New Mural Project in San Diego
by Paul Rhetts with assistance from Amy Harbert

Several new faces have been appearing in and around Market Creek Plaza, San Diego’s innovative cultural and commercial center near the intersection of Market Street and Euclid Avenue. The creation and installation of the Plaza’s first cultural art works features huge painted portraits of 27 people who have made extraordinary contributions to their community.

Six canvas art panels, each 16-by-16 feet, hang on the east and west sides of the Food 4 Less grocery store in the Plaza. Each canvas includes four painted portraits of 21 local individuals and three couples chosen by a committee of residents for their leadership and community service.
The “Faces” project is part of a larger plan created by the Art and Design Team, comprised of residents, local artists, and architects who teamed up to ensure that Market Creek Plaza reflects the rich culture and history of the surrounding communities. The team developed a variety of different ways to express this cultural harmony through art, as well as the unique architecture of the buildings on the site which reflects that vision and four years of community input. Anchor tenant Food 4 Less even incorporated the uniquely blended multi-cultural design into its Market Creek Plaza store.

The art panels completing the store’s exterior were painted by six teams of local master artists paired in mentoring relationships with younger, emerging artists from the area. These artists are a reflection of the cultural diversity of the area.

Master artists Gil Dominguez, Carmen Linares Kalo, Victor Ochoa, Elaine F. Ruiz, R.J. Wharton and Byron Wooden each painted two of the four portraits on a canvas. Then, in a mentor-apprentice relationship, they worked as a team on one portrait with their emerging artist partners: Berenice Badillo, Dan Reyes Camacho, Ricardo Islas, Brian Lagemann, Savaii Seau, and Shannon White. The final panel was painted entirely by the emerging artist.

The artists participating in the project were chosen for their skills, connection to the community, experience and willingness to participate in the mentor-apprentice process.

“This is a great opportunity for these new artists to have their work recognized,” said Ochoa, a muralist with a long history in the San Diego art scene as one of the artists responsible for the paintings at Chicano Park near the downtown area. He is also a member of the Art and Design team that helped create the unique look of Market Creek Plaza and coordinated the “Faces” art project. “Our desire is not only to develop the emerging artists, but also to introduce this form of art to people in the area.”

The local men and women whose faces appear on the panels also represent the larger makeup of community diversity, ranging in age from young people to seniors. All were chosen by an art panel selection committee comprised of local residents who considered the nomineesx history in the community, civic involvement, and cultural pride. Malia Aloese, Jihmye Collins, Betty and Roosevelt Brown, Officer Terri Davis-Cole, Dr. Annie B. Campbell, Precious Jackson, Officer Nancy Johnson, Leyla & James Sampson, Willie Jones, Khamphet Soumpholphakdy, Shirley Junior, Maxcine & William Stephens, Charles Kahalifa King, Robert Tambuzi, Dr. Robert Matthews, Agnes Tuifao, Ellen Nash, Sounthone Voraraj, Luis Natividad, Rosemary White-Pope, Juan Orozco, Maxine Wilson, Beatriz Santana-Hernandez and Margaret Castro were chosen by the committee.

Juan Orozco grew up and still lives in the community. He has worked with young people for many years, previously as the program director for the House of Potential teen center run by Homeys Youth Foundation, a community-based, non-profit organization helping adolescents, children, and adults achieve academic, economic and social success. Like all of the subjects, he was completely surprised and pleased to learn he was selected for a panel.

“I feel honored,” Orozco said. “I am a bit anxious to see what they look like and to hear the reaction from the youth I work with everyday. When I was told I’d been selected, I thought, ‘Who am I to receive this?’ I don’t do what I do for recognition. As long as someone benefits from my work, that’s all I care about.”

To further document the contributions of these individuals, personal histories for each was compiled using a unique approach. Local oral historians trained a group of young men and women from the community on the techniques of gathering oral information. The young people conducted the interviews on camera, and then edited those interviews into a video presentation. A book outlining the stories of the honorees will also be produced.

“The personal histories will document the contributions made by these people and hopefully, inspire future generations, as well,” said Lisette Islas, director of community research and evaluation for the Jacobs Center for NonProfit Innovation, the developer of Market Creek Plaza and sponsor of the teambuilding work of the Art and Design team.

The work was completed in August 2002, and the finished pieces were unveiled at a ceremony in January of 2003. The cost of the project was $120,000, funded with a grant from Legler Benbough Foundation and matched by a grant from the Jacobs Family Foundation.

Paul Rhetts is the co-publisher of Tradición Revista. Amy Harbert works for Beck Ellman Heard, which is handling public relations for the Market Creek Plaza Community Art Project.

First published in Tradicion Revista, Volume 8, No. 1, Spring 2003.
Copyright 2003. May not be reproduced in any form without written permission.