The Mission wasn’t always so colorful. The murals that decorate Mission buildings — and bring tourists to the neighborhood to experience them — weren’t always so ubiquitous. They began popping up in the 1970s, starting a trend that would help define the neighborhood’s art scene.
One of the pioneers of that trend is Susan Kelk Cervantes. “I think I did my first mural in the Mission in 1965,” she said. “No one even knew what a mural was.”
A graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, Kelk Cervantes was already involved in the community art scene when the owners of a coffee shop on Valencia asked her to paint her first mural. Realizing that she wasn’t enthusiastic about San Francisco’s gallery culture, Kelk Cervantes decided murals were the way to go. “I just thought, wow, painting directly on the wall, with people, for people and by people seemed like a really wonderful direction to go.”
Kelk Cervantes’ love for mural art grew, and she and her husband Luis created Precita Eyes, an organization dedicated to bringing artists and communities together through murals.
Over the last 35 years, Precita Eyes has been responsible for the painting of more than 500 murals. Often many artists come together to create a single mural through the group’s collaborative process, which also takes into account what the community wants from the artists. “It has to come from the community,” Kelk Cervantes said. “It has to be something that is developed in the process. They develop the themes, what’s important to them, what they want to see in their mural. We don’t go into it with any preconceived ideas.”
Precita Eyes also has a vibrant education program that helps inspire the next generation of artists, offering classes in mural arts for all ages.
“Murals have changed people’s lives,” Kelk Cervantes said. “It changes the environment; it’s life-affirming. It reflects the people and who they are, what they’ve experienced and what’s meaningful to them.”
Mission Local is grateful to have Precita Eyes in the Mission, and for their work bringing artists and communities together to keep our city colorful.
“I feel we’ve been blessed,” Kelk Cervantes said. “With what we have, and even more, to return that to our community.”