Life Connected

Artist Creates Murals to Help Connect Communities

"Beauty is transformative, so beauty and content together is even more powerful"

You may not know her name, but chances are you've seen her work. Artist Judy Baca's murals blanket Southern California. Each one is designed to not only please the eye, but also stimulate the mind while connecting communities.

Baca has been transforming places and people since the 1970s. That's when she founded LA city's first mural program, which is now called SPARC: Social and Public Art Resources Center.

Born in Watts and raised in Pacoima, Baca decided at an early age she wanted her art to create social change.

"I think inherent in the work I do is that its intentionality is to change people's minds, to begin to make people think differently about themselves and the environment they live in," she said.

That's what she did with "The Great Wall of Los Angeles." It is the longest mural in the world, spanning a half mile, along a portion of the LA River that was turned into a concrete flood control channel in the San Fernando Valley.

"I remember standing on the banks of that river and thinking this is a scar that needs to be healed, just the way the stories of the people needed to be resurrected," Baca said.

The mural tells the multicultural history of California from prehistoric times to the 1950s. It's a history often untold, which is why Baca wanted the mural created by people whose voices are often unheard.

She brought together 400 at-risk youth and 35 artists to paint the Great Wall over five summers, starting in 1976. She says the project connected people to each other by connecting them to their shared history.

Baca says the process of how her artwork is made is just as important as the end result.

She's been collaborating with the University of California as a professor for more than 30 years, and with UCLA at SPARC Digital Mural Lab for the past 20 years.

Whether her artwork is created with a brush or a stylus, her art will always have a message.

"Beauty is transformative, so beauty and content together is even more powerful," Baca said.

A campaign is underway to raise $3 to 4 million to finish the Great Wall to include California's history from the 1960s through the 1990s. Plus, Baca's alma mater Cal State Northridge will host an exhibit on the Great Wall that opens Oct. 18 and runs through Dec. 16.

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