Leading@Google: Mona Caron on Harnessing the Creative Power of Art to Build Social Networks

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 01.05.2011

>>Paul Stout: Thank you everyone for coming on this Earth Day. I'm Paul Stout and it was
about, I think, three or four months ago, my lovely wife introduced me to a website.
It was about, a website on Mona Caron and I hadn't heard of her before.
We got to look at the website and it was actually pretty interesting, very intriguing. The site
itself had a number of really large scale public murals that she had done as well as
a number of other types of artworks, illustration.
And we thought for - it was kind of a lark almost and a good weather report over San
Francisco. We went up to the city and actually kind of thought we'd do a Mona Caron tour
because she has several different public murals, enormous - I'm talking about - when you think
of murals, you normally think of like, 'Okay, the little thing on the side of my drugstore
in town' - no, these were like 30 x 10 foot type of murals, like huge.
And so we put together a little itinerary for ourselves, went around and there's like
- it was really interesting, really thrilling because this, the talent and the art itself
is absolutely fantastic. It's just, I encourage you all to go do this.
And it was about two months ago I think or so in January when they had the - January,
February, the San Francisco Historical Society ran a kind of a special San Francisco History
Day and Mona was giving a talk there. So we went up to see her and it was nice because
we're like, 'Oh, we get to put a face to this beautiful work now'.
But the interesting thing to me was that in the talk it was - to hear a little bit, even
just a little bit in that talk about her own personal journey of discovery almost and how
this public art, this idea of using, in her case, these public murals were actually - became
really resounding points for how communities started to come together.
And this was in case, like one in particular she's done - I'll let her get into the details
here but it was in the Tenderloin and these are a lot of people who - not necessarily
the best part of San Francisco - have kind of been a real center at one point and time
- and people who had lived next to each other or close to each other for maybe 20 or 30
years and still didn't know each other.
And yet by virtue of her coming in and starting to do this project, now they're like a community
with a vision for their future. And so the leadership aspects of this I thought were
actually very interesting, very phenomenal especially as we start to look at how social
networking - how we can play into a social networking that is more uplifting and more
building connections rather then just relying on the connections I already have.
So, without further ado, I want to let Mona tell us her story. Thank you so much for coming
today, too. Thanks.
>>Mona Caron: Thank you so much for being here as well.
So I am going to talk to you a little bit more about what was suggested to me by Paul
that might be of interest of you today and kind of stressing a little bit how sometimes
you can use art to, to really relate to your surroundings. And also how I use my own artwork
to try and change the very surrounding around the mural as well and not simply the wall
that is painted, being painted itself.
I want to perhaps maybe minimize a little bit of the statement. I definitely don't want
to presume that by virtue of my little presence, I changed an entire neighborhood. That's not,
not exactly what happens.
In fact, the Tenderloin, as you will see, is an incredibly rich neighborhood that actually
compared to only two other neighborhoods has a lot of social interaction. It's a
place where public space is being used a lot in very sociable ways, in ways that I think
are actually pretty great and I'll show you more of that.
However there's still - anyway, I will get more into that. I just wanted to make a clarification
so I definitely do not presume to influence the entire society to such a degree. [laughs]
But anyway, one scene that I chose for today is to tie together a few of my murals. I did
a whole bunch. I've been doing murals for 12 years and I have several recurring themes
and one of them is that of the bird's eye view.
It's like - I like to do like these kind of views from above over things. This is sort
of a cartoon that I drew for 'The Garden' a while back that incorporates two of these
aspects. One is like this view from above and the other one is a little bit of a fantasy
utopian vision that is also slightly post apocalyptic. It's kind of a way of, you know,
showing a joyful, perhaps zany through the whole - you know, zaniness of it.
Also, a little bit of a reflection of the fact that no matter what's coming our way,
if there's impending disasters, I don't know if all these things are going to happen. I
insist still on trying to envision not just our mere survival but actually a better life
for all of us despite all of these things.
So that's kind of like the two essential points that I try to make with these things so - so
I've always loved that bird's eye view thing. So I've put myself in that vantage point quite
often and it's - this is a quick charcoal drawing I did and it's not so much about detachment
but about gaining perspective.
Because once you kind of pull back - it's easy when you're in the midst of life, et
cetera --to go like - to take things that happen to you really personal. It's like,
'Oh, why am I stuck in traffic? Why me?', et cetera.
And then like if you kind of pull back, you see like well maybe we have a little something
to do with. with how things are around us. It's just a way of gaining perspective. It's
not necessarily distance or it's - it's distance but not detachment is what I'm trying to say.
It is also for me a view kind of, of innocence from nature back into the city somehow or
the civilization is kind of like a little bit of a distance in that sense as well.
Also this particular point of view that I take is - a bird can move, right? It's dynamic.
