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 Judy Francisca (Judith) Baca  (1946 - )

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: Chicano themed mural and easel painting, urban genre, teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Judith Francisca Baca (born September 20, 1946) is an American Chicana artist, activist, and University of California, Los Angeles professor of Chicana/o Studies in the School of Social Sciences and a professor of World Arts and Cultures in the School of Art and Architecture. She is the co-founder and artistic director of the Venice, California-based Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), a community arts center, and is best known as the director of the mural project that created one of the largest murals in the world, the Great Wall of Los Angeles.

Baca was born in Los Angeles on September 20, 1946 to Mexican American parents. Her mother, Ortencia, worked in a tire factory.  She was raised in Watts, Los Angeles (a predominately African-American and Mexican-American neighborhood), in an all-female household composed of her mother, her aunts Rita and Delia, and her grandmother Francisca. Her grandmother was an herbal healer and practiced curanderismo, which profoundly influenced her sense of indigenous Chicano culture.

Baca's mother later married Clarence Ferrari in 1952, and Baca has a half-brother Gary and half-sister Diane. Afterward the three of them moved to Pacoima, Los Angeles. This neighborhood was drastically different from Watts – Mexican-Americans were minorities in Pacoima.

Baca was not allowed to speak Spanish in elementary school, as it was prohibited, and did not know English very well. Her teacher would tell her to go paint in the corner while the others studied. It took some time, but Baca started getting better in classes once she was able to understand the textbooks. With the encouragement of her art teacher she began drawing and painting. She would graduate from Bishop Alemany High School in 1964.

She then attended California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and earned her Bachelor's degree in 1969 and Master's degree in art in 1979. While there, she learned and studied modern abstract art. She wanted to make art that was accessible beyond the constraints of the gallery and the museum. She wanted to make art for the people she loved, but she knew they didn't go to galleries. "I thought to myself, if I get my work into galleries, who will go there? People in my family hadn't ever been in a gallery in their entire lives. My neighbors never went to galleries...And it didn't make sense to me at the time to put art behind some guarded wall." After completing graduate school, Baca continued her education, studying muralism at Taller Siqueiros in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

When she graduated from CSUN she got a job teaching at her former high school. Her students were not very friendly with each other, and she thought she had an idea about how to teach them to cooperate with each other. She had a group of her students make a mural on one side of the school's wall. Everybody wanted to work on it, and it encouraged them to work things out without fighting. Baca was present at the 1970 Chicano Moratorium, an anti-war action of the Chicano Movement. The principal of the school believed teachers should not take part in the protest marches, and she was fired with several other teachers.

After being fired, she thought she could never get another job because of her involvement in the protests. She would find her next job at the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department. Her new job was teaching art for a summer program in the city's public parks. At that time Boyle Heights, Los Angeles had the most Mexican-Americans and the highest number of gangs in the country. Members of different gangs loitered in the parks she worked at, and she noticed the graffiti and knew they were territorial markings. "You could read a wall and learn everything you needed to know about that community." One of her favorites was, "I'd rather spend one day as a lion than a hundred as a lamb."

In the summer of 1970, Baca wanted to find a way to have art bridge the neighborhood. She decided to create a mural in Boyle Heights as a way for people to positively feel the neighborhood was theirs. In the first team she had twenty members from four different gangs, and the group decided on the name Las Vistas Nuevas ("New Views"). The mural they would create would show images that would be familiar to the Mexican-Americans who were living in the neighborhood. "I want to use public space to create a public voice for, and a public consciousness about people who are, in fact, the majority of the population but who are not represented in any visual way.

Their first project was on three walls of an outdoor stage in Hollenbeck Park. Mi Abuelita ("My Grandmother") was a mural that depicted a Mexican-American grandmother with her arms outstretched as if to give a hug. "This work recognized the primary position of the matriarch in Mexican families. It also marked the first step in the development of a unique collective process that employs art to mediate between rival gang members competing for public space and public identity."

This project was difficult because she had to get different gang members to cooperate with each other. Every day, problems arose with gang members who were not on the mural team and didn't like what Baca was doing. They would attempt to interfere with the project by threatening team members and vandalizing the work site. Local police did not like the idea of rival gang members working together, fearing it would spark gang violence. Baca also began to work on the mural without permission from the city or the manager of Hollenbeck Park, which engendered questions from her supervisor and other city officials.

