jewish Community Center, unless they remain consistent with their own proclaimed mission by affirming the mural’s right to remain on a community wall.

There will be a hearing for the mural on Feb. 9th in which the HELP Group will request permission to use the Jewish Community Center for a school for autistic children.  The Hearing Officer could impose a condition requiring the school to maintain the mural.  This mural needs your support!  Anyone can attend.

       The hearing will be held on
       February 9th, 2009 at 3 p.m.
       In the Braude Building located at 6262 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys.

       Or, letters can be sent to Nicolas Brown,
       Office of the Zoning Administrator
       City Hall, 200 N. Spring St. Room 763
       Los Angeles, 90012.  

       Refer to Case ZA87-14725.