Sometimes, murals are more than just paint on a wall. In June 2019, the San Pedro Waterfront Arts District launched a pilot program called Adventures in Public Art to give high school art students and community members hands-on experiences creating public art. We designed this six-week mural workshop program to engage participants in public art projects, encourage them to become more astute arts enthusiasts, and foster a sense of community ownership and inclusion.
The first mural was a 100-square-foot project led by Teaching Artist Virginia Broersma and was painted on the back of Sirens Java & Tea by the 12 workshop participants and 36 community members. If you look closely, the mural has an homage to Sirens owner Yolanda Regalado’s brother and her husband Ray’s childhood address.
We received a Port of LA Community Grant in 2022 to paint an Adventures in Public Art mural on the Los Angeles Maritime Institutes’ shop building in West Harbor. We hired a teaching artist, Media Arts Teacher Jay Davis, to lead the San Pedro STEAM Magnet high school students through the process of mural creation and to include the community in painting the mural on the wall. He is also a part of media arts development at the district and national levels as San Pedro High School continues establishing media arts as a fifth arts discipline in U.S. K-12.
We are excited to be working with Jay Davis on this LAMI mural, and I asked him some questions about his background, motivations, and inspiration.
Grimes: How did you first discover you were an artist?
Davis: My family was the first to give me positive feedback on my art and the vocabulary to self-identify as an artist. It really became a central part of my identity when my ability was consistently acknowledged in grade school, and I won contests.
They were supportive and made sure I had supplies and artistic experiences and got me enrolled in an LAUSD “gifted and talented” magnet [program] in San Pedro, Harbor Math/Science Magnet (now Park Western Place Elementary), in the ‘80s.
Why is creating public art important to this community?
Public art creation is essential due to the dynamism the Harbor Area embodies in its diverse population. We have so many fascinating narratives and legacies flowing through such an important region of the city of Los Angeles. The stories public art can facilitate highlight the area’s deep history and serve to enrich us all culturally, intellectually, and spiritually, while promoting the dignity and recognition our communities and natural spaces deserve. I’m especially interested in how public art in our local context and setting can draw in audiences with socially engaged art practices.
Describe your process for making the mural on LAMI’s Building G.
A mural painted with an engaged community requires the study of numerous stakeholders’ ideas before artistically reconciling and harmonizing a variety of visions, stories, and pieces of information. The mission of the Los Angeles Maritime Institute and the biodiversity of our beautiful marine environment provide unlimited creative inspiration.
I attended LAMI’s 30th anniversary celebration event, where I listened to lively oral histories while meeting people who essentially are social institutions. In my art classroom, students’ recollections of participating in LAMI’s program and their hoped-for representations are recalled, imagined, and collected. My own unique experiences and design ideas are mapping out how this could all visually and conceptually interrelate. I’m also exploring technologically layering murals with web-connected multimedia content to engage audiences further and meet many young people where they are as digital natives.
Why are arts districts key to promoting our unique identity?
San Pedro has a phenomenal arts community presence, physically and spiritually enduring to me, which has clearly coalesced through the decades into a dynamic creative landscape.
This unique culture and related economic activity were born from the historical and contemporary contributions of heavily working-class communities. Sustaining an arts district requires recognition and support for development, honoring this history with respect for the quality of life needs of the varied groups who comprise an arts district, intended to benefit all.
We give honest consideration to stakeholders, such as immigrant young people like those in my classroom, longtime residents, community-based artists and arts groups, and independent businesses who contribute to our art district’s vibrancy.
As we paint this mural, the community is invited to join us, the SPHS students, and LAMI. The mural painting days will be June 13-30.
Visit sanpedrowaterfrontartsdistrict.com after June 1 for the sign-up form and available times. spt