You can go low so it's low enough to see the details and the uniqueness of each individual
but it's also a more - you know, it's a point of view that allows you to see other things
as well like what emerges are patterns, what emerges are like the result, the cumulative
result of our collective actions. And also the possibility of changing things when we
all get together, I guess. And it is to me a little bit of a political vantage point
because I don't do so much what I call the "hall of the fame" murals with a lot of portraits
of the people we look up to.
Like here everybody is unique but you know we're all - everybody is inhabiting the
space in the same plane, like we're all in this together and like what I'm interested
in looking at really is precisely that -- how we are unique and do our own thing and how
that looks like cumulatively when we do that.
And so this is still the same mural - I'm just pulling back from the tiniest to the
largest so - [pause].
One thing that this allows me to do because of the sweeping views is I can make quick
comparisons, comparisons across space. In this case, the upper versus, fold under, the
lower part of 24th Street in San Francisco. So one block difference in a very different
vibe and it's just a way of kind of like taking a quick stock and a quick look at this fact.
And -- or it also allows me to make comparisons across time. So this a mural - it's called
the Market Street Railway Mural and it's a 180 degree bird's eye view of Market Street
through time.
So those vertical strips just show a different era. But also kind of my goal with this was
kind of twofold. Like on one hand, when I do these things, I want to use history not
just to make it look quaint but what I'm trying to do actually is to use history as an argument
for radical change in the future.
So basically, in other words, if we compare the way things used to look not so long ago
and then with the present, it's actually quite striking and we're often, I think we often
get into this, this way of thinking where we're like, 'Well, we just need to accept
the way things are', you know? 'Live in the world you are living', like 'Face reality'
and it's like you know things have changed a lot in the past, why not again in the future?
And so one thing that I often do - it's like in this case chronologically at the end, there's
actually a future vision that doesn't look radical at all because it's not that much
different from the present. And in fact this is sort of the 20's but in fact a lot of things
that I had in my little future vision there, this one have already come to past.
There's like bike lanes, et cetera on Market Street, et cetera, et cetera. And one thing,
another thing that I'm trying to do in these murals is to sort of fan out a wide range
of ways, legitimate ways to use public space so often again there's like this pressure
where we're being told that the streets are really for just traffic and shopping really.
There's nothing else and things kind of digress outside of that.
And it's like there's many, many ways that people have used the space and I tried to
show a range of them from the celebratory and happy to the maybe confrontational. But
all of these things are part of what makes a city a vibrant and interesting place to
live. It's a place where history happens, where politics is actually visible and not
an abstract concept, you know?
And so basically to remind us like - I would love like for us to use public space more
for - in convivial ways and social ways other then just a regular old hurrying through,
getting to the next spot. Then these murals - I showed you the sort of the wide view and
this is a really small view.
You can maybe tell from the texture of the wall how tiny that is and one of the things
that I - the essence kind of, of the little messages in my murals are actually contained
in the tiniest of details. And so the essence of what really describes our humanity in our
shared space and cities, et cetera is not so much in the grand infrastructure, you know?
The grand building, et cetera.
It's really in all the ways that people interact with the infrastructure. So I try to show,
you know, like all the traces of creative intervention onto public space, you know?
And like in this case quoting various poster art and whatever I encounter here and there
and also try the people, to make the people not generic but really unique.
It's just when you pull back, you can see what they do cumulatively. And by the way
all the tags in the painting are copied accurately while all the commercial signage is slightly
modified to kind of change its essence or just like show its basic essence.
Kind of get to the point.
And so these are just like little references to - this was kind of like comments on the
dot com. So great. Speed up of work and stress, et cetera. So these are the little comments
but what this causes is, it causes people to stop because they notice there's something
more to see, right?
'Cause it's small and that's kind of exactly my personal - like I try to reward the slowing
down by hiding so many details. Why do I want people to slow down? It's because I have like
this meta purpose as I mentioned before. Like not only do I want to advocate within the
painting. You know, wouldn't it be great if we use public space more sociably but actually
try to recreate that so if you notice the detail, you stop. Another person stops.
And I - since I try to do make things very easily - wide appeal, easily readable by everyone,
and I supply a topic of conversation and at the moment in which I have a group of people
going like, 'Ah, wow, that used to be really different' or the comment on how the present
is being portrayed or 'What are you going to do in the future?' or 'Ah, that's a bad
idea. Do something else.' And like they started talking to me and to each other and end up
introducing themselves to each other.
In that moment, I've actually achieved what this whole thing is about. It's in that moment
I've created in this little bit of space, precisely the kind of inhabitation of public
space that I'm trying to advocate. So again, I try to work in a very wide, widely easy,
you know, easy to read style like formal innovation is - I don't really care about that stuff.
But like I really just try to communicate.
