‘Art & Resistance’: New Policies Made By CalTrans Threaten the Rights of Future Chicano Park Muralists

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Historical Mural (Ramp 1A) in Chicano Park portraying positive contributions of Spanish, Mexican & Mexican-American men in Chicano history. Restoration completed in 2012 by artists Sal Barajas & Guillermo Aranda. Photo Credit: Robert A. Camacho

Barrio Logan, A Community Under Siege

The community of Barrio Logan and surrounding neighborhood of Logan Heights; as well as others close within its proximity have increasingly seen more and more affronts and attacks on the character and integrity of the area in recent years. Whether it’s the constant onslaught of gentrification pushing out longtime business owners and residents, or white supremacists and far-right extremists marching in Chicano Park demanding the removal of its iconic murals, to rich outsider transplants complaining about street vendors in the neighborhood who have vended in the community for years; there has perhaps never been another single time in history where so many outside forces desperately want into the neighborhood to pillage and ravage its identity and completely remake it to their own liking and benefit. So last week it was brought to the public’s attention by the Facebook page Barrio Bridge (a community page that connects the historic barrios of Barrio Logan, Logan Heights and Sherman Heights) that CalTrans (The California Department of Transportation) had drafted a new policy requiring all artists to forfeit ownership and copyright protections of their art that is used on state freeway structures (including all future murals in Chicano Park) residents and followers of the page were immediately up in arms over this new policy change.

 

The California Project Developmental Procedures Manual & New Changes

First I think it’s important to take a look at the actual document where these new policy changes were made. Here in California, we have a document called the Project Developmental Procedures Manual that provides all of the framework of policies and procedures for developing State highway improvement projects in the state. Now in this manual, there are literally dozens of chapters with hundreds of pages outlining everything from community involvement, to environmental contamination; even things as minute as what kind of landscape can be used along the state highways are included in it. These chapters in the Project Developmental Procedures Manual are periodically updated by the state from time to time; some have been updated a recently as late last year while others haven’t been modified in upwards of twenty years. However, the passage in particular which has caught the attention of the Chicano Park Steering Committee, muralists and community members here in Barrio Logan was modified very recently, last year back on May 24th, 2018 to be exact. Said passage is located in part three of the Project Developmental Procedures Manual under ‘Specific Project Development Procedures’, chapter twenty-nine under entitled ‘Section 9 Transportation Art’. Now there are several passages I want you to familiarize yourself with because they are pivotal in the way the state interprets who has ownership and authority over artwork on freeway infrastructure under these said policies, what artists can and cannot incorporate into their art and why this policy change is not only uniquely detrimental for Chicano Park and its muralists; but encroaches on the rights of artist all across the entire state of California.

The first passage is entitled ‘Intellectual Property Rights – Copyright Ownership of Transportation Art’. And it states:

“Transportation art located within CalTrans’ right-of-way is a benefit to the people of California and will become property of the State. Prior to the installation or placement of the approved transportation art, the artist(s) and public agency must provide CalTrans with an executed and notarized copyright assignment and transfer agreement containing terms and conditions approved by CalTrans. The copyright assignment and transfer agreement assigns, transfers, and conveys that artist’s entire rights, title and interest in and to the approved transportation art to CalTrans, including but not limited to, the artist’s common law and federal law copyright ownership rights to the approved transportation art”.

This first policy change is problematic in so many ways; not only is such a demand for artists to give up their common law and federal law copyright ownership rights insulting to them and their work, it’s against the law. Under the California Art Preservation Act of 1979 California law provides legal protection for an artists’ moral rights. The law also provides for civil penalties and injunctive relief for the intentional or grossly negligent destruction/mutilation of a work of fine art, defined in the statute as any original painting, sculpture, or drawing that is of recognized quality. Most importantly, the act also provides artists the right to claim authorship and disavow modifications to works of their fine art; and likewise, the rights granted under the act are active for the life of the author plus another fifty years. Essentially, CalTrans wants artists across the state (which includes all future Chicano Park muralists) to sign over the intellectual rights to their work to the state of California; effectively ceding ownership and therefore forfeit all protections that artists are generally granted and entitled to under the State law.

The second passage is entitled ‘Artist Disclaimer Statement’. And it states:

“The artist must place a disclaimer statement in a conspicuous manner on or in close proximity to the artwork and will not be considered “text”. The disclaimer statement must state that the contents of the artwork solely reflect the views of the artist and do not reflect the official views or policies of CalTrans or the Federal Highway Administration”.

