Organized chaos or art?
Two pieces in the Mission leave room for interpretation, say the artists of the projects and nearby businesses. The first: four posts on Valencia Street between 16th and 18th streets, created by artist Michael Arcega for the Great Streets Program competition. The second: the Mission Community Mural Project adjacent to the Revolution Café, painted by Mission children led by artist Sirron Norris
For the Mission Community Mural Project, the Revolution Cafe’s owner contacted Norris to create a new mural — but over an existing mural of a Native American chief by the artist CUBA. Norris ran into issues because the owner didn’t clear the project with CUBA.
Street Feat: Sweet vs. Under Heat
As for the street posts, they were installed in late 2009 as part of the Valencia Streetscape Public Art Project. Four finalists competed for the $52,000 commission, and Arcega’s posts won.
“We liked the interactive quality of the posts,” says Kevin Chen, a program director for Intersection for the Arts and a panelist on the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Visual Arts Committee.
“I see people stopping by to look at it all the time,” says Sheau-Wha Mou-Keefe, a waitress at Puerto Alegre.
Lauren Cobb of Paxton Gate’s Curiosities for Kids says the post in front of her store changes weekly, if not daily.
“I was pissed off when you couldn’t put up band flyers after some law that passed,” says Mou-Keefe. But these posts are intended for band flyers — and much more, like the current posters for a Taiko festival, Lowell High School’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” and courses offered by the Writing Salon.
Arcega says creativity blossomed when the posts first went up. They were circled by poetry, and words in chalk covered the ground. “I was stoked to see those unexpected things,” says Arcega. Unexpected indeed — like a sheet possessing free superpowers, with tabs for visibility and flight. “That playfulness is a treat,” he says. He hasn’t noticed much humor lately, though.
Regardless of the material, “It’s always packed, so people seem to like it,” says Marlene Flores, a Weston Wear stylist. That cluttered look can appear messy.
“I like it crowded — very San Francisco,” says Jen Judge, Weston Wear stylist. “If it was regulated and perfect, it would be….” She scrunches her nose to show disgust.
“It’s kind of their nature to be messy,” says Nick Arnerich, the fill-in general manager at Locanda. Cobb agrees: “It looks tattered, but that’s what it’s supposed to look like.”
Others know when to draw lines. Mission Bicycle Company’s Brian Kenney believes it’s difficult to understand what’s relevant when the posts are cluttered. “At least it’s not like it is all across the street,” says Kenney, referring to an army-green wall covered with graffiti, band stickers and a hand image. “That’s just a mix of awesome and ‘Oh my gosh, what happened.’”
Despite the clutter, people glance. Cobb is one of those people who “subconsciously stares at it” when she’s on break or outside on a phone call. The same goes for Judge: “I always gotta look at it, but I never like any of the events.”
Others do like the events. “It’s been useful,” says Kenney. It’s led him to concerts, including one by Zola Jesus, a female vocalist.
The tops of the posts — the crowns with Victorian detailing — are getting some love, too. “They look great, especially the sculptures,” says Chen. “It’s better than ad hoc light poles,” says Kris Opbroek, program director for the Great Streets Program. But while Chen and Opbroek appreciate the Victorian details, Cobb says they remind her of “Sesame Street.” “They’re cute, you know, those lamps in the show.”
Part of Arcega’s proposal for the posts included leaving the flyers as is, but Opbroek says that “it needs more frequent, well-ready maintenance. We have to be mindful and keep on that.”
So, did the posts come out the way Arcega had imagined? “Yeah, and somewhat better,” he says. He likes them even more now that they’re integrated into the community, and is happy they’re functioning just as he had anticipated.
Mural Wall: Enthralled vs. Appalled
But while one community artist is happy, another is not.
“I wasn’t happy with how it even got started,” Norris says of the community mural. He ran into what he calls “a series of unfortunate events,” though he had no knowledge that the project had not been cleared with the artist of the wall’s original mural.
“I’m sure a lot of people aren’t happy with it,” he adds.
But some see joy within — Like Cava 22’s general manager, Jose Valle, who says the mural adds liveliness to the street. “I like colorful culture,” says Valle. “People can put their own ideas [there],” he says, referring to the orange cats, blue hearts, pink flowers, San Francisco elements and love phrases showcased on the ever-changing wall.
“It doesn’t really fit the other murals that are there,” says Chelsea Jean, a server at Escape From NY Pizza. “But it has its own purpose.”
One of those purposes, to ward off graffiti from the street, isn’t being fulfilled; the mural was recently tagged.
“It’s a bummer,” says Sean Olmstead, a barista at Revolution Café. “These little kids paint it and then some asshole paints over it.”
Valle agrees: “It sucks ’cause they didn’t even take the time and effort to create it.”
The tagging spilled over from the mural to the right, “Amate Mission” — a vibrant creation of birds and plants by Jet Martinez. The graffiti, proclaiming “Sucka Free” with extra e’s, began on “Amate Mission” and extended across the door of the Revolution Café and onto the community mural. Although completely erased from “Amate Mission,” it remains slightly visible on the community mural.
Tagging has become commonplace in the neighborhood. “Graffiti is terrible,” says Nancy Ortega, a chef at El Perol restaurant. “We see it all the time.”
Norris believes a group effort could improve the current graffiti-ridden street.
Martinez’s mural, which Norris calls “super-above par,” is leading the way. Norris hopes that mural will set an example for not just the street but the entire Mission.