Precita Eyes mural painted over on 24th and Folsom. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

A mural created in 2015 by Mission District youth under the guidance of Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center, on a wall at 24th and Folsom streets, became the center of a neighborhood spat on Friday afternoon when artists from the East Bay attempted to replace it without seeking permission from the local arts organization.

“This is gentrification happening on 24th and Folsom right now,” said Nancy Pili Hernández, a Precita Eyes muralist, educator and activist.

The original mural was commissioned and copyright-protected by Precita Eyes, a 40-year-old local arts organization located two blocks from the mural in dispute, at 2981 24th St.

“Multiple layers of paint that have been put there by young people from this neighborhood expressing themselves about this neighborhood,” said Pili Hernández as she stood next to the now-whitewashed wall. “That’s hours and hours of our teacher work, our youth work, and also the upkeep of this space.”

“And this person right now came out with white buff paint and painted over the whole thing because she says she has the authority,” she added.

The original mural consisted of two parts  – one side was created by the Mission youth and read “Our culture is not for sale,” while the other showed skeletons, skulls, and other references to Día de Los Muertos.

But one of the owners of the building at 3030 24th St. said that he was not of a fan of the mural, which he considered too “dark.”  As a result, he enlisted two young artists from the East Bay to replace the mural with a set of colorful mandalas and the words “Be a good person.”

Ali Rismanchi shows the new mural’s proposed design. Photo by Laura Waxmann

“The colors were all black and dark… I want something bright. My partner feels the same way,” said Ali Rismanchi, who along with Mission-based dentist Dr. Juan Luque purchased the building two years ago.

Rismanchi and Luque recently leased out the building’s ground floor space, formerly home to a restaurant called Quéreme, to the owner of 24th Street’s Puerto Vallarta, Juan Rosas Lopez. Lopez will soon be reopening the space as a Peruvian restaurant, Alma. The restaurant space is currently undergoing renovations, and the mural, said Rismanchi, needed a makeover as well.

“Were thinking to replace the mural with something more brighter in colors. With a nicer message. I think the mural was outdated and as owners we just wanted to give a change to the building,” he said. “I didn’t know about the process of removing them.”

If Rismanchi didn’t know about the Mission’s mural culture and the implications of painting over existing murals beforehand, he was brought up to speed quickly on Friday. The artists painted over the building Friday morning, and by Friday afternoon, a group of youth, muralists and community activists gathered in protest on the sidewalk in front of his building.

The group met with the new artists and building owners to negotiate a resolution on the sidewalk. But first, the protesters offered a quick lesson on Mission history and murals.

“You guys have to realize that you are in the Latino Cultural District and these murals are precious – and there is a process for them to be removed,” said Erick Arguello, president of the the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District. “There’s supposed to be a 90-day notice to the artist.”

Pili Hernández said that Precita Eyes has long fought for copyrights for murals.

“The [mural] culture is that if somebody paints something and you want to go over it, you have to consult with them and possibly give them a shout out, at least tell them ahead of time so they can take a picture,” said Pili Hernández. “This wall needs to be in negotiation with the owners and with Precita Eyes and we need to develop some sort of value for young people’s artwork in this community.”

Photo by Anya Montiel

The Mission has the highest concentration of murals per square foot in San Francisco, said Pili Hernández. Friday morning, she was alerted to two artists who are unaffiliated with Precita Eyes were painting over the youths’ mural.

The artists, a woman and a man, did not give their names, but said they were given permission to paint over the existing mural by Rismanchi.

“When we came here earlier I saw that they were about to buff and I approached her [the artist] and said … don’t paint this wall,” Pili Hernández said.

In reference to the mural depicting the Día de los Muertos theme, Pili Hernández said she reluctantly condoned its replacement.  “I said go ahead and paint this side of the wall because we haven’t taken care of that side, it had graffiti on it. But, don’t touch [the youths’] mural.”

The female artist tasked with replacing the existing mural, who asked not to be named, said that she felt there “is a lot of miscommunication.”

She said that after Pili Hernández and other Precita Eyes muralists informed her of the mural’s significance in the local community, she sought permission with the organization’s director, Susan Cervantes.

“I went into Precita Eyes and left a note asking if I could paint on the other side,” she said, adding that her request was later approved by Cervantes. “She told me to keep painting, so I kept painting.”

But the activists and Precita Eyes muralists said that permission was never granted.

“She twisted Susan’s words,” said a muralist with the organization. “She was never given permission.”

Aside from copyright issues, the community members attempted to inform Rismanchi and the artists that they had overstepped community processes and that their attempt to “beautify” the existing mural was tone deaf given community-driven efforts to preserve the neighborhood’s existing Latino culture and traditions.

