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San Francisco woman leads one of the nation’s few community mural arts centers

<i></i><br/>San Francisco artist
Lawrence, Nakia

San Francisco artist


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    SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — A San Francisco artist has led the collaborative community mural movement in the city and Bay Area for nearly half a century.

It’s hard to miss her artwork when walking around the Mission District.

“Those were done almost 45 years ago,” Susan Cervantes said, pointing to one building. “Even before people knew what murals were.”

Her story begins nearly 50 years ago when the painter was a young mother looking for enriching opportunities for children.

“There wasn’t any art in the community center; there wasn’t any art in the school, so I started volunteering time at the community center to do preschool art,” Cervantes said.

Art for kids led to classes for adults and more.

“I kept getting requests for murals,” she recalled.

So, Cervantes and her husband Luis founded the Precita Eyes Muralists Association in 1977. The nonprofit is one of a few community mural arts centers in the nation.

It’s collaborated on more than 700 community murals in the city and Bay Area. Precita Eyes led a neighborhood mural project at Garfield Park swimming pool in 1980.

Kids drew their ideas about life in the sea. Then, several artists and dozens of volunteers brought the mural to life. Cervantes’ works also brings neighbors together.

“It gives ownership to the community. It gives them a voice. It brightens up the environment,” she explained.

The murals can also make a statement. A group of artists and neighbors filled Balmy Alley between 24th and 25th streets with a series of murals about peace in Central America.

Cervantes’ contribution, called “Indigenous Eyes, War or Peace,” shows a girl’s eyes, with a skeleton in one, a peace dove in the other. She notes how the collaborations bring neighborhood pride: While taggers defaced the pavement, they left the artwork alone.

“It’s a community, their culture. They respect that,” she stated.

Besides mural tours, Cervantes leads youth and adult painting and mural classes with fees that support the nonprofit, plus special exhibits at the Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center.

For example, she honors her late husband with a Day of the Dead altar she’s created.

Artist Paola Reyes Melendez sets up another part of the exhibit. She calls Cervantes an inspiration who’s paved the way for female muralists.

“She has an amazing heart, and very humble, that always feeds everything she’s inspired to do,” Reyes Melendez said.

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