In the future versions, this is an early one of these, like I tried to just put little
hints that more things have changed than just infrastructures
and some values and you know maybe there's some radical societal changes instead have
And so from that mural on, I kept doing a series a murals and everytime I tried to kind
of push it a little further like this previous future vision, it was a little kind of gray.
It wasn't green enough. It's like where's the green? Okay, next time, more color, more
green, you know?
So this is my take two, you know, on the same thing. So the reason there's vegetables there
is because it's at the site of a farmer's market and it's on the opposite side of the
other one you saw. But so on one hand you got sort of the past vision of the neighborhood.
And then, on the other side, you got the future.
And it's sort of better but like it came out just maybe a little too - there's still too
much pavement as - maybe too colorful, too hippie, I don't know. It's like you never
know - you try to do things and you try to incorporate more people's ideas every time.
And in this case, I invited various people that I respect whose work about the visionings
and prefigurative activities I respect to get their input and ideas and so I came up
with this and I got a lot of sort of - I keep it zany and humorous because I don't, I'm
not an engineer, et cetera.
I'm just an artist. All I can do is really, like I do my best to show things that are
actually achievable with our own hands. But sometimes I put in little jokes and stuff.
But, once again, if you see in the background of the Bay Area Relaxed Transit Balloon, there's
And once again it's flooded. And once again that's what it is. I'm just - yeah, maybe
things will happen. But we will still overcome and not only survive, but get better and wiser
through this. And so I – whoops.
Okay. So here is where I'm going to - this was sort of a brief flyover of a couple of
former murals on this theme. The one that I finished in 2010 is in the Tenderloin and
it's circled there in red. It's at Jonas and Golden Gate and I guess, Paul, you introduced
the neighborhood sort of vaguely.
It's, it's a very historic place. It's historic quote "vice and entertainment district". And
it's a low income neighborhood, but really, like the societal problems are definitely
are still there, it's less than it used to be for sure. And really I've still heard it
to be referred to, I believe from law enforcement, as a containment zone which is kind of a,
kind of a shocking thing. It's like a place where certain societal problems are being
concentrated and that is visible in the public space there.
But there's another side to that as I mentioned earlier and so this is sort of a view from
the mural coming up from Market Street. And - but the Tenderloin really ought to be called
a 'family neighborhood' because I was told it is like there's a higher concentration
of children in that neighborhood than almost anywhere else in San Francisco including Noe
So like there's so many people there and it's true that you hardly see them. They're not
as visible as elsewhere but that's really at the heart of the Tenderloin. It's a very
dense, incredibly rich and incredibly culturally diverse place that has again, economically
poor but very rich in all of these other aspects.
And so I was invited by the North of Market Tenderloin Community Benefit District to do
a mural at this particular site. They picked the spot. The building is now vacant. Before
it was a garment factory. Before that it was a porn theater, apparently the cheapest in
town I'm told. But it's an old venerable building that belongs to a Chinese Benevolent Association
which means a large group of, of owners that have it owned it forever basically.
So and - but as you see this is actually not really the way you normally see this. And
the process of doing this goes as follows: So like I went to the neighborhood. I had
one moderately, moderately attended meeting. And I said, "Hi, my name is Mona. I want to
- before I do any drawings, I want to learn more about this place. So if you feel strongly
about the neighborhood, if you have a story to tell, I want to hear it. Put out the word."
And boom, like response is overwhelming. And so I preceded like many weeks of tours of
the neighborhoods from very, very different people. It was fun sometimes to get the same
tour by different people and get different versions and -- but basically just I got a
sense of really the, the layers and the richness of the place that way and again from young
to old to, you know, everything from the churches to mosques to, to like schools and sex clubs
[laughs] and everything.
And basically - and I wanted to also mention this one thing that's so - I did this research
but I have actually lived in San Francisco for 20 years. And I had been in the Tenderloin
before this project a million times, like I've been there many, many times. But I never
want to presume to know a place because that is only in relation to how much you reach
I think that, you know, I sort of, I feel like whether you're a tourist or somebody
who lives in a place forever, like we consciously or sub-consciously, we always put our blinders
on a little bit, you know? I actually feel that I know way more about the places where
I did the mural then I actually do on my own block where I live which is messed up.
I need to change that, you know? That is definitely something I need to do. But there's a way
in which - like there's a way of - we can, we can screen out certain people that are
not really part of our circles. And that's how it's possible in a place like San Francisco
to have so many overlapping networks of people that actually never really interact and you
know across the usual boundaries, you know?
And so, let me see - and also I just want to speak a little bit to the thing about the
Tenderloin. I've heard people refer to it, 'Oh but isn't it dangerous?' or something.
It's definitely not. I mean, not to - things happen but if an outsider just comes inside
and walks through, it's perfectly safe. And I just think sometimes it's worth questioning
what the perception of fear really comes from.
And you know maybe sometimes we might, we might just be a little bit uncomfortable at
the sight of poverty or you know at the sight of otherness, culturally or racially, et cetera.
