Statue of Liberty mural restoration

MURAL RESTORATION COMPLETED!
Thanks to Jose Escobar, building engineer, Lessy Benedith, SOMA Homeless Shelter Program Director and David Curto from the Human Services Agency
John Elliott, Kyle Herbert who worked from the hot top planks down with the dogs barking into a frenzy all day from the kennel across the parking lot, Jorge Amezcua who came for a day and Matt Floriani who helped wrap it up.

Statue of Liberty mural detail

Statue of Liberty mural restored

Liberty scaffold team and JP

Scaffolding taken down!

liberty scaffold down action

Scaffold goes up!
liberty scaffolding up

Country of Forgotten Dreams

“To Cause To Remember”  by Johanna Poethig 1992

SOMA Multi Service Center – Homeless shelter

It is surprising when a work of art becomes a symbol with the lasting power to transform our public space and our conversation.  This summer I was searched for and contacted by staff from the San Francisco Human Services Agency to restore my 1992 mural “To Cause to Remember”, better known as the Statue of Liberty mural. It is painted on the South of Market homeless shelter that serves the city of San Francisco.  The Liberty is the leading spokes model for “America the Free” accompanied by her classic quote ending with“…Send These, The Homeless, Tempest-Tost To Me”.  On the 40’x 80’ wall of the shelter Liberty lays on her side with chains on her feet and her hand outstretched. Two decades ago this symbol was approved for public space.  In 2013, as much as we talk about social practice, social justice in our public arts and urban design, this is not an era when images with overt political content can easily get through a civic approval process.  The public art field has grown dramatically with immense budgets, architectural integrations, technical and environmental innovations, and often a more design, as opposed to content, sensibility.  Murals are the cave paintings of the public and community art movement.  I have done many types of public art using a broad range of materials and community engaged projects in many corners of the urban environment.  I actively invent new ways to engage public space and the constantly shifting  “public”.   Nothing, however, compares to the experience; physically, socially and politically, of what is sometimes considered the least innovative of public art processes – the painting of a mural on the street . The contact with the site and its inhabitants is sustained over time. The work is street theater. The image is massive.  Corporate advertisers pay good money for this level of impact and that puts murals in direct competition with advertising.  It is territorial.  For a painter nothing matches it for a truly immersive artistic process. It demands hard labor, physical and mental fitness as well as the skills of an ambassador.

When I returned to the SOMA Homeless shelter to begin the restoration the site was once again a complicated mix of hospitality and tragedy. Everyone who comments on the mural mentions the chains first of all.  New staff are brought out during their training to look at the mural and consider its meaning.  This symbol, the fallen Liberty, speaks to the issues of poverty, immigration, mental illness, incarceration, drugs, war veterans, families and the elderly. The question is does this mural add something important to our experience of the city?  It is does speak toStatue of Liberty street coke sign the people who are homeless and to the people who work to help them.  It is an attraction or distraction to the residents of the city and a photo opportunity the tourists who pass through.  The image has been published in books about street art. In my 30 year career as a muralist and public artist this work of art has weathered the test of time. The Liberty in recline has proven herself to really mean something to the people who live with her chains and to those who remember what she means.

liberty day 2 jo john

Working with John Elliott on restoration week 1.

liberty face

kyle john top

Kyle Herbert and John at work

jorge jo matt mural

Jorge Amezcua and Matt Floriani, VPA students come to assist

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