the great wall Institute

Led by SPARC’s Artistic Director Judy Baca, the Great Wall Institute will extend the Great Wall to the other side of the channel, growing the mural to one-mile by the 2028 Summer Olympics. The Great Wall Institute is designed to advance the historical narrative of the mural while also developing techniques for mural painting that ensures safety and year-round production. The production of the next phase of the Great Wall continues the legacy of Mexican muralism from the first public outdoor mural in Los Angeles, “America Tropical” by the Maestro David Alfaro Siqueiros’ to the contemporary community mural movement.

About the Great Wall of Los Angeles

The Great Wall of Los Angeles is one of L.A.’s cultural landmarks and one of the country’s most respected and largest monuments representing the history of ethnic and marginalized communities in California. The Great Wall began in 1974 and was conceived by Judith F. Baca, the co-founder and Artistic Director of the Social and Public Art Resource Center’s (SPARC). Artistic Director and Co-Founder Judith F. Baca.

Measuring a half-mile in length, the first half of the Great Wall was completed over five summers from 1974 to 1983. During this time, the Great Wall employed over 400 youth and their families from diverse social and economic backgrounds working with artists, oral historians, ethnologists, scholars, and hundreds of community members from 1974 to 1983.

In 2017, the Great Wall of Los Angeles was declared a National Historic Site by the U.S. Department of Interior.

Through the Great Wall Institute, the Great Wall will expand to depict the histories of marginalized communities in California from the 1960s to 2019.

"A Tattoo on the Scar where the River Once Ran"

SPARC’s first public art project and its true signature piece, the Great Wall transformed the Tujunga Wash channel in the San Fernando Valley to a public art space re-enlivening the invisible histories of the river and communities of color. The Great Wall of Los Angeles is one of the few public monuments that acknowledges the erased and silenced histories of California’s various ethnic communities. The histories painted here constitute U.S. history.

"When you disappear the River, you disappear the stories of the People"

The disappearance of the river parallels the disappearance of the stories of the original peoples in the racialized history of Los Angeles.

The Beginning

In 1974, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approached muralist Judith F. Baca to assist in beautifying the Tujunga Flood Control Channel. Baca began to envision the Great Wall as an opportunity to heal both the youth and environmental devastation that resulted from concreting the Los Angeles River. Over five summers, from 1974 to 1983, the Great Wall employed over 400 youth and their families from diverse social and economic backgrounds working with artists, oral historians, ethnologists, scholars, and hundreds of community members. By 1983, the Great Wall measured 2,754 feet, a half-mile long.

Restoration (2009-2011)

The Great Wall requires ongoing stewardship. In 2011, SPARC completed a major restoration of the Great Wall of Los Angeles. A massive undertaking, every segment of the 2,750ft was cleaned, examined, and treated to bring it back to its original state of brilliant color.

Restoration of the Great Wall was completed racing against a clock that is determined by the difficult conditions of heat, water flow, rain and other factors of the unique site in the Los Angeles flood control channel. The site channels the main water flow through the San Fernando Valley to the ocean and becomes extremely perilous in a rain storm so weather watches and evacuation methods are a constant worry.

Great Wall Site Enhancements

The Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) co-founded by artists Baca, Donna Deitch, and Christina Schlesinger was established to support this artist-initiated project and has helped steward, maintain, and expand The Great Wall.

The Great Wall Bridge

Destroyed during the 1971 San Fernando earthquake, the new Great Wall Interpretive Bridge will replace the former bridge which crossed the Tujunga Wash Flood Control Channel. The new bridge will function not only as a point to cross the Tujunga wash but also as a viewing station and interpretive center to view the Great Wall of Los Angeles mural and the Los Angeles River.

Interpretive Stations & Lighting

As part of SPARC’s ongoing stewardship of the Great Wall site, a half-mile length of mural lights will light the wall at night, providing enhanced visibility and safety to the site. Monumental Signage and six interpretive stations are in production, marking the site and providing additional context for understanding the artistic process and histories that have informed the Great Wall.

Great Wall Painting FAcility

Working in the Tujunga Wash is a dangerous place and has become even more tenuous with climate change. In 1983, the Tujunga channel flooded abruptly. Artist and assistant project director Beatrice Plessnor ensured all the young mural makers made it out of the channel safely, but she was swept seven miles down. Rescued by the fire department, Bea survived.

The Los Angeles flood control channel presents unique and difficult conditions of heat, water flow, rain and other factors. SPARC is currently in the process of identifying an indoor painting facility.

The objectives of The Great Wall Institute will be informed by three key frameworks:

create a more inclusive society

Public monuments possess the power to create a more inclusive society by acknowledging and celebrating minority individuals and important events in the public realm. Like their historical precedents, public murals are public education for the masses.

mitigate forms of cultural erasure

Public art has the capacity to mitigate forms of cultural erasure, particularly as it relates to suppressing the contributions of women, minority, and immigrant peoples.

supporting and unifying

Public monuments like The Great Wall play a pivotal role in supporting desegregation and unifying California’s underrepresented ethnic communities.

A Personal Message from Judy Baca

“In 1975 when the Great Wall was still a dream, I never imagined it would lead me, the more than 400 young “Mural Makers” and the 35 other artists on my team through such a moving set of experiences. Nor could I have imagined that 27years from the date the first paint was applied to the wall that it would still be a work in progress.

When I first saw the wall, I envisioned a long narrative of another history of California; one which included ethnic peoples, women and minorities who were so invisible in conventional text book accounts. The discovery of the history of California’s multi‑cultured peoples was a revelation to me as well as to the members of my teams. We learned each new decade of history in summer installments; the 20′s in 1978, the 30′s in 1980, the 40′s in 1981, and the 50′s in 1983. Each year our visions expanded as the images traveled down the wall. While our sense of our individual families’ places in history took form, we became family to one another. Working toward the achievement of a difficult common goal shifted our understandings of each other and most importantly of ourselves.

I designed this project as an artist concerned not only with the physical aesthetic considerations of a space, but the social, environmental and cultural issues affecting the site as well. I am not a social worker, though people mistakenly call me one and I am not a teacher although I have teaching skills. I draw on skills not normally used by artists. I’ve learned as much as I’ve taught from the youth I’ve had the good fortune to know by working alongside of them. They’ve taught me among other things how to laugh at myself, how to put play into hard work, and how not to be afraid to believe in something. I am extremely grateful.

Perhaps most overwhelming to me about the Great Wall experience has been learning of the courage of individuals in history who endured, spoke out, and overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It was true both of the people we painted about and of ourselves the Mural Makers.”

– Judith F. Baca