And it's sometimes worth it to try and like get past that a little bit and the rewards
are many, you know?
And so this is just a couple photos of the environments because you're gonna see that
in the paintings. This is sort of Hibernia Bank on one side and this is kitty-corner
from the mural. So the mural is on the corner, directly opposite corner is St. Anthony's
Soup Kitchen. So every morning there's a line of hundreds of people. I had a constant audience
there from across the street of people waiting for lunch.
And this is a zoomed view across the street from the mural. It's a little cluttery but
it contains some of the things that you'll see again in the pictures that are to come,
that old building, et cetera to give some context and so I spotted a - basically to
go back to the bird's eye view.
Here we are. So this is the place where the mural is in itself. And I actually actively
tried my best to make the contemporary views of the neighborhood look beautiful using color,
et cetera. And this was not to gloss over anything in terms of what happens in the neighborhood.
What it's for is because I feel like its beauty there in order to actually better serve the
people who live there and also beauty as a, as a metaphor.
Like in this case, up high, I put a lot of golden colors, et cetera on those free things
in nature that we can always appreciate like the way the light hits a building in the sunset
and below I missed the pavement. The beauty, the color comes entirely from the people themselves
which is what I actually found and there's precious little infrastructure to support
that – them.
And as for the past, you know I always show the past as well - instead of showing a separate
panel for the past, this time I made these little vapor like, sort of like smoky things,
that drift up from the various locations where I want to mention something that used to be
there before.
And they're kind of like - I call them the 'ghosts of the past' and sort of, they drift
up towards symbols of, of the things that used to be there. So all of these buildings,
et cetera, there actually used to be in these various parking lots. Really a lot of great
theatres, et cetera have been torn down to make room for parking lots and the great Black
Hawk Jazz Club, legendary place, was torn down.
There's a parking lot there. So there's a lot of - I found the parking lots and like
had the ghosts of the parking lot like come out of there to show that. And so while the
initial research I was telling about provided the content for the, the history part a lot,
it is the people that I really stumbled upon or they would stumble upon me 'cause I'm fixed
in one spot but whoever came by, they're the ones who provided the content for the street
level, for the, the, the present views themselves.
And so the entire mural has - so basically the way I did that is I basically started
by setting the stage. And I started drawing the neighborhood and tried to put the markers
that make it clear where it is. And immediately as soon as it became clear, people started
placing themselves in it.
It's like, 'Oh, ah, I see...that's as soon as I get – that's Jonas and Golden Gate.
That's here. Put me right there. That's where I live', you know? 'Put me over here with
my friends'.
And so people just started pointing out where it is that they wanted to be. And so all I
had to do was set the stage and they basically directed the play with themselves as actors.
And so because I couldn't always just stop and paint them in because I started doing
this before I had even finished a background and I couldn't really paint them, I took reference
pictures so that I could copy them later. And when I'm done I will give them the picture.
And so in the background there's - there, slowly, it's becoming a little populated and
it became quite a gregarious little scene. I would joke that I work at the Tenderloin
Public Photo Booth 'cause like everybody would come by and just [pause] - and so, and it
was a great, great way to kind of - and what this actually did was it really described
the social geography of the place accurately.
So this is the part of the mural that is not a second, third hand, secondary, tertiary,
et cetera, et cetera historical document. Things of the past I've copied from pictures
of copies, prints of reference material, blah, blah, blah. It's a hand me down historical
document whereas this is a direct primary historical document. I find that this is where
the story of the present or contemporary to the making of this mural is being told. [pause]
Umm, yeah. So there's all my pictures and I'm just - I'm in there too, right? I'm painting
the mural within the mural 'cause that like serves - so the mural in the mural is a bit
like 'you are here' on a map, you know? You go like, 'Oh, wait, that's', you know?
So it's fanning out from where we are, you know? And showing people around it.
And now I'm gonna show a little clip. [pause]
Sorry about that.
[video starts with car moving in background]
[sounds of cars going by]
[street noises]
[people talking]
>>Male in Video #1: My 'M' right here stands for 'Memphis' and put a 'K' on her, stands
for Kim.
>>Mona Caron: Alright, we could do that.
>>Male in Video #1: You could do that?
>>Mona Caron: If you want. You wanna be in it?
>>Male in Video #1: Yeah.
>>Mona Caron: You wanna be in it? I'll take your picture and then you'll tell me M and
>>Male in Video #1: Yeah.
>>Mona Caron: Yeah. Walkin' down the street?
>>Male in Video #1: Yeah.
>>Mona Caron: Where do you want to be?
>>Male in Video #1: Here. Well, you can put us down there then and make us tall, you know
what I'm saying?
>>Mona Caron: Right here?
>.Male in Video #1: Make us tall.
>>Mona Caron: You two together?
