Found on the Fringes


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Walking south along the railroad tracks at Addison and 4th St. is like discovering the ruins of an industrial art gallery built for a civilization of giants. Spray paint portraits and elaborate insignias are on permanent display, spanning the cement wall and sprawling out onto the buildings and fences for blocks. The fist-sized gravel lining the tracks becomes a crumbling exhibit floor. The origins of these graffiti murals may not be entirely legitimate, but they exemplify Berkeley's decades-old tradition of public art, a concept that has invigorated recent civic projects.

Passengers en route to Berkeley by train pass the graffiti only momentarily. A few blocks away, city-commissioned murals by John Wehrle greet them as they disembark at the Berkeley Amtrak Station. Enormous installations of Native American dancers welcome arriving visitors while painted figures of travelers wave farewell. Beginning at this entrance into the city, a bike ride or drive down the Berkeley's urban roads doubles as a tour of the vast mural collection.

Throughout his career as a realtor, Berkeley resident Brett Weinstein has encountered a plethora of public artworks in his leisure and on the job. His self-cultivated expertise in the city's murals inspired him to partner with the City of Berkeley Civic Arts Commission for the Berkeley Mural Contest, which is in progress until June 30.

The Berkeley Mural Contest challenges the public to scavenge Berkeley for the 140 murals depicted on the contest website. More than anything, Weinstein intends to share the sense of spontaneity and adventure that scouting out these murals has brought him.

The search for these murals takes you on a nearly epic quest, but touring Berkeley's offerings by bike from Telegraph to the bay shoreline leaves you with a sense of appreciation for the city's cultural richness. Not many people live in places with a large-scale urban scavenger hunt literally built in. And the cash prize offered to the winners may entice those wanting extra pocket money for summer outings.

Weinstein's company, Realty Advocates, also made a financial contribution to Berkeley City College's True Colors Mural Project in light of the city's limited spending on public art. True Colors' director, Juana Alicia Montoya, is an educator and artist with murals on display in all corners of the Bay Area. Montoya views promoting human rights and environmental justice as part of her occupation and leads a collaboration of like-minded students.

For True Colors' mural at Inkworks Press in West Berkeley, currently in progress, the collective of BCC student-artists paints with the worker-managed print shops' progressive social values in mind. Covering the entire front of Inkworks, the True Colors mural depicts a variety of issues familiar to East Bay residents. Within the busy, multicolored landscape of figures radiating from a printing press at the center, Oscar Grant, Critical Mass bikers and AIDS protesters evoke recent and historical community struggles.

When a city immortalizes a moment on its walls, the permanence of the act is as sacred as tattooing a person's body. Murals are always part of our consciousness while going about our mundane business in Berkeley, but taking the time to have a closer look at each of these public artworks reveals an intimate aspect of the city's spirit.

Appreciate the writing on the wall with Nastia at [email protected]

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