“There’s a difference between how we see the murals and you see the murals,” Arguello told Rismanchi. “You see it as something that’s dark and ugly and we see it as a message to empower the community, to empower you and it’s also a placeholder for our community because we are being displaced.”

In an attempt to appease the community, Rismanchi offered up another, much smaller wall space on his building on Folsom Street.

“We have another wall on 20th that we are currently interviewing mural artists – I’m more than happy to donate the other wall to you guys and whoever you choose…we can take a look at [that artists] portfolio,” said Rismanchi.

But Arguello and the Precita Eyes muralists did not accept that compromise.

“Nothing in offense to you, but …it always seems that the community get the bone thrown at us,” said Arguello, adding that though the property belonged to Rismanchi, the 24th Street mural had been on the building when it was purchased, and belonged to the community. “So we want the front center.”

Rismanchi eventually agreed to work with Precita eyes to design a new mural involving the local community on the building’s 24th Street wall space, and that the artists whom he had tasked with painting the mandalas could resume the project on the Folsom Street side of the building.  

“We have 90 kids this summer in our program every day, and definitely have enough young people to [redo] this mural,” said Pili Hernández. “We just have to get the money together for some paint.”

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40 Comments

    1. RMulle …Mule
      Is is People like U who have no NO NO RESPECT and totally forgot U DISplaced poor disenfranchised working class Residents of the Mission.
      Look at the East Los Angeles model?
      They are literally targeting any and ALL Hipster owned Bussiness that pops up before it’s even in Bussiness, making Hipsters feel UNwelcomed is and UNwanted is just the Beginning like the Nicodim and PSSSST art galleries closed their doors because the Community El Barrio is not for sale. The lives of the Gallery owners were made MISERABLE so they threw in the towel and Quit, Ls Sacaron Mucho ala Verga…

      1. So…thuggish, uncivilized behavior and intimidation…pretty much as expected and representative of the culture you’re so proud of. Property rights: look it up. Don’t like it? Why not treat yourself to a real taste of that culture back in Mexico…just don’t complain when you get beheaded by a cartel or raped by some real hombres…

        Stop blaming other people for your total lack of ability to function or succeed in a modern society. Do you ever notice how your “hoods” are utter and complete run-down crime-ridden shitholes right up until you aren’t there? Then magically they somehow become clean, safe, and prosperous literally within months of you being gone?

        Congrats on intimidating some lady who got asked to paint a mural by the OWNER…maybe if you had some real cajones you could clean up your own culture and neighborhood by focusing your attention where it’s needed: on yourselves.

        1. you are incredibly offensive, Richard – obscene; I lived in the Mission for 35 years and as your monied interests took over the City, your community has called the Mission a Latino theme park,” perhaps you have never had to stand up and demand respect for your life and your culture – your comments make me nauseous

          So glad there is a pushback by the youth.

        2. Thank you for reminding us that racism is real and very alive inSan Francisco, especially as it relates to the Mission. Your utter lack of concern for or understanding of the issues low income oppressed communities face.
          The best part is how you “essentialize” or generalize about a whole group. You are the kind of person I have spent my life organizing and fighting against. You are ignorant and racist. When will you be leaving SanFrancisco?

  1. There once was a mural on the side of a corner bodega on Steiner and Haight, depicting the role of women in the AIDS epidemic, as people who contracted HIV and activists fighting the plague. The mural was constantly defaced, not for any hateful reason against women or people with AIDS but just because taggers wanted to leave their mark on the wall.

    I think Mirkarimi was supervisor one time when folks were quite upset about how the HIV mural was defaced and he arranged to have the artwork restored. That didn’t stop the taggers and eventually the building’s owner just painted over the entire mural. It’s now gone, living on only in photos and the minds of folks who saw it when it existed.

  2. Oh Covfefe,

    The Gents want to write “be a good person” in COLORS. That makes everything right. *not*

  3. Can someone with tech money aim for justice, and help Precita Eyes with enough money to buy the kids some paint?

    That has to be a win.

  4. From Art Law Journal:

    Q: If I own the copyright in a piece of street art, can I stop anyone from ripping it down or painting it over?

    A: Not unless you also own the wall. Somewhat counterintuitively, owning a copyright doesn’t necessarily mean you own that copy of the work. You have the exclusive rights to make reproductions of the work, but the person who owns the wall also probably owns the paint on that wall.