>>Male in Video #1: Yeah.
>>Mona Caron: Great.
>>Male in Video #1: All right?
>>Mona Caron: Actually, do one where you're pointing where you're gonna be so I remember.
[pause] Awesome. Okay, great.
>>Male in Video #1: Yeah.
>>Female in Video #1: Thank you.
>>Male in Video #2: What about me?
>>Male in Video #1: Hey.
>>Female in Video #1: That's pretty good.
>>Mona Caron: You want to be in it too? All right. So in front of check cashing place.
[talking in background]
[singing in background] >>Male in Video #2: Yeah. You know right there?
That's where everybody sells marijuana at.
>>Mona Caron: Ahh.
>>Male in Video #2: So I'll stand right there though 'cause that's where I do my thing.
>>Mona Caron: I see. I'm gonna, I'm gonna give you the picture when I'm done.
>>Male in Video #2: Okay.
>>Male in Video #3: Charles used to work at St. Anthony's. That's Dick Charlie, right?
And that's that guy that always be out there, the big guy. He's the first one in
the morning that goes, that goes down there to St. Anthony's to eat. This, this man in
the wheelchair here. He's on time every morning. Yeah, I'm Tony. I live right here, that's
my room right there.
[talking in background]
>>Male in Video #4: There are people here in these urban communities of America. We
are people, real people with real dreams and real thoughts, man. Real motivations and real
families, man.
>>Male in Video #1: Right there. That's me. That's Memphis. Look at that.
>>Female in Video #1: That's the first time I've ever been on a wall.
[talking in background]
>>Male in Video #5: My brother came up here. I showed my family this mural yesterday and
they were really surprised by it. They were all in it. My brother's like, "Oh my God,
it's really you though", you know?
>>Male in Video #6: I know everybody on the picture.
[talking in background]
>>Male in Video #7: That's Dede.
>>Male in Video #8: That's Brent.
>>Male in Video #7: My wife Devon. There's me right here. There go Mitch carryin' Poppi.
>>Male in Video #8: Oh she got you in the middle.
>>Male in Video #7: I'm right here.
>>Male in Video #8: Double R is over on this side right there.
>>Male in Video #7: And Charles was last.
>>Male in Video #8: I know who this, this you. There's Charles right there. Charles
is dancin'.
>>Male in Video #7: Yeah. That's him.
>>Male in Video #8: And here's Jimmy.
>>Female in Video #2: There's Sterling right there.
>>Male in Video #7: This is on a Wednesday. This is on the first. That's how that is all
out there.
>>Female in Video #2: And that's you right there.
>>Mona Caron: I'm doing good. I'm doing good.
>>Male in Video #9: We were just talking about you earlier.
>>Mona Caron: [laughs] Hey.
>>Male in Video #9: We were talkin' about you earlier.
>>Mona Caron: Yeah, yeah.
>>Cameraman: Have you lived in the neighborhood long?
>>Male in Video #10: Si, si. [speaking in Spanish]
>>Male in Video #11: For years to come and years to go, that other people will be, you
know, they'll walk past here and just see this for theirselves and be like, "Wow, I
know this person." I know that particular person or - it also shows a lot of history
before and after too. And it's just amazing.
>>Male in Video #12: That's me right there on my way to church. You can see in that picture
of the future - this is a sun shiny corner so I come here sometimes just to get the sun.
[video clip ends]
>>Mona Caron: Okay so that's - my friend Nick Kasimatis made this little video clip for
me. It's pretty great to have. It's a great souvenir. It was really an amazing experience
and here maybe you see how, how incredibly social this place is and it's, it's working
there was it kind of like contradictory thing all the time.
One on hand, yes, there's a lot of people there who carry within them a tremendous amount
of pain that they're dealing with. At the very same time, on the other hand, it's like
by far the most gregarious place I've ever worked in and often in relation to the very
same people.
It's like, it's both, you know? But one thing is like this place, more than many others,
has such a potential for incredibly vibrant public space but does not have the infrastructure
for it. So – let's see if I can - so this is my pictures appearing in various places
around the neighborhood like on the boom box. I took that picture and that was -- and people
with themselves and the mural.
And so - however, all those communities that I met in the research process, there's many,
as I was saying, that you don't really see out in the street very much. This is beautiful
- Roya is a fantastic artist, beautiful spirit in the
neighborhood. That's both of them in the, in the street.
And um, um - and one thing that I kept hearing, even before I got to the future section, was
the following story. Like someone would say, "You know, the other night I came because
I'm in the mural. I wanted to show my friends. So I came with a group of friends", to show
how he was in the mural. And the people down on Jones Street, you know, they were doing
the same thing at the same time and you know what?
At the end, we ended up shaking hands and I was like, 'Yes, that's exactly, exactly
what I'm talking about. There's a lot of people there that in fact do not - it's a very gregarious
place but some communities don't interact. Some people for religious and cultural reasons
really don't want to deal with some of the things going on in the street and they're,
they're scurrying by, et cetera.
