Students Take Art to the Streets of San Francisco

Class creates mammoth mural in the city, for the city

By Mary McInerney, USF News Posted Fri, 06/11/2021 - 09:54

The students in the Artist as Citizen class went big at a time when their class was remote and they were spread out across the United States, China, and Mexico.

They went big even though not all of them are fine arts majors. They went big even though they were creating a piece of public art but couldn’t see, in person, the site where it would be installed.

They created a mural 250 feet long and 8 feet tall that debuted at 1629 Market Street this week. Imagine seven telephone poles lined up end to end.

The mural is about big ideas. It reflects the history of Market Street from 1906, the year the Great Earthquake hit the city, to the present. You can see the Chinese New Year Parade, the Pride Parade, the Black Lives Matter protests, the Vietnam War protests. The students depicted the Native American occupation of Alcatraz in 1969.

“I had my doubts when it came to this type of a remote collaboration,” said Camilla Martinez ’21, a fine arts major with a design minor who worked on the mural. “Even though it took a bit of time to get on the same page, it was so much fun learning from each other.”

Public Art

Sergio De La Torre, the associate professor of fine arts who teaches the service-learning class, was approached by a development company that wanted a mural in front of its construction site on Market Street. The budget? $10,000. De La Torre said that was enough to cover materials for the mural, which is printed on vinyl.

He divided the class into groups of four, with each group designing seven panels in the 28-panel mural. De La Torre printed each panel in his studio.

“We looked at how people use the streets for public speech and how that reflects the history in the city,” De La Torre said. They studied the murals in the Mission, in Tijuana, and in Jiu Quan.

Each group included a student who knows Photoshop, but that was the only rule. The groups did their own research on the 30-year period of history that was assigned to them.

“I worked on sourcing photos for the editing that my teammates who are digital design majors were going to do in Photoshop,” said Aaron Meneses ’24, a computer science major. He also wrote text for his group’s mural panels.

The text on the mural comes from protest chants and quotes from activists. It is in five different languages: Tagalog, English, Spanish, Chinese, and French, languages that some of the students speak and that are part of the San Francisco dialogue.

Pandemic Pause

Because of the pandemic, most of the students weren’t able to attend the installation of the mural.

De La Torre is producing an accordion book for each of the students. The book will explain the class and how the mural was developed.

Like his students, this is De La Torre’s first mural. He’s excited to see it in place.

“We spent time looking at how people use public space — protests, parades, and processions,” he said. “And then the students turned it into public art.”