The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Media Relations Manager, Paul Rose, wrote in regarding our post about the utility box holding mural artist Mona Caron’s artwork being replaced and then later found in a lot. He writes:


I saw your post on this issue and wanted to pass this info on:
The controller box was replaced after the completion of the Church & Duboce Rail Replacement project, as part of a system-wide upgrade of various electrical sectionalized switches and associated controller boxes. The urgency of replacing the switches was made apparent after the nine day shutdown at Church and Duboce, when one of the switches failed shortly after it was re-energized. To upgrade the switch at Church & Duboce, the associated painted box also had to be replaced. We are working to have the box re-painted by the artist. We anticipate this process will be complete within the next 3 months.


So, you know, if they hadn’t done this quickly, maybe there would have been a major Muni meltdown and we would all complain about that instead. Let’s hope we get another piece from Caron on the new box.

[Market St. Railway Mural by Mona Caron]

I just want to clarify for a moment, my feelings on public art (I wasn’t aware that anyone cared!). Of course I understand the temporary nature of these kinds of pieces. Everything everywhere is temporary. That doesn’t mean we won’t mourn the loss of something that we enjoyed. Am I going to hold a vigil? No, but I’ll post about it. Public art is also important as a way to get artwork out of galleries and let it live among the people. Caron’s work, specifically, is great at doing many things at once, telling stories, offering visions of a hopeful future for urban life, challenging us to look at everyday surroundings in new ways, etc. Oh, and also they’re beautiful. I appreciate her views and that she shares them freely with the rest of us. I want it to be around us as we move about our days. I also want the SFMTA to be efficient and effective in getting us all where we need to go. Let’s hope both parties are willing and able to continue to bring us pieces like MANIFESTATION STATION.

UPDATE: Here’s Mona Caron’s response (updated for MM readers) –

Hey San Francisco friends, I GOT THE STORY! …It’s long.
As a preface, I wanna say I’m amazed and moved by all you people appreciating the artwork and caring about it. I’m feeling truly blessed and re-invigorated about the work I do – THANK YOU <3 .

Now, about this incident:
There's no malice, and no stupid people involved in this. I still love MUNI ;-) . Even the folks who removed the box (which they left in the yard of the MTA traction power station at 2502 Alameda Street) who refused to believe this isn't illegal graffiti, are holding that belief for a pretty good reason: they simply cannot believe MTA would have artwork put on a box that has been slated for replacement for a long time. Makes total sense to me. So the goof-up goes further back, and if anything, this story is showing me that there is a reason for the lengthy bureaucratic process when the entity has as many hands at work simultaneously as MTA, and attempting to shortcut it can feel empowering in the moment, but leads to the proverbial left hand undoing what right hand just did.

-- So, for those San Franciscans who care about the minutiae, here is what happened, as I understand it:

MTA needed to install 2 new boxes as part of Church and Duboce Track improvement project of 2012. The community complained of additional sidewalk clutter. Under pressure, MTA softened the pill by agreeing to beautify the 2 new boxes with art, wrote that into the budget. Cool.
THEN, another neighborhood group, (Wigg party?) wiggle and bicycle enthusiasts, put further pressure, asking for a pre-existing old box to be included in the beautification project. This was a last minute addition, pushed for by well-meaning, community-oriented people, and nice people at MTA shooed that in. I repeatedly asked about the projected longevity of that old box, and was reassured. *That* is where the goof lies.
That 3rd box became the Manifestation Station. The head of the department in charge of its contents, about to retire, apparently gave the green light.
Now, the contents of that box needed to be replaced so badly, that a while back a sectionalizing switch inside it actually blew up, and caused a 9-day mess at that corner affecting J and N train service. I remember seeing the white smoke sediments beneath the box's vents.

The new, modern switches apparently come with taller-format boards, requiring, alas, this new, narrower but much taller box.
Yeah they could still have given me a heads up at least, but that no longer matters now. In the scheme of things, a well-functioning, not prone to explosions public transit seems more important to me than my painting.
The box they removed was site-specific to the extreme, down to the 1/4 inch, so once it is moved, near of far, it looses its whole point to me. So I don't actually want it back in the street in some random place that doesn't make sense.
But hey, maybe if you tell MTA you really want it, they could have me paint the new one?

Formerly chill stoner mural develops protective cover

The mural space on Bryant at 24th Street has changed again. Most likely as a reaction to somebody tagging over it.

Reader Rob sends in the above picture and says:

Stoned, Occupy-targeted caterpillar has morphed into a stripey-panted, kowtowing, piece of poo/penis. Never a dull moment around here.

Commenter Dolissa says that as a public art wall the space is already reclaimed from advertisers who used it as a vehicle for unwelcome messages:

In the 1970s Latino artists and activists took over a billboard with tobacco and alcohol ads because they felt it was harmful to the community. The took over the space and used it to create art.

So now we have this thing. Soon to be replaced/defaced by something else. Hopefully this is respected long enough for people to appreciate it. Hopefully the next thing adds value to what’s there now, but since that’s completely subjective there’s just no way everyone can be satisfied. I guess the best we can hope for is that anyone can get in their piece at some time and that everyone gets a chance to appreciate at least one incarnation in the rotation. Free, open and public space is valuable to our neighborhood (especially if you consider that an alternative might just be another corporate billboard), and it can be anything you want it to be, but you will inevitably be forced to compromise what you want to make room for what someone else wants. And no amount of challenging a participant’s aesthetic or motives will change that.

UPDATE: In the comments, Matthew points us to the history of the Digital Mural Project on this wall.