It was a pleasure to watch some of this ice breaking through this process. And, and basically
you know there's something about - you know, what I advocate for again is a more - like
we ought to facilitate the simple human need for company and like actually facilitate the
freedom to assemble and be in company now in a public space.
And I think more often than not that actually the opposite is being done because we're afraid
of loitering or something and the illegal activity that does happen.
And it definitely happens but I actually feel like this is actually addressing the problem
not quite in the right direction. Personally because like, I think that a welcoming public
space would do wonder to change the - for example, all of the families, all of these
people that I met during the research process, will be far more visible in public space if
the infrastructure were more welcoming and by the very fact itself kind of change the
vibe a lot.
I also think it would do a lot to reduce the degree of alienation that economically disadvantaged
people feel in places like these. Like you're really kind of punished. All you get is like
sidewalks and chain link fences and no place to sit.
And a lot of people that I found in the street are not homeless. They choose to be with people
they know rather then being isolated in their hotel Room. Like I wouldn't want to be like
stuck in one room all day long, you know?
And so the infrastructure kept telling me it's so stark and there's a one way sign.
By the way, all the streets are one way in the Tenderloin.
So you can imagine how cozy that is, [laughs] you know? But look at the sign, it goes one
way and that's the one way it is.
Face it. This is just the way it is and I sort of feel like there's gotta be, there's
gotta be another way, you know? And so that's what I set about to do. Just okay take two,
on this exact same street corner.
What, what would it be like? What could it be like? So what I did in this case is another
utopia section. It's exactly the same place and I did so completely collaboratively. So
what I did is I - the first painting I did, I traced that exactly. That's why they fit
so perfectly in the size.
It's like exactly the same basic drawing. I traced it exactly. People recognize what
I was doing and they were like, "Why are you doing the same thing twice? You just did that."
And it's like, "I know but this time different." "What do you mean? Different how?" "Well,
you tell me. You know, how could it be different?" "I don't know."
And so I had to kind of start the ball rolling a little bit. I started by adding some verger,
you know, and people got it. It's like, "Oh" and then they started having suggestions.
And I started incorporating suggestions from the totally frivolous and fun to the really
smart and thoughtful, like the whole range of things, you know?
And also crucial, crucial, crucial to this process was to continue to include local people
because what I wanted to change is an improvement of the neighborhood without a change in population.
In other words, an improvement by and for the people who are there 'cause we all deserve
So it's not an economic upturn. It is a DIY, do it yourself transformation using what we've
already got. Like rather then a big top down transformation, it's something that is conceivably
achievable maybe. And also I did do one thing a little bit different this time though. So
I continued putting all of the characters and the people that I, that I met but in terms
of social geography, this is total fantasy. So I had people from different communities
interact in a convivial way.
People had nothing to do with each other so I have them all like barbecuing together,
whatever, you know, like stuff like that and the people definitely don't know each other
because I tried to - okay can I push this further, you know? Like it was already happening.
People were telling me that it was already happening, people getting to know each other
but I just wanted to stress it even more.
And also another thing I tried to do is to showcase people's talents. This girl is a
fantastic singer. I have her do that thing. Whatever they're good at, like you know, like
show that thing. And this is actual artwork by this man Kai and tricks on the skateboard
to, to whatever people can do and also work.
Like the kind of work that people are telling me they'd rather be doing, that they actually
feel a calling for. And so - and also I wanted to have a place with an infrastructure that
is set up for the kind of human interaction that I think we need a lot more of, like it's
a place that is physically set up for appreciating other people's talents and acknowledging each
other's presence and being.
And this one has – the little tags in golden frames as a way of, you know, illustrating
that. And all this - these are, are suggestions from people, you know. And the person introducing
the man with the beard is the person that suggested this. We need a place where we can
have a cultural knowledge exchange across different communities. And then I will conclude
with another three minute clip. [video begins playing]
>>Male in Video #1: Oh. That's the building over there. That's the parking lot right there.
>>Mona Caron: It is.
>>Male in Video #1: Yeah. I see the painting on the wall.
>>Mona Caron: Yeah. Except it's a fantasy.
>>Male in Video #1: Huh. It'd be nice if it looked like that.
>>Mona Caron: So when I get your, your headdress and like the color of your shirt. All right.
Stay right here and I'll take a picture. Okay. Like maybe here or maybe we can add another
>>Female in Video #1: Yeah.
>>Mona Caron: Somewhere in here.
>>Female in Video #1: Yeah.
>>Mona Caron: Somewhere in here, having some food.
>>Female in Video #1: Yeah.
>>Male in Video #2: Yeah, you'd rather be there, huh?
>>Female in Video #2: Uh huh.
