Friday, November 14, 2008

Community Mural Project

Wow, can't believe how long it's been. I went several months without making anything, and I didn't much like that. I have missed my online art communities and friends as well.

One of the things I was busy with at work was this community mural project. This is a column I originally wrote back in September for the local paper, and the picture is of the finished mural. I don't usually get into politics or my work life on this here art blog, but the boundaries all blurred during this project, and I felt very changed by it.

Note: This column was originally published in The Davis Enterprise on September 25, 2008.
Where art, media and community intersect
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared at the large, blank wall on the east side of the Davis Media Access (DMA) building on Fifth Street. Beige, bland and empty except for a sign that still needs to be updated, I’ve long thought the wall is just crying out for a mural. But it’s one of those projects we have perpetually put off in the face of more pressing needs at this community media center.

That is, until this week. As I write, the work to create a mural here has begun. The circumstances that have led to this are quite remarkable.

A friend of one our staff members knows a mural artist from Oaxaca, Mexico, who is traveling to raise awareness about government repression and community organizing in this southern state in Mexico. In Davis for just a short time, Jesús has offered to paint a mural depicting community, media and their place here in Davis. He specifically wanted to gift us with this mural because of the history in Oaxaca.

During the latter half of 2006, a teacher’s strike began a complex chain of events that eventually led to the Oaxacan people taking over the state-run TV and radio stations when they tired of the truth not being disseminated. In the intervening months, martial law was imposed upon Oaxaca, hundreds were killed—not only Oaxacans, but an Indymedia journalist from New York City named Bradley Will. Will’s death actually turned the world’s focus to Oaxaca for one brief moment in July of that year.

Oaxaca’s story is one that has been played out in nearly every developing nation: resources plundered, indigenous peoples marginalized. What was significantly different here was the way people viewed the media, and they ways in which they used media to organize for social change.

To them, media was a tool for disseminating information, not for manufacturing consent. When they (peacefully) took over the radio and TV stations, it was to talk about the number of Oaxacan children who go hungry, or the need for medical supplies. As the military bore down on them, radio and television became a means to organize neighborhood barricades to keep the people safe.

All of this and more is detailed in an excellent documentary called Un Poquito de Tanto Verdad (A Little Bit of So Much Truth). [Note; we screened this film on Oct. 5 at DMA to a full house.]

If you read this column regularly, you will know that I have been writing for years about the community building and social change work DMA does. It is no coincidence that the slogan for our upcoming 20th anniversary celebration is “Celebrating 20 Years of Creating Community Through Media.” That celebration is rapidly approaching, and to have this mural unfolding at this time, and in this particular context, has moved me deeply.

It is also been a crazy process. I find myself scrambling daily to round up needed supplies, such as scaffolding and paint, and to find housing, meals and connections for our visitors. I would like to thank in particular Kristen Koster, Mulysa Wagner and Diane Crumley for their tremendous organizing efforts, and of course Jesús and his partner Kate. By the time this project is done, I know there will be a long list of businesses and individuals to thank.

In the meantime, if you’re driving west on Fifth Street, look up as you pass by the building at 1623. It’s at the intersection of art, community and media.
--Autumn Labbe-Renault


  1. This mural is absolutely beautiful and what a great article you wrote. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Very cool! A new landmark to look forward to visiting!

    Your cards and art are wonderful, too. I'm so glad you came back to show us what you've been working on!

    Do you ever sell your stuff? I've kept your "baby" card that you made for Linc on my dresser since you gave it to us. I'd love love love to have more Autumn designs in my home! Let me know: mamagotcha at gmail dot com

  3. I've always loved your writing Autumn, and I'm sure your involvement in this mural and your telling of the story helped make many more people aware. What an amazing way to share art and change lives.

  4. Fabulous! what a wonderful piece for the community