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Sirron Norris submitted this letter and we have posted it without editing. A story on the mural dispute can be read here.

Several weeks ago, I was approached by the owners of Revolution Café to paint a mural over a pre-existing one on Bartlett & 22nd in the Mission.  The concept was to create a community mural whereby anyone from the neighborhood could participate and collaboratively paint the mural at the upcoming “Mission Community Market” event.  The event organizers and several business owners asked me to donate my time.  Several volunteer art interns and I began the new community mural a week ago.  This is where I made a horrific mistake.  I assumed that the owners had informed the artists who had painted the pre-existing mural.  Also, I did not take the time to look into any historic value of the pre-existing mural.  My mistake became painfully clear once the art interns were verbally attacked and subsequent blogs posts from the community, venting their dismay with the change.  Over night, the mural was then tagged with the hurtful words, “No Culture Vulture,” directed at me as an artist.

I consider myself a life-long learner and ask the community for forgiveness for my careless oversight of the project.  With sincere humbleness, I meant no harm to the community for which I have grown to love over the past 14 years.  As an African American man who started off homeless in San Francisco 14 years ago, I’ve strived to augment the Mission art culture and by no means did I intend to contribute to striping the Mission district of its historic culture.  My goal has been to enhance the Mission with my art through murals and affordable youth art classes.  However, I realize that in this case I have literally painted over it.  Nonetheless, in every mistake I’ve made in life, I believe its important to find the lesson.  It’s obvious that I’ve disrespected the important content of the previous mural and the artists themselves who contributed to it.  However, from a larger perspective, perhaps my careless move speaks to the larger issue of gentrification.  Judging from the blog posts, it seems that some see my recent actions as a symbol of the ever-changing culture of the Mission district.  Ironically, several years ago, I painted the mural, “Victorion” in Balmy Alley on the exact topic.  At that time, I researched the many communities that have called the mission their home, from the Yelamu Indians, to the Latino community, to today.

I realize because I was not born in the Mission and am not Latino, my art and I will always be subjected to contributing toward gentrification itself.  I cannot change who I am and my own roots but I can attempt to right a wrong.

Today, I contacted one of the artists who had painted on the previous mural and we had a healthy discussion.  I offered to paint the mural in solidarity with him and the community together, to which he agreed.  I am now attempting to contact the other affected artist.  I understand that this will not bring the old mural back, nor the old Mission back for that matter, but it is my hope that it will allow an opportunity for artists with historic Mission roots and newer artists to come together in unity to celebrate a new work of art which, for better or for worst, is symbolic to the ever-changing times of the Mission district.  To the old school Mission artists and Latinos who were born and raised in this vibrant district and, anyone else who feels disrespected by my actions, I humbly bow my head down in deep respect for the values and historic roots you have contributed to the Mission for generations and will do my best to preserve your culture moving forward.

Con Respeto,

Sirron Norris

Lydia Chávez

I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor at Berkeley’s J-school since 1990. My earlier career was at The New York Times working for the business, foreign and city desks. As an old...

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20 Comments

  1. I find this to be very refreshing and in good taste. Funny that most people don’t realize that the mission has been changing for over 60 years. Evolving. Community belongs to those that Love it.

  2. Mr. Noris you are a very gracious man. The world would be a much better place if we had just a little bit of your grace. Thank you for the example.

  3. Well said Mr. Norris. Going beyond the talk by reaching out to the community and mural legends CUBA & SPIE. Now what about the Revolution Cafe and the Mission Community Market who made the decision & paid for the painting over of REVOLUTION mural, and thus the meaning and significance behind it?

  4. So Sirron was working on a community mural at the request of the building owner and he is apologizing?

    At some point is the vandal who painted on the piece in progress going to apologize to Sirron, the building owner and those folks in the community who where volunteering their time?

    Where is it writ that a muralist piece can never be covered?

  5. Well played, Mr. Norris. You handled this properly.
    On another note, unless one’s name is Diego Rivera, every mural at street level gets painted over eventually. Well, and maybe if your name is Steel, you’d get dap. And remember, there’s nothing worse that a butthurt Mission muralist. Carry on.

  6. Mr. Norris, this letter shows class and integrity. If only more people could resolve issues in the gracious manner as you’ve demonstrated here. Your art and your community work are deeply appreciated.

  7. Wow. I am impressed! I am 3rd generation Mission District and proud to welcome you to the familia. We are all immigrants here–to a certain degree–if we are not members of the native tribes that took care of this land for time immemorial, and whose names are forgotten (ohlone was a catch-all phrase not specific to the tribe that was on this spot). Humility is good; it is elegant and demonstrates strength. Thank you for demonstrating it.

  8. Mr Norris, we need more class act gentleman like you not just in The Mission but EVERYWHERE!!!! Bravo and may your paint brush never be dry. Please feel free to email me with your info as I may need your services soon. Once again, Bravo for the true quality you have shown us.
    Arturo

  9. Dear Sirron,

    Thanks for sharing your history with us, because I am unfamiliar with your work. I know I’ve seen it around, but did not know of you. Your humility is refreshing. You are a brother with a kind heart, who made an error, and I appreciate you caring enough to apologize. Being a muralist, in any community, has or should have it’s responsibilities to that community. Change is the only constant in life, right? But, The Mission, as a place, as a home, to a lot of us, is just that home, and not all, transplants are respectful, of the natives, or the history of who we are, or where we’ve been. Thank you for your humility.

  10. Funny, in the SFBG (), Norris says “The first piece I had up in Balmy Alley wasn’t about anti-gentrification at all. It was totally self-indulgent….A lot of people don’t realize that [Victorion] is not entirely anti-gentrification. I’ve always had a little bit of an issue with that word in the Mission because I think it’s an oxymoron. It wouldn’t be the Mission if it wasn’t gentrified to begin with? So many generations have passed, it’s like, who are we actually saying that this place belongs to? That’s my question.”
    Too, when asked how he got into the SF art scene, he said “I fell into fine art. I’d never planned on it at all. I was making video games at a software development company in San Rafael and painting on the side out of frustration,” which is all fine and good but doesn’t really sound like he started out homeless.

    This letter is woven from threads that Norris thinks people want to hear.

  11. There isn’t a man alive who hasn’t made a mistake. Mr. Norris, you demonstrate perfectly how to work with people through the inevitable difficulties in life, and are an example to this community.

    Small mistakes and oversights often snowball into big issues. It is then that we’re presented with a choice: diffuse the problem cooperatively, or choose the path of anger, resentment, and insanity. Bravo Sirron, for choosing the high road! Keep doing what you do!

  12. Gimme a break “lexxx”. Let me guess, you’re the vandal who painted over the new mural, or are at least sympathetic – it’s OK for one to do what one condemns in others, as long as they do it first?

    Get over your one-dimensional righteous rage, Mr. Integrity.

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