Public art conquers so much more than the simple task of making the street a little easier to look at. It involves those who created it, those who supplied the means to create it, and those whose lives it continues to impact. Wall paintings in particular take an important role in working for a greater good. Judith F. Baca, a Hispanic-American woman and artist- activist has contributed an unaccountable amount to the mural movement in Los Angeles. She has accomplished this by giving individuals the chance to create art and develop a sense of pride, she has taught younger generations a respect for their ethnic identity, and from the many walks of life that continue to view her work in everyday places she has encouraged social change.
Judy Baca graduated from California State University, Northridge in 1969. This was a time when very few artists openly supported the Civil Rights Movement in their work and Mexican muralists were not considered to be of any importance to the fomalists that dominated the art world (Barlow 1999, 125). The mural scene began to grow in 1967 when Allan D'Arcangelo painted the first decorative mural on the side of an East Ninth street tenement in New York City. In 1968, the first photo-realist mural were painted in Venice, California. The collective youth murals done in Latin areas of Chicago and New York City in 1968 also had an impact on the moving forward of the mural movement (Cockcroft et al. 1977, 31).
The city began to take mural painting seriously and in 1974 the Inner City Mural Program was brought about by the efforts of the Cultural Arts Section of Los Angeles county Department of Parks and Recreation. The Department set out to accomplish six specific goals. The first was to fulfill the inherent need of those with low-income backgrounds to develop a sense of identity through public artistic expression. This goal became specifically important to enhancing the lives of the youth in certain areas. The second goal was to improve the community through fine art murals that express its culture and ethnic heritage. Third, to draw attention to and emphasize the difference between commercial and fine art. The program sought to stimulate a higher awareness of, and support for, the fine arts and also to showcase the works of community artists. By dedicating the murals solely to cultural topics the goal of promoting cross-cultural exchange was achieved.
The simple fact that Baca is a woman is extremely important when it comes to evaluating her impact on others. Being a woman and reaching out for social change the way that Judy Baca does takes much dedication and passion. Bell hooks writes about the commodification of women in the art world: "...an undiscerning marketplace seeks to confine, limit, and even destroy our artistic freedom and practice." (Hooks 1981, 17). While Baca comes from the historically challenged feminine perspective, she can reach the youth that she works with because of their disadvantaged perspective as well. They are more apt to listen and learn from her because she has already overcome the challenge of succeeding in as a Hispanic American woman in a patriarchal society.
Baca's commitment led her to found the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) along with film maker Donna Dietch and artist Christina Schlesinger in Venice, California. SPARC has facilitated in the creation, preservation and documentation of public art in the Los Angeles area. In this way SPARC has been able to get the community involved in art and has given a voice to peoples of color. In addition, the center has organized symposia and exhibitions that draw attention to the multitude of cultures that make up the area as well as the entire country (Brown 1996, 28).
Baca began work on SPARC's first mural, "The Great Wall of Los Angeles," the participatory process was tested with the half-mile-long mural. The realities of organizing, educating,...