A historic downtown L.A. mural has been painted over and the art organization that oversees it is pointing a finger at the California Department of Transportation.
The Social and Public Art Resource Center learned about the whitewashing of the mural, titled “Hitting the Wall,” Thursday evening after a passerby snapped a photograph and sent it to the organization headed by the mural’s creator, Judy Baca.
The artwork — located in Caltrans’ jurisdiction — is copyrighted and registered with the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. The artist should have gotten a 90-day notice if it was to be removed, said Carlos Rogel, interim executive director of the art resource center, according to the Visual Artists Rights Act.
Neither Baca nor any staff member at her organization received that notice, Rogel said. Now, the center has flagged Mayor Eric Garcetti and Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) about the whitewashing and vowed to repair the damage at all costs. The Department of Cultural Affairs and the art resource center have also written to Caltrans in protest.
“It’s an insult,” Rogel said. “The artist was heartbroken. … To have this happen to her mural is outrageous.”
The mural, which was painted on the 110 Freeway near the 4th Street exit in 1984, was commissioned by the International Olympic Committee to commemorate the first time women were allowed to run in the Olympic marathon, Rogel said.
Caltrans officials could not immediately confirm who was responsible for painting over the artwork.
“Caltrans is disappointed over the removal of the mural,” Caltrans District 7 director John Bulinski said in a statement. “While the department has been unable to determine the party responsible for this damage, we are committed to working with the artist and the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) to restore this historically significant mural.”
But Rogel said it couldn’t have been anyone else. Caltrans is the only agency with access to the dangerous area, and removing it would mean closing down lanes of the freeway to allow large trucks and ladders in the area.
“That’s not a small job,” Rogel said. “There’s always a Caltrans supervisor there, and coordinating it takes a long time.”
The center has been required to work with Caltrans and obtain permission and access to do repairs of the mural. Over the years, it has been vandalized significantly on several occasions, and the center’s staff members and artists have worked to restore it to its original appearance without pay since 2012.
This time, Caltrans quietly worked on its own, Rogel said.
“It’s really a disappointment,” Rogel said. “Our organization has worked with Caltrans without any sort of reimbursement.”