Safety concerns have prompted the removal of a mural from Joslyn Park, but at least part of the display will be retained and relocated within the area.

The mural is located on a retaining wall adjacent to Kensington Road. Water damage has cracked the wall and damage to the surrounding area has forced the City to remove the painting to facilitate repairs. A plaque at the site honoring a local activist will be saved and relocated at the park.

Jessica Cusick, cultural affairs manager for the city of Santa Monica said the Arts Commission had already removed the painting from its list of preserved works and planned for the work to be painted over when repairs were made to the wall.

“At the time, they really said there’s no point in continuing to repaint this or trying to conserve this as it’s in large part a retaining wall,” she said. “There will always be leeching and there’s no way a mural can hold up well in those circumstances.”

According to a press release issued by the City, Art Mortimer installed the mural in 1980. A plaque dedicated to the memory and community work of Ocean Park resident Valerie Nordstrom Barnard was installed at some point after her death in 1981.

“The mural was substantially repainted by the artist in 1994. And in 2002, the mural was assessed by painting conservators who found that substantial structural damage to the concrete walls continues to affect the overall condition of the mural, particularly in the sections that are sub-grade retaining walls that are not a suitable for a mural,” said the release.

Workers began removing the painting on Feb. 9 and Cusick acknowledged a lack of communication between the City and nearby neighbors. She said the preferred plan would have included outreach prior to the start of the work.

“We were hoping for better coordination,” she said.

Barnard’s family said they were surprised to receive calls from friends and neighbors about the work.

“We didn’t find out until this morning, until neighbors saw them pressure washing it,” said Barnard’s former husband, Russell Nordstrom.

Barnard and Nordstrom were divorced prior to her death. Barnard later remarried and died during complications from childbirth.

Barnard was a longtime activist in the Ocean Park neighborhood with a particular focus on protecting victims of domestic violence. Barnard helped found the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women, now known as Peace Over Violence. She worked to secure shelters for women throughout the region and her work resulted in substantial recognition from local and state authorities.

Nordstrom said Barnard was also a hands-on activist. He said she and some friends once organized a protest outside the wedding of an alleged rapist. “When the bride got there and saw that, that wedding never happened,” he said.

Barnard and his daughter both said they understood the need to remove the painting. They said as long as the plaque is preserved and remounted somewhere within the area, they can support the efforts.

“It’s ok, as long as it doesn’t get lost and it shows up someplace,” he said. “It’s a landmark, it’s a family thing. Her grandchildren, 7 and 5, they don’t know the stories or anything but as they get older they’ll learn. It would be nice for them to see their grandmother’s name.”

Cusick said the City has reached out to the family to begin discussions about a new location for the memorial.

According to Cusick, Santa Monica is in the early stages of a comprehensive public art review. She said the City recently completed the first comprehensive survey of the City’s public art, and that various organizations are in the midst of planning for the future of local art.

“We have about a million dollars worth of conservation needs and we’re trying to prioritize it, but we’re also in the process of launching a public art planning process,” she said. “We want to work with the community to identify priorities, what the neighborhoods want to see in terms of art, if that’s murals or other approaches.”

She said the City will hire a consultant to help develop the plan in the near future and there will be significant opportunities for public participation in the process.

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...