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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Local Artists Murals Grandfathered Into New Law

Street artist Gabe88's murals are some of the thousands that line the walls of Los Angeles. But a lift on a 10-year mural ban could affect Gabe88 and future artists artwork.

Street artist Gabe88 has been painting for more than 25 years. His murals are some of the thousands that line the walls of Los Angeles. 

"Graffiti saved my life," said Gabe88. "I keep doing it because it gets me away from the everyday issues in life, and it's my kind of therapy."

But for more than a decade, a mural ban in L.A. made what Gabe88 love to do illegal. Fortunately, the law was recently redrafted and the ban was lifted. L.A. City Planner Tanner Blackman says the new law has some restrictions some artists may be unaware of.

Gabe88's murals and future artwork will now be grandfathered into the new law.
Gabe88's murals and future artwork will now be grandfathered into the new law.

"I think that there's been some murals going up recently where folks think 'hey murals are legal again', and not following the appropriate process." said Blackman.  

The legal process includes the artist holding a meeting with the community to discuss their artwork, bringing a drawing of what they want to paint and paying a $60 registration fee, but some homeowners worry that these requirements may not be enough.

"There is absolutely nothing in the ordinance that says that, that artist has to listen or take the advice, or comments, criticism or suggestions of the community," said Barbara Broide, President of the Westwood Homeowners Association.

The city also has limited say in what is painted. Broide is upset about some questionable art in her neighborhood.

"Couple blocks away from my house there is a mural of a dog urinating across a wall, and it goes all the way into a urinal," said Broide. "The pee is attractive it's kind of a collage, but no I don't like it."

Murals depict different perceptions and expressions. Blackman feels that with the ban being lifted people might need to be more accepting with untraditional art.

"You kind of have to take a little bit of the good with the bad in terms of accepting different perspectives and art you may not like," said Tanner.

Due to lack of enforcement of the previous bam murals have continued to thrive in L.A. There are an estimated 3,000 undocumented murals.

"I don't think it's going to make a big difference because the people who do graffiti art are still out there painting," said Gabe88. "It's all legal jargon."

But Gabe88 doesn't have to worry about the legal jargon. His murals and future artwork will now be grandfathered into the new law.


Thank you for providing this educational story about L.A.'s vibrant mural arts scene. My colleagues at the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs have work diligently to enact new policies and procedures which will benefit vintage and new murals. Thanks also to private non-profits, like the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, which deserve greater recognition and ongoing charitable donations.

Artists must remember that unless they register their artworks (new or vintage murals) they will not automatically "now be grandfathered into the new law." If the artworks were created before October 2013, (vintage) murals need to be registered (for free) with the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA). Here is the Vintage mural application form:

For new murals, artists need to apply for a permit with DCA and comply with a few simple requirements, including $60 and community involvement. Here is the form:

If the murals are not registered with DCA, a neighbor could file a claim with the City and the mural could be whitewashed for not complying with the law.

To learn more about the recently passed mural ordinance, go to the following link:

And please remember the definition of a mural: “Original Art Mural. A one-of-a-kind, hand-painted, hand-tiled, or digitally printed image on the exterior wall of a building that does not contain any commercial message. For definition purposes, a commercial message is any message that advertises a business conducted, services rendered, or goods produced or sold.” (ORDINANCE NO. 182706)

Isabel Rojas-Williams
Executive Director
Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA)

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