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.