TIJUANA, MEXICO.- Compared to San Diego, public art in Tijuana’s Playas de Tijuana neighborhood feels like a free-for-all.
The oceanfront neighborhood is full of public art. Colorful murals pop against Tijuana’s mostly gray backdrop. Even the U.S.-Mexico border wall is decorated with portraits and landscapes by local artists.
Artist Carlos Rodriguez doesn’t have to secure city permits or get approval from a public art commission. He just has to get the green light from a local property owner and make sure the local art critics are OK with it.
“You show up and paint,” he said. “If the cops see that you’re not doing something that’s too weird or something they don’t like, they won’t say anything.”
This kind of environment is liberating. It encourages artists to get their work out there. But it comes at a cost.
The laissez-faire approach creates more freedom compared to San Diego, but fewer funding opportunities as well. Artists are their own advocates. When it comes to public art, they negotiate directly with landlords.
Some landlords are shrewd negotiators, Rodriguez said.
KPBS is embarking on a series to explore public art. Follow this series for stories about the artists who make these works, why public art is created, what impact it has, and where it can be found.
“Sometimes they’ll tell you, ‘Hey, I’m going to give you materials but you’re going to basically paint for free,’” he said. “There’s nothing to win there except you get to display your art in a public spot. But you need to make money out of it too.”
Public funding for art is hard to come by. One university offered Rodriguez, free classes, in exchange for a mural a few years ago, but that’s all of the public support he’s received.
There are public art programs out there, he said, but they aren’t accessible.
The lack of public funding makes it difficult for street artists like Rodriguez to make a living. He supplements his income by working in a call center and sells commissioned art pieces through social media.
Still, Tijuana has a vibrant art scene. One that reflects the city’s diversity — a rich mix of immigrants, deportees, and Mexicans from other parts of Tijuana who came to the border for economic opportunities.
“You get a little bit of the different cultures, backgrounds, and ideas,” Rodriguez said.
These diverse voices put their own stamp on Tijuana — sometimes holding up a mirror at some of the city’s issues.
Like Rodriguez’s latest mural, which he did with fellow artist Javier Rojas.
The colorful mural shows dogs surrounding a giant bright red heart with the words, “La Familia No Se Abandona” written on it — which translates to “Don’t Abandon Family.”