>>Male in Video #2: I don't blame you. That's where I'd want to be too.
>>Female in Video #2: Oh, this the future? See, that's beautiful. That is what it's going
to look like. That's what I see this looking like too. Another way. That's what it is too,
another way.
>>Female in Video #3: That's Roberta with me sitting with my eyes open.
>>Mona Caron: Yep and that's the art. Let me see. Is that one of the ones that I did
or similar? Yeah, look it's -
>>Female in Video #3: Yeah.
>>Mona Caron: It's this one, look, with the tree.
>>Female in Video #3: Oh my.
>>Male in Video #3: So much things going towards the green and the space out here is so limited.
Everybody these days are going for more green areas especially the city because everything
is concrete. We need more green areas period. We realize how much tension there is right
here now. With something like that, think about how much relief of tension it would
be if that would really exist.
>>Mona Caron: Yeah.
>>Male in Video #3: That's a good sounding board right there.
>>Mona Caron: Yeah, it's great.
>>Male in Video #3: That's a perfect sounding board. What should we do with this place?
They'd come by and see something like this and well - maybe they couldn't do it all but
they could start on a small.
>>Child in Video #1: Wait. I'm lookin'. You got me yet?
>>Mona Caron: Not yet.
>>Child in Video #1: Where's my daddy again?
>>Mona Caron: Your daddy's right here with your sister.
>>Child in Video #1: You got me yet?
>>Mona Caron: No. Not yet. Not yet. You're gonna be there in a few days. Okay? Not so
>>Male in Video #4: Power to the people, my brother.
>>Child in Video #1: Power to the people, my brother. [laughs]
[video clip ends]
>>Mona Caron: And that concludes my presentation. Thank you so much [applause]
>>Paul Stout: Don't go away. Don't go away. So any questions, definitely feel free. We
got definitely a few more minutes on the video tape. So if you - could you step to the mic
if you have a question.
>>Female Audience Member #1: Oh - just - is there a list of places that you can see your
murals that you have for people? Can you email it to -
>>Mona Caron: As a matter of fact, I have a Google Map of all my places. [laughs] Not
only that, you know what I've done, in the information panel of my latest mural? I put
one of those thing a ma jig, those little barcodes. So if a tourist comes by with a
phone and has no clue, they get to my website where I explain a little bit what this is
Not that they need it because actually what I've kept hearing ever since this was finished
is some friends of mine tell me, "You know, I went to see your mural finally. I went down
there and I was looking at the mural and this person comes up and gives me the whole, the
full tour".
So I'm like, "Well, who was it?" And they're like, "I don't know. I think it was a homeless
person. I don't know. I don't know."
But people - and I love, I kind of get a kick out of the fact that the experts on this particular
work of art will always be the people in the neighborhood. Like no expert intellectual
fine art critic will ever get this mural as well as the people there, you know what I
mean? It's, it's kind of great, you know, but yes, I have a Google Map and I have a
website. I guess I always have a link to the Google position of each mural but I also have
a little mappy thing that is not quite - yeah, yep.
>>Male Audience Member #1: So the mural you did in the Tenderloin. How long did that take
you and how long were you there for from the initial inception and around toward the actual
finish of filming?
>>Mona Caron: Umm, forever.
>>Male Audience Member #1: Approximately?
>>Mona Caron: I'm gonna tell you. So I basically started with the whole research, you know
going on tours and walking around the neighborhood in the summer of 2008, Fall 2008; started
painting in January 2009 and I finished in March of 2010. So I was actually, I lived
on that sidewalk - like I was a complete sidewalk fixture there. That was my little spot and
for over a year and I did have a break in the middle.
I went away for a month. I kind of needed, you know - I was going nuts basically. And
what it was is like putting those little people in,
I have almost 300 real people in there. You know it takes a lot of time like you know
especially when they're nearby, in a day I could do like maybe five of those.
So it was never ending and I felt like everybody was like, "Oh, I want to be in it too." And
I wasn't able to put everybody in, you know, and I still now when I go back somebody spots
me and says, "When are you going to put me in the mural?" and it's like ahh, I had to
just stop, you know?
But I could go on forever and so I feel bad for all the ones that I didn't get to but
I tried my best, you know? So. So yeah. [pause] Other questions?
>>Male Audience Member #2: So I really like the community aspect of it. Have you tried
at all in possibly like a small town or suburbia or somewhere that's not -
>>Mona Caron: That would be really interesting actually. Whether I've done it?
>>Male Audience Member #2: Yeah. Or have you ever thought of trying it somewhere else?
>>Mona Caron: You know, I don't actually - the projects, these mural projects have come to
me. I don't really come to them so much so if - I'm also an illustrator and I do pictures
for books and magazines. But the mural thing is kind of something that happened to me.