Despite all these troubles, Baca wanted to finish the project. She had lookouts who would signal the mural team if rival gang members were headed toward the work site, or if the police were coming. One day a city official came to the park because he had been getting complaints about the project. After seeing the progress done and team members working so well with each other, he gave Baca permission from the city to complete the mural. "The city was amazed at the work I was doing, making murals with kids who scared directors out of neighborhood centers."

After its completion, the community loved Mi Abuelita. Baca said, "Everybody related to it. People brought candles to that site. For 12 years people put flowers at the base of the grandmother image." Las Vistas Nuevas would complete a total of three murals that summer.

After the murals she was offered a job in 1970 as the director of a new citywide mural program. She was in charge of creating this program from the ground up, which included choosing where murals would go, designing the murals, and supervising the mural painting teams, which would consist of teenagers who were in trouble with the police. Members of the original Las Vistas Nuevas group were hired to help run Baca's multi-site program. This group would go on to paint more than 500 murals.

In this new job she encountered her first problems with censorship. People in neighborhoods where murals were being created wanted to show all parts of life in their neighborhood, both the good and bad. The city, however, did not want any controversial subjects depicted in these murals. In one case, when the city objected to a mural that showed people struggling with police, they threatened to stop funding the program if Baca did not remove it. Baca said, "I really liked the idea that the work could not be owned by anyone. So, therefore it wasn't going to be interesting to the rich or to the wealthy, and it didn't have to meet the caveats of art that museums would be interested in. Rather than give in , she formed the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) in 1976 to continue funding the creation of murals in public.

Great Wall of Los Angeles
Their first project was the Great Wall of Los Angeles. She was hired by the United States Army Corps of Engineers to help improve the area around a San Fernando Valley flood control channel called the Tujunga Wash. It's essentially a ditch that contained a large concrete retaining wall. Her idea for a mural was to paint a history of the city of Los Angeles, but not the version found in history books. The events that were overlooked were the ones that interested her. "It was an excellent place to bring youth of varied ethnic backgrounds from all over the city to work on an alternate view of the history of the U.S. which included people of color who had been left out of American history books." Baca also said the defining metaphor of the mural would be that "It is a tattoo on the scar where the river once ran."

Baca was inspired by Los tres Grandes ("The Three Greats"), a novel about three of the most influential Mexican muralists: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco. In 1977 she attended a workshop at the Taller Siqueiros in Cuernavaca, Mexico, to learn muralism techniques and see their murals in person. Even though all three were deceased by that time, she was able to work with some of Siqueiros' former students. She also interviewed people about their lives, family histories, ancestry, and stories they remembered hearing from their older relatives, as well as consulting history experts. From this, she was able to create the design for the mural. Some of the events portrayed in the mural constituted the first time they had ever been displayed in public, including but not limited to the Dust Bowl Journey, Japanese American internment during World War II, Zoot Suit Riots, and the Freedom Bus Rides.

Baca wanted the project to be done by people who were as diverse as those to be painted. She had people from all different ages and backgrounds participate. Some were scholars and artists, but the majority were just community members. "Making a mural is like a big movie production, it can involve 20 sets of scaffolding, four trucks, and food for 50 people." 400 people came out to help paint the mural, which took seven summers to complete, and was finished in 1984.

Baca began a professorship at University of California, Irvine in 1980, and left in 1994. The next year, she implemented the Muralist Training Workshop to teach people the techniques she had picked up.[16] She also served as a professor at California State University, Monterey Bay from 1994 to 1996, where she co-founded the Visual & Public Arts Institute Department.

In 1996 she moved to University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and took on multiple roles. In 1993, she co-founded UCLA's Cesar Chavez Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, an institution for which she serves as vice chair.

In 1998, she served as a master artist in residence with the Role of the Arts in Civic Dialogue at Harvard University.

