By Jed Clark

 

With over 600 murals, San Francisco streets are a parade of vibrant and radiant murals that are painted on building walls and facades, fences, garage doors and more. The colorful Mission District is the epicenter of San Francisco murals with the greatest concentration of murals in San Francisco.

 

The San Francisco Mission neighborhood’s love affair with murals stems from the Mexican roots of the Mission District community. The Latino community began to move into in the Mission neighborhood in the 1950s and 60s. Early in the 1970s, resident muralists started following the traditions of the great muralists of the 1920s and 30s, perhaps the most famous of which was Diego Rivera. Discovering the murals of the San Francisco Mission District is discovering the hopes and passions, joys and tribulations of the people.

The Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center (located at 2981 24th Street) is a great place to begin your exploration of the murals in the San Francisco Mission neighborhood. The Precita Eyes visitors center offers three guided mural tours on Saturday and Sunday for between $10 and $12 for an adult. You can arrange private group mural tours in advance. In addition, the Precita Eyes Visitors Center has a Mission mural map of nearly 90 murals that you can use to explore the neighborhood on your own.

Located at Treat Avenue and Harrison Street, Balmy Alley has a concentration of more than 30 vivid murals painted on fences, building walls and garage doors. In the neighborhood densely packed with murals, Balmy Alley is at the center of it all. Muralists began working in San Francisco’s Balmy Alley as early as 1971. Many of the original murals are still there as well as many murals that have been painted over the intervening years.

The Balmy Alley murals are very diverse both stylistically and in the subject matter. Some of the murals feature cartoon-like illustrations that playful and juvenile. Other murals along Balmy Alley grapple with difficult subjects, such as a memorial to people who have died from AIDS or depictions of political strife and war in Latin America. Another mural honors the great muralist Diego Rivera and his wife, the painter Frida Kahlo. And another is a tribute to women muralists of the Mission District. One colorless mural, depicts two men and a woman jumping through a barbed-wire fence lined with keys. The woman has her hand held high, making the peace sign.

Elsewhere in the Mission District on Harrison at 19th Street, mixed among blocks of warehouses and running along a wall for nearly a block in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood is a mural titled “Carnaval.” As the name implies, the Carnaval mural is a representation of the Carnaval celebration, a multicultural dance and music festival that has its roots in Latin America and the Caribbean. The San Francisco Mission District has been hosting a Carnaval Festival since 1978. Created in 1994 by Joshua Sarantitis, Emmanuel Montoya, Carlos Loarca and others, the radiant Carnaval mural is as dynamic and colorful as the festival that it portrays.

The Women’s Building (located at 3543 18th Street) boasts two walls of a dramatic mural that pays homage to women. Created by a team of seven women muralists, the “Maestrapeace” mural portrays women and feminine archetypes of multiple world origins. The Goddess of Light and Creativity adorns the top of the 18th Street facade with the waters of life flowing beneath her and transforming into fabric designs from around the world.

The mural features such notable women as Georgia O’Keefe (an innovative American artist) and Rigoberta Menchu (a Guatemalan of Mayan decent and Nobel prize-winning activisit). The names of many more famous women are inscribed in the mural’s colorful patterns. The mural is meant to be inspiration and educational, illustrating the contributions women have made to human history and society.

The Women’s Building provides resources and services to organizations that support women and girls from multi-ethnic and multi-cultural backgrounds. For an informational key to the mural, step inside the Women’s Building or contact them at http://www.womensbuilding.org/ or (415) 431-1180.
A colorful world of murals and culture awaits you in San Francisco’s Mission District, so get out there and explore.

About the Author
Jed Clark is a travel writer, photographer and long-time San Francisco resident.

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