Public Art Policy

Murals in general uphold the goals and objectives of Cultural Arts Departments and Public Art Programs. Oakland’s Public Art program, for instance, outlines these goals as: “enrich[ing] the city’s visual environment, integrates the creative thinking of artists into public construction projects, and provides a means for citizens and visitors to enjoy and experience cultural diversity.”

The objectives of the city’s Public Art Program include providing “opportunities for artists which advance their artforms and which broaden the role of the artist in the community” developing high-quality artwork “which reflects its culturally diverse community”; to “enliven, enrich and enhance the quality of Oakland’s visual environment and public spaces” ; integrating “the work and creative thinking of artists into the planning, design and development of the City of Oakland by promoting and facilitating collaborations between artists, architects, landscape architects, engineers and other designers in all public construction or urban design projects and by encouraging such collaborations in the private sector”; providing employment opportunities for artists; and creating “opportunities for citizens and visitors to participate in, experience and understand the processes involved in the creation of public art.”

Murals have vast potential in the policy realm, yet they require considerable political will as well as community support to be effectively implemented within this arena. One inherent challenge is the difficulty of assigning value to cultural capital, since the intangible benefits of murals aren’t always readily apparent; greater data collection is needed to effectively determine the value of public artworks, as well as comparative studies which can identify the cost-benfit ratio of commissioning murals vs. painting over walls, as an abatement and blight mitigation strategy.

Equitable Development

CRP supports equitable development, or the idea that the detrimental aspects of development, such as displacement and culture shift, can be mitigated through focusing on and realizing equitable outcomes. CRP is a member of artist advocacy groups Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition, Oakland Community Art Coalition, and the Community Coalition for Equitable Development, and CRP staffers have consulted with the City of Oakland’s social Equity Team hired by the Planning Bureau for the Downtown Specific Plan planning process. A core principle of equitable development is the inclusion and input of community stakeholders and neighborhood organizations in decisions which impact them, both in terms of private development and municipal policymaking. CRP does not believe that the commissioning of artwork should be used to divide communities, promote gentrification narratives, or further longstanding practices of inequity. CRP is in favor of multicultural solidarity, ensuring that community stakeholders have a seat at the table, and working with both private developers and city officials and staff to ensure long-term outcomes which increase baseline equity and community participation in decision-making processes.

Criminalization of Youth

Criminalization of Youth and Punitive Policy Measures

One significant challenge for muralists and aerosol-based artists in particular is the perception of what has been called graffiti-style art as inherently illegal. This perception has been reinforced historically with ineffectual zero-tolerance measures and punitive policies which have contributed to the criminalization of youth and communities of color, without actually effecting a significant reduction in tag recidivism. While this perception is beginning to change with the emergence of studies showing the positive benefits of murals, successful mural initiatives and pilot programs, and the acceptance of street artists and community muralists into academic circles and the mainstream art world, it still persists as a knee-jerk reaction by elected officials, despite the existence of studies which show enforcement to be a low priority among residents.

Restorative Justice and Diversion Programs

Diversion programs, such as SF’s Street smARTs, can apply restorative justice principles to repeat vandal offenders, however, such programs require political will and intersectionality between city departments and artist organizations; Oakland’s 2013 Anti-Graffiti Ordinance directed the City Attorney to set up a Restorative Justice-oriented diversion program with local art organizations, but to date, no follow-through has been attempted.

Because of mural organizations’ ability to engage youth as well as community stakeholders, murals are uniquely positioned to enact diversion programs which present alternatives to harsh punitive measures, create a career path for artist development, and reduce blight while beautifying the locations they are painted in. Because it is statistically and realistically impossible for urban cities to achieve zero-tolerance goals in vandalism reduction, following best practices would entail implementing and expanding mural diversion programs, instead of continuing to feed the abatement black hole and criminalizing youthful offenders (who are often disproportionately low-income residents of color).

Re-Entry Program Partnerships

CRP is honored to work with re-entry and diversion programs looking to place program participants. We strongly believe that creating murals has therapeutic benefits other re-entry or diversion activities (such as simple abatement) may not offer. To learn more, contact us at

Intellectual Property Rights, Maintenance, and Mural Registry

Following best practices, such as applying clear-coating at the time of painting a mural, can extend its lifespan and provide an effective deterrent against annoying taggers and vandals. However, most murals will eventually require some maintenance over time. It is recommended that a maintenance fee be set aside at the time a mural is commissioned, to allow for touch-ups and repainting, if necessary.

VARA rights establish protections for legitimate public artworks, such as murals, giving the artist legal recourse in the event of damage or destruction of artwork. However, these rights are not always upheld by city graffiti removal crews and business owners; In some cases, graffiti removal workers have painted over legal, permitted artworks, and some business owners have painted over fading, damaged, or peeling murals, instead of offering the original artist the chance to repair the mural, as outlined by law. As a result, artists whose VARA rights are violated are often forced to engage in costly and time-consuming legal battles.

One solution to the problem of cataloging and valuating murals is to establish a mural registry program which clearly outlines the names of the artist or artist organization who created the artwork, the location of the artwork, and the legal permissions giving by the building owner or commissioning body. Mural registries can work in conjunction with mural maps and local wikis for mural tours and other events and activities utilizing art in public spaces.

