Rescue Public Murals, based at the national nonprofit organization Heritage Preservation, seeks to bring public attention to U.S. murals, document their unique artistic and historic contributions, and secure the expertise and support to save them.
About Rescue Public Murals
Rescue Public Murals, based at the national nonprofit organization Heritage Preservation, seeks to bring public attention to U.S. murals, document their unique artistic and historic contributions, and secure the expertise and support to save them. The project was officially launched in December 2006. Assisted by a national committee of Advisers, including muralists, conservators, art historians, and public art professionals, it has initiated the following projects:
- Assessments: to date Rescue Public Murals has brought conservators and artists together to evaluate the condition of 16 murals in 11 sites across the country. The assessment teams documented what steps will be needed to preserve these murals.
- Restoration: in fall 2009, Rescue Public Murals completed its first restoration project of Eva Cockcroft’s Homage to Seurat: La Grande Jatte in Harlem.
- Best practices for mural creation: Rescue Public Murals is working with artists, conservators, conservation researchers, public art programs, and paint manufactures to identify techniques and materials that will ensure the longest life for new outdoor murals.
- Advocacy: Rescue Public Murals tracks murals in the news and mural programs and initiatives across the U.S. Constituents are encouraged to notify Rescue Public Murals of murals that are deteriorated or at risk for destruction.
- Documentation: because it is not possible to save all outdoor murals, Rescue Public Murals has a partnership with the ARTstor Digital Library to save digital images and information about murals and to make them available for noncommercial, educational use. About 700 images collected by Rescue Public Murals are available in ARTstor adding to the 5,000 mural images in theCommunity Murals collection contributed by Rescue Public Murals co-chair, Dr. Timothy Drescher.
While Rescue Public Murals recognizes the significant historic and artistic value of public murals within structures, the project’s initial priority will be murals that are outdoors and thus especially vulnerable.
Rescue Public Murals has received funding from the Getty Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Booth Heritage Foundation, Friends of Heritage Preservation, and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art.
For more information contact rescuepublicmurals(a)heritagepreservation.org or sign up for Rescue Public Murals news and updates.
Dr. Timothy W. Drescher, Independent Scholar, former co-editor of Community Muralsmagazine, Berkeley, California. Dr. Drescher has been studying and documenting community murals since 1972, was co-editor of Community Murals magazine from 1976 to 1987, and is the author of San Francisco Bay Area Murals: Communities Create Their Muses, 1904-1997. He wrote the Afterward to the revised edition of Toward A People’s Art, and consults and lectures widely on murals. Dr. Drescher has a Ph.D. in English Literature and Art History from the University of Wisconsin.
Will Shank, Independent Conservator and Curator, Barcelona, Spain. Mr. Shank was head of conservation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from 1990 until 2000. He was the recipient in 2005 of the Booth Family Rome Prize for Conservation/Historic Preservation at the American Academy in Rome, where he studied worldwide policies on the care of modern murals. Mr. Shank was trained in conservation at Harvard University, Villa Schifanoia in Florence, and the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, where he also received an M.A. in art history.
Mural Creation Best Practices
Since 2006, Heritage Preservation’s Rescue Public Murals (RPM) initiative has confronted the risks that community murals face by being located in outdoor, public spaces. Murals have been, and are an increasingly, popular public art form that adds vibrancy and vitality to the built landscape. Many communities in the United States, large and small, have mural programs or are actively commissioning murals. Unfortunately, almost every community is also aware of the negative image that a faded, flaking, or vandalized mural creates or the misfortune of an artist’s work that has been unjustly removed or destroyed.
While working to ensure the protection and preservation of existing murals, RPM recognizes that many common issues that murals face could have been mitigated with careful planning and preparation. RPM has held conversations and brainstorming sessions with muralists, conservators, art historians, arts administrators, materials scientists, and engineers to document best practices for mural creation. We present these recommendations on this website. Recommendations are not meant to be prescriptive but instead to pose questions and raise issues that should be considered at each stage of creating a mural: planning, wall selection, wall and surface preparation, painting, coating, and maintenance. Each recommendation has been considered both for mural commissioning organizations/agencies and for artists to address their particular needs and concerns. Each section includes links to further reading on the topic.
The recommendations on this website assume that a mural that is painted with careful planning and consideration to technique and materials and that receives regular maintenance could have a lifespan of 20-30 years. However, this may not be the intention of all mural projects. Therefore, one of the key planning recommendations is to establish a realistic estimate of the likely lifespan of the mural before work begins.
While this website mentions some materials and items that have been successfully used by artists and mural programs, the recommendations emphasize how to evaluate materials rather than to endorse specific items.
Support for this project came from an Access to Artistic Excellence grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Rescue Public Murals sincerely thanks the colleagues who contributed their time and expertise to produce this site.
Download this pdf for best practices on the following various aspects of creating a mural:
- Wall Selection
- Wall or Surface Preparation
Highly Endangered Murals
When Rescue Public Murals began, the project co-chairs and advisors identified significant, outdoor murals at risk. Unfortunately, five have already been destroyed. To follow are other murals that Rescue Public Murals and its advisors have identified across the country and are working to save.
Rescue Public Murals also takes recommendations from any interested citizen about significant murals in your community. These recommendations may help Rescue Public Murals plan future projects, such as conducting assessments and raising awareness and funding for murals in need. Please email us if you have recommendations.
