Fourteen-year-old Jessica Miramontes stared up at a 55-foot-tall, black-and-white portrait of herself towering over the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools entrance in Koreatown. The mural is part of a diptych by the street-art duo Cyrcle; its companion image, not yet painted, will soon depict another student, Yakal Anderson.
Miramontes squinted into the sunlight and smiled sweetly, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
"It feels good, I'm proud," she said in Spanish through a translator. She lives nearby, and said the mural brings her comfort to think that after she graduates, a piece of her young self will remain behind: "When I leave this place, this picture, like I am now, will stay up and I can see it when I pass by."
The mural is part of a sweeping arts project, nearly two years in the making, that's a collaboration between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the L.A. firm Branded Arts. To inspire students to participate in the arts, 28 new murals by 30 artists are going up on the 20-acre-plus campus, the site of the former Ambassador Hotel, where Kennedy was shot in 1968. The campus, built in 2010, is home to six schools for kindergarten through 12th grade. Now it features murals — all created with low-VOC spray paint — by the likes of Shepard Fairey, Kenny Scharf, Risk, Hueman, Sam Flores and Yoskay Yamamoto.
The works will officially debut on Friday at the RFK Mural Festival, where visitors can take self-guided tours of the art. The event includes spoken-word poetry, food trucks and live music.
For now, Fairey's still-drying portrait of Kennedy hangs above the Paul Schrade Library entrance. Paige Smith's sculptural geodes dangle from the entrance ceiling. Many of the RFK schoolchildren participated in the mural-making, suggesting themes for the artists' works or serving as production assistants. They helped to prep blank mural walls with tape and later filled in sketched areas with paint. One alum, 19-year-old Jose Maradiaga-Andrade, now an intern at Branded Arts, painted a mural of his own, a young boy peering over the U.S.-Mexico border with the word "Hope" beside it.
"I've always wanted to do a mural festival like this," said Branded Arts' Warren Brand. "But where are you gonna find 30 walls within a two-block radius where all the building owners are on board? It's a good partnership."
Festival organizers will open a gallery exhibition in the Schrade Library on Friday, featuring prints and original paintings by many of the mural artists. They'll hang side by side with student artworks.
Brand will lead by-appointment tours of the murals, after school hours, for the next month or so. He's training students to take over as tour guides.
The RFK Mural Festival runs 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday at 701 S. Catalina St.