Now this passage is particularly insulting to artists because it’s a peak example of both CalTrans and the state of California wanting to have their cake and eat it too in regards to this policy defining artist views. Essentially, both CalTrans and the state of California want to enjoy and reap the benefits of being the sole owners of the copyright to these artworks; but they don’t want to bare the social and moral responsibility of owning the views and sentiments expressed in said art. It doesn’t work that way, we cannot allow CalTrans and state to selectively pick and choose what part of an art piece they want to stand by and take ownership of; and what part they don’t because it may negatively affect them. Simply put, we cannot allow both CalTrans and the state to profit off the labor of artists and claim sole ownership of their work, while conversely distancing themselves of any stewardship of the art’s message and views. It’s wrong, it’s cowardly and we simply cannot let this policy go unchallenged.

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The third and final passage I want to take a look at is entitled ‘Transportation Art Requirements’. I won’t list the entire passage because it’s simply too long with requirements and stipulations that simply aren’t relevant to the issues of ownership and censoring or artist’s work that we’re addressing in this piece. However, there are several requirements in this policy change that I believe are not only unfair in severely limiting how artists express themselves; they are also limitations that I believe unfairly target and harm historic landmarks like Chicano Park and historically marginalized communities like Barrio Logan. These new limitations implement the requirement that all future artwork:

  • “Not display symbols or icons such as flags, logos, or commercial symbols, except as allowed in Sub-article “Sponsor Recognition””
  • “Not display text”

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While these two provisions are merely two of twenty plus others listed under the ‘Transportation Art Requirements’ passage and may even seem benign; they pose a unique threat and disproportionately affect historic places such as Chicano Park severely limiting what kind of future artwork can be installed by artists. This is self-evident more so in Chicano Park than perhaps any other landmark in the entire state of California. For example, under the provision banning flags, symbols or icons; artwork containing Mexican flags, the flag of Aztlán which flies over the park, as well as the iconic United Farm Worker Union (UFW) flag which can be seen all throughout the park on murals depicting protests for labor rights, immigrant rights, Chicano civil-rights and commonly associated with labor leader and civil rights activist César Chávez would all no longer be eligible to be erected in the park. Likewise, the text ban, if it were to be applied retroactively, would effectively remove almost every bit of artwork of the park as well. Meaning phrases such as “Sí, se puede”, “¡Huelga!”, “¡Varrios sí, yonkes no!”, “All the way to the bay”, “No border wall”, “No more deaths” even the park’s official emblem which includes its name and the phrase “La tierra mia” would all now be ineligible to be placed in the park under CalTrans new arbitrary policy change. If it wasn’t bad enough that CalTrans is trying to actively steal muralist’s copyrights of their own artwork right from under them, now it wants to regulate and dictate what part of the community’s history is and is not allowed in their own park. To be clear, this is nothing more than cultural whitewashing and the deliberate erasure of our culture and history under the thinnest guise of legislative bureaucracy and centrists political correctness from CalTrans and the state of California.

Now just to be clear, the older murals already in Chicano Park are grandfathered in, meaning they are exempt from any of these policy changes outlined in the California Project Developmental Procedures Manual, and will not be retroactively subjected to any of its stipulations or requirements. However, any new murals such as a new lowrider mural by Sal Barajas, a new mural going on the side of the park’s restroom facilities by Patricia Aguayo, or another in the planning stages to be placed in the skate park by Victor Ochoa memorializing the life of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas a San Diego man who was brutally beaten and tasered to death by CPB agents at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in 2010 could all potentially come under attack by CalTrans and their new proposed policies.

 

Action Steps & What We Can Do

In the wake of this discovery last week many people have been asking what we can do in regards to CalTrans’ new policy requiring all artists to not only forfeit ownership and copyright protections of their art on state freeway structures; but also banning icons, flags, logos, and text. I’ve done a little bit of research and I’ve laid some action steps that I think we can all take to let CalTrans know that we are aware of what they are doing and demand not only answers in regards to this sudden and drastic policy change; but demand a complete and total reversal of them immediately.

Action step #1, I want you guys to contact Laurie Berman, she’s the CalTrans Director and I want you to call her office at 1-(619)-688-6670. I need you to call her office and as always be courteous, be respectful but I want you in your own words to tell her your name, where you’re from and tell her that you are concerned about the new policies put in place by CalTrans regarding public art and how it will disproportionately, negatively affect future art and muralists in Chicano Park. She’s the former CalTrans director of District 11 here in San Diego; so she is more than aware of Barrio Logan and the history of neglect experienced by both the neighborhood and Chicano Park itself. If she’s unavailable, ask to talk to her assistant and leave a message with them. And if there’s absolutely no one to talk to then leave a message on a machine, but try to talk to another person and tell them your concerns and that you are actively watching how they address and move forward with this situation. Likewise, I need you all to email her as well and in your email reiterate the same concerns you have regarding these policies on there too.

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Laurie Berman, CalTrans Director.

