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Oceanside Looks To A More Colorful Future With Murals Initiative

A mural of the Oceanside Harbor in downtown Oceanside, March 28, 2017.

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Above: A mural of the Oceanside Harbor in downtown Oceanside, March 28, 2017.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger canvas — an enormous empty whitewashed wall on the side of the Star Theatre in downtown Oceanside will soon be transformed into a piece of public art.

Mitzi Summers with MainStreet Oceanside’s mural initiative said the idea is to transform downtown into a public arts destination

“This wall, that you’re seeing here, this magnificent wall, is the blank canvas that will become the first mural of this initiative,” she said. “And it’s housed on the side of the Star Theatre, which is a historical building in Oceanside.”

MainStreet Oceanside is mounting a murals initiative to attract high quality public art to its streets.

Artists compete for right to fill space with their vision

Amy Burkman is one of 32 artists inspired to compete for this space.

“I’ve been thinking about this wall for the last few weeks now, and what kind of art work I‘d want to put on something like this, especially in this community,” she said.

Burkman is a professional muralist and performance artist.

“Any type of art that I do, I always want it to be inspirational or thought provoking,“ she said. “I’m fairly certain that I have an image in mind that I really love and I think it will look really awesome on this wall.”

One thing that inspires her, she said, is the relationship between people and animals.

Burkman is up against stiff competition. Another artist vying for the space is the creator of an iconic mural in North County — the life-size image of two tigers in neighboring Carlsbad.

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Michael Summers stands next to his tiger mural in Carlsbad, March 28, 2017.

Artist Michael Summers painted the tigers posing peacefully at pavement level. A shower of multicolored paint rains down from the eves above them, changing the tiger’s stripes.

Summers has paintings in galleries around the country and in Europe, but, he said, murals are different.

“It’s a completely different experience to create a public work of art,” he said. “When people walk into a museum, they’re expecting an aesthetic experience. Murals catch people by surprise. I love that, when it happens to me and I spot a new mural, and there’s this moment of being completely dumbfounded when you encounter something that’s unexpected and beautiful."

This mural is part of his “Right as Rain” series. Summers said he would dearly love to paint another in the series in Oceanside.

“Oceanside is my hometown,” he said. “I love Oceanside and I want to create a piece there. “

His concept is a lion and a zebra lying side-by-side underneath a twisted, gnarled tree, with the same colorful drops raining change down upon them.

Summers said the seed of the idea behind these images was inspired by a quote from American philosopher and theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote in the 1950s, “Change is the essence of life: You must always be willing to sacrifice what you are in order to realize what you may become.”

Murals proliferate in Oceanside

Photo by Kris Arciaga

John Daley is the original owner of the 101 Cafe on Coast Highway in Oceanside. The murals painted on the wall of the cafe have changed several times over the years, but visitors still take photographs next to the woodie station wagons, March 28, 2017.

Oceanside already hosts dozens of murals: for example, on the 101 Café, featuring "woodie" station wagons from the 1940s. John Daley is the cafe's original owner.

“The reason we got interested in putting a mural on the side of the building was because we were trying to bring attention to ourselves," Daley said. “I pride myself as a shameless self-promoter and murals do a really good job of bringing peoples’ attention to your building.”

The 101 Café and its mural was featured in Sunset Magazine.

“It’s crazy, but people still get out here and get their picture taken with it all the time,” Daley said.

Murals have popped up all over Oceanside — Picasso’s face graces Artist’s Alley close to city hall, whales float weightless on the side of the Beach Community Center near the pier. And characters from fantasy stories parade along a brick wall to promote nearby businesses.

They are not just in downtown: elegant water birds fly across concrete pillars under an overpass near Buccaneer Beach, and youth groups have brightened buildings at Libby Lake Park

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Gumaro Escarcega of MainStreet Oceanside stands beside an unfinished mural called "A Flock of Birds," March 28, 2017.

But Gumaro Escarcega with MainStreet Oceanside points to a mural of historic Oceanside scenes that is more than 20 years old and is not being maintained. There are signs of graffiti on the images of figures walking the pier, standing near the San Luis Rey Mission and marching at Camp Pendleton.

“This is an economic development initiative that we’re working for,” Escarcega said. Muralists picked for the initiative would get $6,000 for materials and labor and a promise that the work will be protected and maintained in the future.

The initiative is not trying to control the spontaneity of street art, Escarcega said, but it is trying to raise the standards — and raise Oceanside’s profile as a destination.

Oceanside’s Museum of Art doesn’t reach the whole community, said Mitzi Summers, who worked the museum for several years.

“We did some fabulous things there,” she said. “But it was really housed inside the museum walls, and we were constantly struggling with people saying, ‘Oh there’s a museum in Oceanside? We didn’t know this existed.’ So I’m really exciting to move into this forum of public art.”

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Mitzi Summers points to a large white wall on the side of the Star Theatre that will be the location of the first winning muralist in the Oceanside murals initiative, March 28, 2017.

The 32 artists who originally applied to the Oceanside mural initiative have been narrowed down to 11. The concepts they have submitted are being considered by a committee of community members and narrowed down to three finalists.

There is no shortage of wall space for future contestants: MainStreet Oceanside has identified dozens more potential wall canvases. The non-profit hopes to sponsor nine more memorable murals in the next three years.

The public is invited to the Star Theater on Tuesday, April 11, to pick who will transform the blank canvas of the theater's street-facing wall into new public art.

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