The art project in Atascadero has completed six out of 10 equality-based murals

ATASCADERO — The Equality Mural Project started in early 2020 in downtown Atascadero, following the 2017 Woman’s Equality Murals featured in Ancient Owl Beer Garden and the back of Colony Market and Deli. In the last two years, the project has completed six out of the proposed 10 murals throughout the streets of downtown, with all of the artists already chosen before the first brush stroke was painted.

“When we first started the project, what we did was we created a request for proposals,” said Equality Mural Project committee member and volunteer Victoria Carranza. “We had the constraints as far as what we were looking for and what we weren’t looking for.” 

In its Call for Artists that went out in 2020, The Equality Mural Project stated:


“When it comes to thinking about how inequalities persist, categories like gender, race, environment, and class are best understood as overlapping and mutually constitutive rather than isolated and distinct. In all equality-themed concepts, we want artists to be critically thinking about the inequalities within the inequalities. It’s about relationships.”

Artists, community activists, members of the nonprofit SLO County Arts Council (which is the project’s fiscal sponsor), photojournalist Richard Facillo, Cal Poly Liberal Arts Professor Jenny Ashley, Developer Z Villages, and more are all part of the Mural Development Committee. The committee collectively came up with the proposal for the murals and spread the word about the project as it continues.

“We wanted a lot more locals to be at the forefront of the project, so a majority of the artists that we chose happen to be local,” Carranza said. “A couple of them are from Atascadero. But we do have sprinkled in of the 10 artists that we chose, a few that are not local. A few of them are Cal Poly and college grads of the area, and they may have gone away, but their heart is still here, and they love the fact that there’s this going on in Atascadero.” 

Carranza went on to say that the murals explore equality in all different ways, from bio-diversity to Japanese wood blocks with a cultural perspective.

“The theme really is equality for all. We want there to be the theme of equity and whatever that looks like for people,” she added.

All monies raised for the Equality Mural Project go directly to the artists, and each one is paid $5,000 for their work.

“None of the funds that we, I will say, none of it goes to any overhead of admin,” stated Carranza. “So all of the folks on the committee are working for free because they want this to happen. The artists need to be paid.”

SLO County Arts Council has given the Equality Mural Project the ability to receive funds through their 501(c)3 nonprofit. Their job is to house the project’s funds while keeping track of them.

“I’d say the biggest supporter, if not individual donations, has been the Tourism Business Improvement District,” added Carranza. “They’ve donated. I think this is their second cycle of donations. Visit Atascadero has been a very big supporter of this. Mostly I think because they see it as a huge win-win.”

The project also funds artists with private donations that are given through the SLO County Arts Council with a memo that reads that the funds should go to the Equality Mural Project. The property and building owners of the buildings being painted have also helped with funding and providing other services free of charge. Peter Worley of Signature Painting donates his time and product to put sealant on the murals, and Sherwin-Williams Atascadero Paint Store provides primer and paint for the artists. 

“We even had an art gallery that was a pop-up at the Z Villages office,” Carranza said. “People took tours and gave some suggested donations for taking a tour of the mural art concepts that we had displayed by the Artery.” 

The Equality Mural Project must procure an Administrative Use Permit [AUP] from the city for all the buildings it puts murals on unless the building is privately owned. The permit allows public review of land use proposals that do not warrant a Planning Commission hearing but have a noticeable impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

“You have to have the business owner, the property owner, and the artist all on board,” Carranza said. “And we finish that off with, before they [the artist] begin, and after the Admin Use Permit is approved, we have them sign a contract in order to then say this mural has to stay put for at least five years.”

There are also ramifications in place to ensure that what is painted on a building is a quality product. The Equality Mural Project also signs that they will help repair any damages done to the painting during that time.

The team’s next project will be the tunnel under Highway 101 that goes from Atascadero High School to the Sunken Gardens area. They’re hoping to start in October, and the mural will be taken over by a painter from Los Angeles due to the original artist, AHS teacher Clarke Andros, moving out of the area.

As part of an in-depth series, The Atascadero News will dive into the key elements that permit a community project like this to come to fruition, i.e., what parties are involved, who at the city level gives permission, if any, and the funding. 

Featured Photo: A mural by artist Jackie Nguyen, part of the Equality Mural Project, is shown on a building on Traffic Way in Atascadero. Photos by Cobblestone Productions.