Best Practices for Murals

CRP’s best practices for murals incorporate recommendations developed for muralists and those commissioning murals alike, and address everything from public safety, to site preparation, to clarification of potential legal issues, to hospitality for guest artists.

  • Community Engagement Activities
  • Permission from Property Owner
    • Clarification of VARA (and CAPA in California) Rights
  • Quality and Environmentally Friendly Materials
  • Safety Awareness and Procedures
    • Use of proper ventilators for aerosol projects
    • Adequate ventilation of indoor locations
    • Use of proper harnesses for lifts, scaffolds and swingstages
    • Correct techniques for ladders
  • Insurance
  • Design Process
    • Thorough documentation of site for all long distance communication
  • Research
  • Written Deliverables
  • Compensation (Stipends, Room, Board, and Per Diem when traveling)
    • Research and Design Process
    • Presentations
    • Meetings / Consultation
    • Mural Preparation
    • Mural Execution
    • Mural Maintenance
    • Guest Artists, Assistants, Interns and Youth
  • Preparation
    • Have materials ready
    • Access to location secure
    • Location cleared of obstacles
    • Transportation to the site
    • Provide meals onsite
    • Have an assistant available (if possible)
  • Documentation / Multimedia

Creative Placemaking

Creative placemaking is a relatively new and still-evolving term which has recently become a buzzword in creative arts circles. A brief history of the term’s use since 2010 and some case studies of current practices was compiled by Metris Consulting. Creative placemaking is both a cultural policy and a method for community development, and can center equity initiatives which address historic underdevelopment of disadvantaged populations.

The National Endowment for the Arts uses the following definition: “In creative placemaking, public, private, not-for-profit, and community sectors partner to strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, tribe, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.”

A similar definition is used by the Project for Public Spaces, who state that arts-based placemaking “is an integrative approach to urban planning and community building that stimulates local economies and leads to increased innovation, cultural diversity, and civic engagement. Since creativity fuels place value, the benefits of using arts and culture to tap into a place’s unique character extend well beyond the art world.”””

A third definition is provided by Art Place America, who say creative placemaking is “the belief that artists and arts organizations could literally shape the social, physical, and economic characters of their communities.”

Many creative placemaking initiatives revolve around public art, and murals in particular are highly-effective creative placemaking tools, because of their physical integration into their environment, and their many aesthetic benefits.

Murals create a tangible sense of place, destination, resulting in increased foot traffic while adding color, vibrancy, and character to urban environment. Murals contrast the negative mental health effects of concrete and asphalt, and can have therapeutic benefits for mentally-ill and homeless populations. Additionally, multiple murals in a retail corridor can creates a visible sense of being in an an arts district or cultural corridor.

While some placemaking initiatives have raised concerns about advancing gentrification, by centering equity as a core value and integrating community stakeholder input and participation into the process, the opposite outcome can be emphasized and achieved.

Murals which reflect the communities they are located in can advance social and cultural equity by upholding diversity, creating a sense of inclusion into the built environment, and visibly highlighting the history of a neighborhood and/or the social, cultural, and political values of its residents. Murals are a particularly effective tool for messaging, which can take many forms, including:

  • visual iconography;
  • social and cultural commentary;
  • inspirational and aspirational goals.

In many instances, murals do all of the above. They are an essential aspect of creative placemaking, and can help create equitable and positive outcomes when best practices are followed.

Economic Development

Murals as part of an economic development strategy

Murals in particular can be an effective part of economic development, beautification, and anti-blight strategies. They offer considerably more benefits than simple abatement, and can be combined with other initiatives and goals in a way which abatement on its own simply can’t. Murals in emerging arts districts help define the district, lend it a distinct sense of character and identity, can uphold neighborhood history and cultural heritage, and create a tangible sense of destination, which in turn can drive foot traffic and tourism. In many cases, public-private partnerships are established to implement these initiatives, leveraging city funding and political will with community input.

A relatively new trend in public art is the use of transportation funds to beautify and enhance urban infrastructure, including intersections, crosswalks, parks, and parklets. Such projects may involve street painting, sidewalk art, or murals integrated into existing architecture. Cities have also commissioned projects on city-owned trash receptacles, electrical boxes, and light poles – frequent targets for taggers.

Both murals and mural tours have been commissioned or coordinated by official tourist bureaus like Visit Oakland. However, while this strategy does offer high-visibility walls to local artists, it can also promote gentrification and displacement, and may not be reflective of community input.

Consulting Services

CRP experts are available for consultation about best practices in mural-making, abatement, public art policy, education, youth development, arts as economic development, arts as cultural retention or anti-displacement strategy, social and cultural equity, and creative placemaking. Rates vary, depending on the scale and scope of the project, and the deliverables required. Past clients include municipalities, business improvement district associations, developers, non-profit organizations, neighborhood organizations, and small business owners.To request consultation on a project, contact us at


CRP feels it is important for artists not only to be visible, but vocal about issues affecting artists and the communities they live in. CRP Op/Eds unpack issues of concern to artists and community members, covering important developments and topics in public art policy, abatement and blight mitigation, arts as economic development, and social and cultural equity concerns. To read past Op/Eds, click here

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