Against Domestic Colonialism. Arnold Belkin, New York City, 1972. 60' x 70' (est.)
This is the only surviving mural in the United States by Mexican master Arnold Belkin, one of the most important 20th century muralists. It illustrates the struggle between communities and urban renewal programs, one of the most common mural themes for the first phase of the community mural movement (1965-73). Since its painting in 1972, the wall has suffered serious drainage and surface flaking problems, which continue unabated today. This mural was assessed in September 2011 through a partnership between Rescue Public Murals, the West 46th Street Block Association, CITYarts, Inc., and other concerned neighbors.
Centro Cultural de la Raza murals, Felipe Adame, Mario Aguilar, Guillermo "Yermo" Aranda, David Avalos, Salvador Barajas, Samuel Llamas, Victor Ochoa, Antonia Perez, Antonio Perez Pazos, Arturo Roman, San Diego, 1974, 20' x 325' (est.)
The Centro Cultural de la Raza in San Diego’s Balboa Park is the city’s longest-standing organization devoted to Latino, Chicano, Mexican and Indigenous art, and culture and 20-foot high murals wrap the 400-foot circumference of its circular building. The murals were painted in 1974 by ten Chicana/o artists, some of whom still reside in the San Diego area. A January 2009 assessment by Rescue Public Murals documented that the murals on the southern exposure have deteriorated, graffiti and graffiti removal have harmed the original artwork, and building equipment has interfered with the murals’ appearance and artists’ intent. Intervention by the original artists is now needed to restore this unique piece of mural history.
Multi-Cultural Progression, Zara Kriegstein, Santa Fe, NM, 1981, 15' x 80'
In September 2008, paintings conservator Steven Prins and muralist Zara Kriegstein assessed Multi-Cultural Progression, a mural located on the on Empire Builders Supply Company in Santa Fe. The mural depicts the historical movements of the diverse peoples of New Mexico and how they have learned to live together. It was painted in 1981 by an equally diverse team of artists and students lead by Ms. Kriegstein. An extensive restoration plan has been proposed to correct the marked fading and cracking of the mural.
Innocence, Norma Montoya, Los Angeles, 1975, 17' x 31', one of the 52 murals of Estrada Courts.
A cluster of about 50 murals is located at the Estrada Courts housing project on Olympic and Lorena in East Los Angeles. Chicano artists from Los Angeles, San Diego, and Northern California painted these murals during the height of the Chicano civil rights and art movements. The Estrada Courts buildings have been recently rehabilitated and the time is right to refurbish the artistic heart of the community as well. Six murals were assessed by Rescue Public Murals in May and June 2007.
SIDA en Colores, Carlos Callejo, El Paso, 1988, 16' x 75'.
In this mural, artist Carlos Callejo, whose major work includes interior murals in the new El Paso courthouse, illustrates a terrible “AIDS tornado” sweeping victims away from their city. The Texas sun, graffiti, and the structural instability of the wall are all having a negative impact on the mural. It was assessed by Rescue Public Murals in October 2007 by the artist and conservator Steven Prins of Steven Prins & Company, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and they have proposed a plan for its restoration.
Under City Stone, Caryl Yasko, 1972, Chicago, 12' x 200'. (Photo by Will Shank)
Under City Stone by Caryl Yasko was assessed by Rescue Public Murals in July 2008. The artist, mural conservators Elizabeth Kendall and Peter Schoenmann of Parma Conservation, Ltd., and Chicago Public Art Group staff participated in the assessment. After 35 years of exposure to pollution, dampness, and temperature fluctuations on the walls of a commuter rail underpass, the mural has degraded significantly. The assessment will help develop a plan to bring this dynamic community artwork back to life.
Crossroads, Carol Byard and Marilyn Lindstrom, 1997, Minneapolis, 20’ x 110’.
Crossroads, a mural by Carol Byard and Marilyn Lindstrom in south Minneapolis was created in 1997 in collaboration with community artists including Native American, Euro American, Asian American and dozens of neighborhood youth. Despite the passage of time and significant fading, cracking, paint loss, and staining, the mural still holds a special place in the hearts of local citizens. The mural is one of the few community murals by an African American woman. The 2,200 square foot mural was assessed by Rescue Public Murals in December 2008 so that a plan may be made for its restoration.
Song of Unity. Anna DeLeon, Osha Neumann, Ray Patlán, and O'Brien Thiele, Berkeley, 1978. 15' x 40' (est.)
This mural, a dynamic community landmark on La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, is made of acrylic paint on Masonite, paper mache, fired ceramics, and fiberglass sculpture. These mixed materials, in addition a rotting wooden sub-structure, make the restoration of the mural a particular challenge. The mural was assessed by ARG Conservation Services of San Francisco and the artists in June 2008 and they are developing a plan to save it.
All of Mankind, William Walker, Chicago, 1973.
All of Mankind is one of the few remaining outdoor murals of William Walker, a primary artist behind the Wall of Respect (1967) the mural that began the community mural movement. It covers the interior and exterior of the Strangers Home Missionary Baptist Church near the former Cabrini-Green housing project. In the past thirty years, the colors have faded and the surface has been abraded; the building itself is also threatened by redevelopment.