After 35 years of enduring the Mission weather, the iconic mural that decorates the front of the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts needed a bit of a facelift and that restoration started Tuesday morning with two of the original artists on hand.

“What I did then, and what we hope to do again is to provide an opportunity for the Mission residents as they go by, to take a glance, and remember something of their own,” said Carlos Loarca, who is now 80 and was at the cultural center Tuesday to oversee the start of the restoration. Although the Guatemalan artist now uses a walker, he managed to get on the scaffolding with the help of a scissor lift. Once there, he sat down to paint.

Betsie Miller-Kusz, who assisted Loarca, added, “It’s really exciting. We never knew this mural would last this long, and to be able to restore it ourselves is incredible for us.”

Loarca, Miller-Kusz and Manuel Villamor first painted the 3,700 sq. ft mural in 1982, just five years after the building opened its doors. Villamor is currently in Mexico. “I’m hoping that he’ll show up during the course of this” Miller-Kusz said.

The three artists drew the concept of the “Spirit of the Arts” mural together. Using Incan, Mayan and Aztec symbolism, they envisioned a vibrant array of colors that portrayed the many arts that are offered inside cultural center. Flowing figures represent theater, dance, music and other arts. These are enclosed within a larger Indian figure who represents the spirit of the arts.

Fund raising for the restoration project began after the 15 minute documentary about the making of the mural, Anatomy of a Mural screened in 2015.

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“We expect it to last about 50 yrs once it’s painted,” said Miller-Kusz. “It’s important for a Latin American mural to be visible at this time in our country.”

Betsie Miller-Kusz, one of the three original artists, works on restoring the iconic mural that covers the MCCLA building. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

With advanced knowledge in paint, the restoration will allow the new colors to last much longer, the artists said. They expect the restoration to take a month and half.

Loarca remembered coming to the United States at 19 years old. “I had no family, no friends and I didn’t speak the language,” he said. “I came because I wanted to see and learn and I got the feeling, and I still have the feeling that the U.S. is a country that has incredible access to experiences, and to knowledge.”

As to his own career choice, he said, “I became a painter because I wanted to do drawings of what I remember of my home. I didn’t have photos, I didn’t have sketches or anything like that, so whatever I remembered, I would draw.”

Mission Cultural Center. First day of mural restoration. Photo by Lola M. Chavez