  5. What kind of weirdos want a skull painted on their property? Good thing they get rid of that crap.

    1. What kind of weirdos buy a building with a protected community mural on it with no intent to keep it?

  6. You all might hate this statement but change is an occurence in life and in the end no one owns anything. I’m a muralist who’ve had multiple walls covered without permission, I let it go. Now I see this is different with the involvement of the kids and the local community, which I have high respect for the project that was once there, but I will also put in that the way the situation was handled incredibly poor. I was walking by and found myself in the middle of so much negativity towards the woman who was just doing what she loves, painting. People need to realize you don’t make progress with hate and negativity. This was obviously an accident, and nothing lasts forever, nothing! It’s amazing the kids got to paint it, that is the beauty of the present moment, but with time comes change. I don’t like that this article includes a video with the muralist, and your facts are a little off on the new business. I’m ready for a civilization that doesn’t fight, but instead resolve. I’m broke but I’d love to chip in for paint for these kids, in fact let’s get a go fund me started. Just realize that hate and inetensity will only get you so far, war doesn’t provide anything but problems in any context. If anyone who was involved is reading this, please please be more gentle, subtle, and push for what is needed. We can’t fight gentrification with negativity and we can’t find equality if we only talk about a specific group. We as people are all on this world together, no one is above or below, it’s just an illusion too many people believe. Reality is what we make it, so let’s make it beautiful ya? To sum up, a man/woman isn’t one who yells the loudest, respect gets respect, speak slow, listen fast, and be the change you want to see in the world. The demonstrators on the scene standing up for the mural embarrassed themselves and proved to me why we as the lower class aren’t getting anywhere in this world. Hate has provided nothing for society but pain and sorrow and quite frankly, a subtle mature voice will be heard over frantic screaming. Be a good person, and be the change you want to see. (Seriously let’s do a go fund me, and get these kids painting.) Maybe the old wall is gone, but it’s a perfect excuse to give the opportunity to more children, in fact I believe that changing the wall every one to two years and allowing new children to experience painting and bringing present inspiration would be a beautiful thing. Hopefully I didn’t offend anyone, if I did I apologize, just trying to look forward to a better tomorrow. Drama has gotten us no where! Cheers.

  7. Been here since 1974: gentrification is the best thing that’s happened to the Mission in my lifetime. It’s done, it’s over. You can maybe slow or impede a little but no more than you can give the Lower East Side back to Eastern European immigrants or Harlem back to Italian immigrants can you stop progress. I remember a woman from the Mission I was friends with back in 1986 or so: she was so bitter that her parents had not bought their home in the Mission. Wanna’ guess what prices looked like thirty years ago? I’m not sure she ever got over it. I wonder if she ever bought and I wonder if that bitterness consumed her? And what’s with enlisting children to paint something as divisive as “our culture is not for sale?” Your culture may not be for sale, whatever that means but the neighborhood is for sale and will continue to be, especially after grandma and grandpa die.

    1. Maybe the children umm… feel like their culture shouldn’t be for sale? Don’t assume a child needs to be “enlisted” to respond to watching their friends and family members forced out of the neighborhood.

      1. I’m always amazed at the one-sided nature of the ‘Mission not for sale’ discussion. Why are the Latin property owners who sold to us white devils never vilified? Maybe you should start applying pressure within the familia and stop blaming the gentrification hordes.

        1. What does that have to do with children having the wherewithal to express the situation happening around them? Nothing one sided about stating the truth. Stick to the point.

  8. If you don’t give a damn about mural culture, make the wall black and call it a day. These folks decided, instead, to pit local artists against local artists, for their profits.

  9. Dear Precita Eyes: Please post a link to a donation site so ppl can buy you paint.

  10. I am so glad Precita Eyes is speaking out. I am sick of the so called new monied culture disrespecting the Mission and its artists and youth .Really painting over a neighborhood mural with with a slogan that says” Be a good “me of Goggles’ slogan “Do no harm “.I am a local artist and as far as I am concerned this is total disrespect. What planet are these folks on?

  11. On the one hand it seems like the owners were pretty thoughtless when it came to replacing the mural. On the other hand, Calle 24 is consistently on the wrong side of housing issues and a big reason why people are being displaced in the Mission, so I don’t want to hear them complaining about displacement when they’re part of the problem.

  12. Despicable. This is ad bad as those tech bros who thought they could come into a park and kick the kids out who were in the middle of a soccer game. Except it’s worse because they are literally erasing the cultural significance of Mission murals.

  13. Are there any murals that celebrate the once vibrant Victorian era European Immigrants that resided in the Mission for 80 years or so prior to Hispanic immigration to the area ?

      1. Victorian era settler colonialists did not make murals. I guess they were too busy commiting genicide against the Native americans.
        I also guess you dont read much or know very much about history.

  14. Hoping the restaurant flails and fails. They knew they were messing with something important. They just wanted to change it. That’s what colonists do. Build a church over thousands of years old buildings in Mexico City and Peru, and the Chinese taking down 2,000 year old homes in Silk Road Cities. It’s the way it works, very sadly.

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