You know, it started with one big mural I did in the city and it's like the Duboce Bikeway
Mural. It's a mural behind Safeway when you come out of the tunnel from the J and N-Judah
if you guys are San Franciscans. But anyway I did one and that one started all the other
ones rolling and I never thought I was going to be a muralist. It's just something that
kind of happened but like if I get invited, you know, I'm open.
After this one, I did a project in Bolivia, in Cochabamba, Bolivia, which is - okay, I
could do a whole talk just on that one. It was unbelievable. On the outside wall of the
Factory Workers Union of Cochabamba, Bolivia, and on the occasion of the 10th anniversary
of the Water War uprising there. It was fascinating and so anyway. So those are things that happen.
Whoa. [laughs] Yeah.
>>Female Audience Member #2: Where's the funding come from to do these murals? Because you're
talking about like years worth of work that's done.
>>Mona Caron: Oh, yeah, well - so the funding for some of the public murals in San Francisco,
most of the them come from grants. It's the non-profits that I go through that apply for
the grants. In this case, it's the Tenderloin Community Benefit District is an entity that
applied for a grant to do a mural at this particular location.
And it's often been the Community Challenge Grant Program in San Francisco which is, it's
funded by the voluntary one percent allotment of your business taxes towards city beautification.
So basically if you owe business taxes and check that one box, it doesn't increase your
taxes. It just funnels one percent toward city beautification and a little bit of that
goes towards murals.
Yeah. Needless to say, it's definitely a labor of love 'cause there's - sometimes when I
have my down moments, I go like, "Why don't have a simpler style?", you know? It's just
like [laughs] but it's -- that's just how it comes out. Yeah.
>>Male Audience Member #3: But on that level, there is so much detail. You already said
you have Google Maps. Do you have a detailed image where people can zoom in on it online
and see all these different things, all the vivid details? Like you said, you can see
it's great from a distance but there's so detail to see up close so it's really hard
to -
>>Mona Caron: It's true.
>>Male Audience Member #3: appreciate it without being able to see all of it.
>>Mona Caron: It's true and I kind of want to do that. I really want to - obviously I'm
not super great at it but I try to do what I can on my website. On the other hand, you
know, I want to privilege the pedestrians and the bicyclists that actually go out into
the world and do that. You know, that's something because that's kind of part of it.
If I make it too comfortable for people to just appreciate, then they will actually go
to the Tenderloin and maybe experience what an amazing place that is, you know? But definitely
I want to try. It's just I'm limitedly tech savvy I guess is the issue like - maybe you
guys can help.
>>Male Audience Member #4: So the one question I have for you is I know it seems like your
early work is [inaudible] So of your murals, which one is your favorite and why?
>>Mona Caron: What was your question?
>>Male Audience Member #5: We all couldn't hear the question. Use the microphone.
>>Male Audience Member #4: I just want to know what's your favorite mural because there
such a distinct difference between like say something [inaudible]. The Tenderloin was
like a different collaboration.
>>Mona Caron: I would have to say the Tenderloin one is my favorite one so far because - precisely
because of that. Like in a way, in terms of what I'm trying to achieve, this whole thing,
the convivial use of public space, the neighborhood is actually so much further along in achieving
that than other places that it was an absolute pleasure and again despite all the societal
problems which are really real.
It's very, very real and believe me – and, but, therefore, I find there's so much potential
there, you know? So in a way it gave me a lot of hope that way despite being around
a lot of, a lot of pain and desperation as well so –
>>Female Audience Member #5: So I really enjoyed the video clips that you had and I just have
- it would be really interesting to see more of your research like that, the whole talking
about the journey. Have you thought at all about collaborating with a filmmaker and making
a documentary of one of these projects?
>>Mona Caron: Well, there's a filmmaker in the city called Paige Bierma who's actually
made a short documentary about the, about the mural and I think that my friend Nick
Kasimatis may be working on something as well. That's him in there and he's the one who made
these clips for me so like that's Nick Kasimatis right there and so there is Paige Bierma's
movie, I believe it's called "A Brush with a Tenderloin" or something. It wasn't just
a brush with. I really inhabited the place quite intensely.
But it's actually going to be shown publicly on May 13th – I hope I get this right -- during
- on the same day of the Art in Storefronts on Market Street arts commission event so
if you want to know more, actually I'm sure that's a good idea - I have a Facebook page.
Please join it.
I'm going to announce when it is. Yeah. Go like my page. [laughs]
Yeah so.
Yes, I agree - it will be great but it's kind of oceanic like the amount of stuff. I could
write a book about it this thick.
>>Female Audience Member #5: Yeah, I was thinking that, that it could almost even make a history
book of the neighborhood or sort of the documentation of it and stuff like that.
>>Mona Caron: Yeah. Anyone else? Ooh, sorry.
>>Paul Stout: Okay, no more questions. Thank you again for coming.
>>Mona Caron: Thank you so much for having me. A real pleasure.