Judy Baca. Urban Artist

Judy Baca talks about her experience painting The Great Wall of Los Angeles, “20 Innovators,” (2011) NBC Latino, online video, 2:10 minutes. Video by Joan Saab, Critical Commons.

Judy Baca describes herself as an “urban artist,”1 a term that refers to her work as a muralist and public artist but also acknowledges her complex role as activist, organizer, and, at times, city employee. In 1970, while teaching a summer art program in East Los Angeles parks, Baca started talking to teenagers who hung out playing dominoes, many of whom were involved in gangs. Baca had the idea to enlist members of four different gangs to join a group she called “Las Vistas Nuevas” that would paint murals on the graffiti-covered park walls. The city didn’t sanction the project, but the group completed three murals that summer including Mi Abuelita (1970), depicting a Mexican grandmother whose outstretched arms curve with the walls of the bandshell in Hollenbeck Park.2 By 1976 Baca organized approximately 350 young people, many of them from juvenile justice programs, to complete one of the largest murals in the world—a half-mile-long narrative mural lining the cement walls of Tujunga Wash in the San Fernando Valley, which came to be known as The Great Wall of Los Angeles (1974–84).

  1. Judy Baca, oral history interview with Amalia Mesa-Bains for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, recorded August 5–6, 1986, transcript available at https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-judith-baca-5436#transcript. ↩︎

  2. Michael Fallon, Creating the Future: Art and Los Angeles in the 1970s (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press, 2014), 213. ↩︎