In 1987 she began painting The World Wall: A Vision of the Future Without Fear, a painting that showed the world with no-violence. She believed the first step to world peace was imagining it, and she wanted artists from all over the world to help her paint it. She wanted it to be painted in panels so it could moved around to different places. After years of planning and contributions made by artists from other countries, the painting had its debut in Finland in 1990. The idea was that when the panels traveled around the world each host country would add their own panel to the collection. Some of the countries included Russia, Israel/Palestine, Mexico, and Canada.

In 1988 Mayor of Los Angeles Tom Bradley commissioned her to create the Neighborhood Pride Program, a citywide project to paint murals. The project employed over 1,800 at-risk youth and has been responsible for the creation of over 105 murals throughout the city.

In 1996 she created La Memoria de Nuestra Tierra ("Our Land Has Memory") for the Denver International Airport. This one was personal for Baca, as her grandparents fled Mexico during the Mexican Revolution and came to La Junta, Colorado, Colorado.[18] The mural's intent was "not only to tell the forgotten stories of people who, like birds or water, traveled back and forth across the land freely, before there was a line that distinguished which side you were from, but to speak to our shared human condition as temporary residents of the earth...The making of this work was an excavation of a remembering of their histories." It was completed in 2000.

She conducted research by interviewing residents and lead a workshop with University of Southern Colorado students. She found a picture in a garage in Pueblo by Juan Espinosa, photographer and founder El Diario de la Gente, Boulder, Colorado, of an important meeting between Corky Gonzales of the Colorado Crusade for Justice and Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers, and their agreement to bring the Delano grape strike to Colorado.

In June 2008, Judy spoke at the "Against the Wall: The ruin and renewal of LA's murals" panel held at Morono Kiang Gallery across the street from the famous "Pope of Broadway" mural. In that same year, she made the Cesar Chavez Monument Arch of Dignity, Equality, and Justice. It is located at San Jose State University. It has a portrait of Cesar Chavez, Mahatma Gandhi, and Dolores Huerta.

Notable collections
    •    Mi Abuelita, 1970, Hollenbeck Park, Los Angeles, California
    •    Great Wall of Los Angeles, 1976–present, Van Nuys, California
    •    History of Unitarianism, 1981, First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
    •    Danza Indigenas, 1994, Metrolink, maintained by Amtrak, Baldwin Park, California
    •    La Memoria de Nuestra Tierra: Colorado, 2000, Denver International Airport, Denver, Colorado
    •    Digital tile murals, 2000, City of Los Angeles, Venice Beach, California
    •    Migration of the Golden People, 2002, Central American Research and Education Center of Los Angeles
    •    Cesar Chavez Monument Plaza, 2008, San Jose State University, San Jose, California
    •    Danza de la Tierra, 2009, Dallas Latino Cultural Center, Dallas, Texas
    •    Ataco, El Salvador Murals, 2009 Invited by the US embassy, Ataco, El Salvador
    •    Tiny Ripples of Hope and Seeing Through Others Eyes, 2010, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, California
    •    La Gente del Maiz, 2011, Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, Los Angeles, CA
    •    The Extroardinary Ordinary People, 2013, Richmond Civic Center, Richmond, CA
    •    Find Your True Voice, 2013 Sandra Cisneros Learning Academy, Los Angeles, CA
Awards
    •    1988 - National Association of Art Educator's award for Educator of the Year
    •    1991 - UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center award for Rockefeller Fellowship
    •    1997 - National Hispanic Magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award
    •    1998 - Women's Caucus for Art's Influential Woman Artist Award
    •    1998 - Harvard University's Master Artist and Senior Scholar
    •    2001 - Liberty Hill Foundation's Creative Vision Award
    •    2001 - National Hispanic Heritage Foundation's Hispanic Heritage Award for Educator of the Year
    •    2002 - Dartmouth College's Montgomery Fellowship
    •    2003 - Guggenheim Fellowship
    •    2005 - Hispanic Business Magazine's 100 Most Influential People
    •    2009 - Escuela Tlatelolco Cenro des Estudios's Champion of Change Award
    •    2009 - InnerCity Struggle's Elizabeth "Betita" Martínez Activist Scholar Award
    •    2009 - California Senator Jenny Oropeza Selection for Artist of Distinction Award
    •    2009 - Judy Chicago's "Through the Flower" Feminist Pioneer Award
    •    2010 - National Award in Public Art presented by Americans for the Arts and the Public Art Network
    •    2011 - Outstanding Latino/a in the Fine and Performing Arts Award, American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education
    •    2011 - Judith F. Baca Arts Academy in South Central Los Angeles named by LAUSD
    •    2011 - Art Tables 30th Anniversary Artist Honors
    •    2012 - University of California Studies Consortium Award
    •    2012 - Mario F. Vasquez, Cinco de Mayo Leadership Award, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor
    •    2012 - Latino/a Spirit Award for Achievements in the Arts, The California Latino Legislative Caucus

