By Ben Waitches-Eubanks
In San Francisco, an area known as the Mission District has fallen on contentious times. While characterized as a residence for many immigrants for most of its recent history, over the last 25 years, the district has dealt with issues of gentrification.
From 1940 to 1960, many Mexican immigrants move to the District area. Again, from 1980 to 1990, another wave of immigrants moved to the area, this time largely from South America. Shortly after, however, the area began to be inhabited by many more non-hispanic employees. As a result, the cost of housing increased and local businesses grappled to maintain popularity. But amidst the struggle to retain the original character of the area, the Mission district boasts a effervescent art scene.
The Mission District is particularly well known for its collection of murals and street art, filling alleyways and sides of buildings. While the cause for the production of artwork varies by the creators intentions, some artists have been inspired by the developments in the community.
“I wanted to create a mural for the youth in this neighborhood and focus on gentrification,” commented Lucia Gonzalez Ippolito, a muralist and co-creator of “Mission Makeover.”
“It started with sketches of mine I collaged together that then later formed into a design. With the help from my father we gridded a blank wall in Balmy and gathered volunteers to paint it out.”
Balmy, in this case, stands for Balmy Alley, home to the most condensed collection of street art and murals in San Francisco. While the mural resides in a small alley, it portrays struggles on a much larger scale.
“The two people being interrogated by police are showing how often young brown males are targeted,” Ippolito explains. Ippolito tackles racial issues in the mural especially with a subtle reference in the foreground: “The Skittles in the pocket of the boy being arrested are a reference to Trayvon Martin.” Although this allusion could be subdued at first, viewers who know that Trayvon Martin was carrying skittles during the night he was shot are able to pick up on that detail.
In addition to these problems, Ippolito conveys the obstacles of gentrification and wealth inequality throughout the mural.
“The foreclosure sign on the top is the bigger picture of people forced out of their homes throughout the country, but down below is more of a local level where the Mission district is having major evictions, and especially families of color who have lived here for years are now forced to move out of the city.” Ippolito comments.
On one street in the mural, coffee shops take up four of the five buildings.
“The coffee shop line up is referring to the massive change done to 24th street, where the used to be family owned restaurants and markets are now crowded laptop used coffee shops and boutiques,” described Ippolito.
Ippolito also adds details that emphasize the increasing cost of living. “Wealth Foods,” “Traitor Foes,” “Hi-Price,” and “Mally Clones” grace the front of the mural on a bag. “The four stores on the grocery bag refer to how expensive it is to live here, although Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Mollie Stones, and Bi-Rite aren’t necessarily bad stores like the mural might make it seem,” Ippolito explains. But the mural does touch on the expensive nature of those stores as “her bag full of kale isn’t affordable for everyone.”
Below the woman holding the grocery bag full of kale is a man laying on Brillo pads. Ippolito offers two explanations for this. “The man sleeping on the street next to the wealthier white woman walking her dogs shows the class separation in this city and country. He sleeps on a Brillo pad because me and my father put subtle art references throughout the mural if you can find them.”
This mural occupies the side of one garage in one alley in San Francisco. While the size can be calculated up to the square foot, the mural leaves a much larger impact. Eyes that see the mural are also opened up to the struggles of wealth inequality, gentrification, and racial profiling. Even though the Mission District may deal with these problems regularly, artists are using their abilities to make a difference.
Photo Credit: Ben Waitches-Eubanks