Phone: 1-(619)-688-6670

Email:laurie.berman@dot.ca.gov, Caltrans_Director@dot.ca.gov

Twitter Handle: @LaurieBerman32

And just as with your phone calls I want you in your own words to tell her your name, where you’re from and tell her that you are concerned about the new policies put in place by CalTrans regarding public art and that you are concerned how it will disproportionately, negatively affect future art and muralist in Chicano Park and Barrio Logan.

Action step #2, I need you all to email and call The California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) and I need you all to call and ask for the acting secretary of the California State Transportation Agency. Back in April, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the appointment of David S. Kim to replace Brian Annis as secretary of the California State Transportation Agency; but as of this publication, he has not yet confirmed by the California senate. So I want you to all call CalSTA, ask to speak to the acting secretary of the California State Transportation Agency and in your own words your name, where you’re from and that you are concerned about the new policies put in place by CalTrans regarding public art and how it disproportionately negatively affects future art and muralist in Chicano Park. You may be transferred several times or more, so make sure you have a pen and paper to write any new names of people to get in touch with; as well as all of their contact numbers, emails, social media handles etc.

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CalSTA Office Phone: 1-(916)- 323-5400

Email: contact.us@calsta.ca.gov

Twitter Handle: @CA_Trans_Agency

Action step #3, I want you to get in contact with the California State Assembly Committee on Transportation, and I want you to tell them the exact same things you told both Laurie Berman and CalSTA. Also, I want you to get in contact with Assembly Member Jim Frazier of the 11th District, he’s the Chair of the California Transportation Committee and another important person we need to make aware of this, and let him know that the community is ready to challenge these new policy changes from CalTrans regarding it stances on public art. He has several numbers and email addresses, and you can find them all and contact him through his website in the link provided below:

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Assembly-member Jim Frazier, District 11.

California State Assembly Committee on Transportation Office Number:  1-(916)-319-2093

Website: https://a11.asmdc.org/

Twitter Handle: @AsmFrazier

 

Keeping Up The Pressure

It goes without saying, the muralists of Chicano Park and the Chicano Park Steering Committee are not taking any of these policy changes lightly. Various muralists and members of the Steering Committee have already come together and made it abundantly clear that the Chicano Park Steering Committee already has a process in place for approving new artwork, that it is a process that they have followed for decades; and if CalTrans wants to sit in on the monthly meetings and be a part of the process they are more than welcome to be active participants. However, if CalTrans tries to force the issue and demand compliance that muralist cede their copyright to their own work then they will take legal action and take both CalTrans and the state of California to court; and that under absolutely under no circumstances will any artist give up their rights unless they personally choose to do so. With that said, we can’t be complacent and simply wait for CalTrans or the state to respond whenever they want at their own convenience and leisure. It’s imperative that we as a community send a clear and strong message that we are on top of this, that we are engaged, that we are watching and that we are prepared to galvanize the community not just in Barrio Logan; but with other artists and Barrios from all across the state should CalTrans decide to try and enforce these arbitrary and biased restrictions limiting the expression and artistic freedom of artists here in the state of California.

Here’s something I need you guys to understand, your emails and phone calls to these people in public office really matter. In far too many instances when responding to a policy, an entity or phenomenon that threatens the well being of the Barrio and its residents we are already behind the eight-ball. We can no longer afford to simply be reactionary; and right now is a perfect time to get prepared, get ahead of this and let CalTrans and the state of California know that we mean business and that we are prepared to take this fight all the way to them if they attempt to impose these unfair policies on not just the muralists of Chicano Park, but artist across the entire state of California. Any justice we are going to receive will be the justice that we fight and make for ourselves. But we have to take action and in far too many instances the action we take simply just does not match the outrage we show in the streets or online across social media. I know it feels good to post on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. It’s reassuring to see our friends and allies share in solitary and know that there are others out there who care about these issues as deeply and passionately as we do. But, we have to be real with ourselves. The people who need to be aware of our ire, our frustration and our anger just simply aren’t going to see it here. The politicians, the public servants, and the policymakers who consistently approve and sign off on policies that target and harm our communities; they’re not hanging out on woke twitter. They’re not on your favorite decolonization page on Instagram or at protests in front of beloved venues and businesses in the Barrio closed due to increasing living expenses brought on by gentrification. The fact of the matter is we have to start taking the fight in places where we rarely take it, which is in the home court of these public servants and policymakers. We have to make them feel the heat, the pressure and they need to understand that there are consequences for approving these types of policies without our input. As I said, the only justice we are going to receive will be the justice that we fight for and make of ourselves. And we have let CalTrans and the state of California know that no artist with integrity would ever willingly sign away their rights, let alone agree to these biased policies; and that they’re going to have a serious fight on their hands not just from the artists but communities from all across the state if they try to enforce these policies and dictate what part of our history and our culture we can express through public art in our neighborhoods.

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Photo of Chicano Park Day 2018. Photo Credit: Roberto A. Camacho
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