Source:
"Judy Baca",  Wikipedia: American Women Painters, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judy_Baca (Accessed 11/11/2014)

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Noted for her socially conscious murals, Judith Baca exemplifies the new spirit among Hispanic-American women artists. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she is recognized both as an outstanding leader-organizer as well as for her murals. After receiving a B.A. in 1969 from California State University at Northridge, she was hired as resident artist by the Cultural Affairs Division of the city of Los Angeles. Baca went into the East Los Angeles barrio and convinced youths in warring street gangs to work together cooperatively in teen muralist brigades; she led them in the constructive task of creating large murals in the community.

Baca was made director of an innovative public art program, the Citywide Mural Project. Between 1974 and 1977, she supervised forty muralists and four hundred apprentice artists in the production of forty public murals in various parts of Los Angeles. At the same time, Baca carried out her own murals (with assistants) at the California Institute for Women (a state prison) and at the Little Sisters of the Poor convalescent home.

In 1976, Baca began directing the creation of the longest mural in the world, The Great Wall of Los Angeles, a visual history of the city, showing the contributions of ethnic and immigrant groups to its culture. The mural is created on the wall of the Tujunga Wash flood control channel in the San Fernando Valley. In preparation for this colossal task, Baca traveled to the Taller Siqueiros workshop in Cuernavaca, Mexico, to take intensive training in the technique and chemistry of mural painting. After returning, she and two associates formed the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), an agency that conducts many workshops and activities in the melting-pot community of Venice. With the support of SPARC and with the backing of the city of Los Angeles and the County Corps of Engineers, Baca was able to hire youths on parole from the juvenile justice program and then from the Summer Youth Employment Program.

Young people from different ethnic backgrounds are working together in harmony and are learning history, mathematics, and other skills in the process of creating 'The Great Wall'. Baca designed the second and third section of the wall by herself to develop a unified tone for the huge project. Much of it, however, is a collaborative effort, involving the talents of her assistants and the young people working with them. Painted over five summers, this exciting work describes decade by decade the contributions and struggles of California's diverse peoples from prehistoric times to the late 20th century. Unique among murals in its conceptual approach, 'The Great Wall' also provides an educational program of training in inter-racial relations for the project's participants and for the people in the surrounding community.

Although Baca is heavily involved in public commitments, she continues to paint her own murals in a style influenced by the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. When God Was Woman is a two-sided, rotating triptych portraying goddess images from Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

Ms. Baca's most recent works include commissions for the University of Southern California; the Baldwin Park Metrolink station; an international exhibition entitled "Art of the Other Mexico"; an interior mural for the Southern California Gas Company's new downtown Los Angeles headquarters; murals for the 1984 Olympics (on the Harbor Freeway); a skid row mural for the homeless; and a historical mural colonnade for Guadalupe, California.

Currently, Baca is working on a commission for the Denver International Airport, as well as The World Wall: A Vision of the Future Without Fear, which she began in 1990. The 'World Wall consists of seven 10 foot by 30 foot portable mural panels on canvas. This 210-foot mural addresses contemporary issues of global importance; war, peace, cooperation, interdependence, and spiritual growth.

In an effort to spread her concept of peace and understanding between cultures, the portable murals have so far traveled to the former Soviet Union, Finland, Washington, D.C., and Santa Barbara. As "The World Wall" tours the world, seven additional panels by artists from seven countries will be added to complete this visual tribute to the "Global Village."

Baca is a founding faculty member at Cal State Monterey Bay and is currently on a leave of absence from UC Irvine, where she has taught studio art for 13 years.

Source:
Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, American Women Artists

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