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Artist will be closely watching L.A. council vote on public mural ban

Downtown artist Robert Vargas will be closely watching a vote Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council that could end a 10-year-old ban on public murals.

Murals are regulated under city sign laws. But new murals have been banned since 2003, when the City Council began challenging sign companies' efforts to categorize commercial advertising as art murals.

Vargas has painted large works on public spaces before and after the ban. Since its imposition, he has created two large public artworks, one in Boyle Heights and one downtown, even though he knew the city could have them painted over.

He took the chance, he said, to "bring together communities."

"When I'm working, people are being more social with each other, commenting on it, taking pictures," Vargas said.

His most recent work, "Our Lady of DTLA," is a four-story portrait of a young woman at the corner of 6th and Spring streets downtown. It has become a focal point on bustling Spring Street.

The proposed ordinance sparked debate during committee hearings. City Hall officials and neighborhood activists support the idea of public murals but disagree on how best to tailor a law that allows some communities to "opt out" of allowing them.

City officials have said murals created without permits during the moratorium will be grandfathered in under the proposed law's provisions.

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