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Press Release regarding Tortilla Flats Installation - For Immediate Release

April 3, 2008

Tortilla Flats neighborhood is reborn as Public Art Mural beneath U.S.-101 Freeway with April 14-18 installation and May 31 street festival dedication

Tortilla Flats, Ventura’s first neighborhood—a working-class community of diverse cultures razed during highway construction in the 1940s and 50s—is being reborn as a permanent 90-piece, multi-media Public Art Mural on its original site in the Figueroa Street Underpass beneath the U.S. 101 freeway. Installation of art will occur on April 14-18 with a street festival style dedication on Saturday, May 31, 11 am to noon. The entire city is invited to this free event, with entertainment, refreshments and free parking provided nearby at Seaside Park.

This exciting collaboration between the city’s public art program and engineering division aims to help heal the cut created by the “moat” of Ventura Freeway by restoring both a sense of place to an area once rich in cultural history as well as a better connection between Ventura’s downtown and beach—a persistent goal that residents mentioned as part of the 2005 General Plan process and reinforced in the 2006 Downtown Specific Plan.
 
Thanks to the vision of two local artists—who began in 1994 to collect photographs and conduct oral histories of the Chumash, Latino, Asian, African-American and Midwest and Dust Bowl families displaced from Tortilla Flats—the resonant stories and working-class lives of an entire community have been documented and will be shared with visitors and future generations of Ventura residents. The new mural depicts vanished vernacular landmarks such as the Green Mill Ballroom where Lalo Guerrero, grandfather of Chicano music played, and the Afro-American Gibson Family’s Ruth House and Bar-Be-Que eatery as well as Salad Bowl Curve, Shore Acres and Ventura River scenes—even Olympic track star Jesse Owens who raced horses at the Fairgrounds.

The city's Public Art Program gave the artists MB Hanrahan and Moses Mora a direct commission in 2003 to reinterpret, as a permanent public art project in tiles and state-of-the-art materials, their original 1995 mural. That temporary commemorative wall sited across from the Ventura County Fairgrounds consisted of six-foot-high wood panels over 510 feet in length depicting scenes from this former neighborhood—it was dismantled in 1999 due to weathering of materials. The artists’ $54,000 contract includes design, fabrication, and installation as part of the artists’ scope of work. The artists have completed most of their work in their studios at Bell Arts Factory. In addition to public art, the larger $588,000 capital project includes installing bike lanes, street trees, retaining walls, new lighting and reconstruction of the existing sidewalks.

The “universal appeal” of the mural, said Hanrahan, is depicting “one of the oldest stories in the book…of people being displaced” and “communicating…the voice of a population that does not have a voice. Taking on this project is giving us an opportunity to memorialize a neighborhood in Ventura that fell by the wayside in the name of progress. I’m grateful to have this opportunity and gratified that City has chosen to recognize the historic importance of this neighborhood.”

Since 1991 the Public Art Program has enhanced the urban design, economic vitality and historic and cultural expression of Ventura’s public spaces through an ordinance designating 2% of eligible capital improvement project (CIP) budgets for the creation of innovative public art associated with that CIP project. Policy and project oversight of the program is the responsibility of the Public Art Commission, a seven-person volunteer City Council advisory group.

For more information contact: Public and Visual Art Supervisor Denise Sindelar at 805.658.4793 or dsindelar@cityofventura.net.

This release is available at www.cityofventura.net under the “Press Room” link. An Artists’ Statement is attached to this release.

Artists’ Statements

MB Hanrahan

Dedicated to creating a dialogue about social issues, Ventura artist MB Hanrahan has been a strong advocate and creator of community public art projects. Hanrahan, who earned her masters degree in fine art from the California State University at Humboldt, has received numerous awards, grants and honors for her work.

About her current project, she says: “Taking on this project is giving us an opportunity to memorialize a neighborhood in Ventura that fell by the wayside in the name of progress. I’m grateful to have this opportunity and gratified that City has chosen to recognize the historic importance of this neighborhood.

“It is the rare person who is committed to stemming the inexorable tide of ‘Modernization’—most folks accept, even desire, the purported benefits of ‘Progress’. We as a people, however, do not have to be passive consumers of history as taught to us, nor mere observers of the history we are living. Rather, we can choose what and who become history, and make that so by creative documentation—words, songs, art, and architecture. That is the universal message that we wish to convey by telling this mural's story—the average person can make history about average people and events. Civilizations are known by the art and architecture they leave behind—such is the responsibility of engineers, government administrators and artists.

“As Moses and I focus on completing the re-created, improved, 21st century version of the Tortilla Flats Mural, it must be remembered that the formal name of this entire endeavor is the Figueroa Street Improvement Project. This public art project design, and the downtown-to-the-beach corridor development strategy have, from inception, been conceptually and financially interdependent. We believe that the Tortilla Flats Mural /Figueroa Street Improvement Project will, in this context, speak well for the City of Ventura."

Moses Mora

Born in the Tortilla Flats neighborhood and raised on Ventura Avenue in Ventura’s Westside area, community artist Moses Mora holds this project close to his heart: “For me it is all about preserving the legacy of the first neighborhood of Ventura and to continue the educational process that we started 10 years ago—to inform today’s community.

“Because we get so many visitors to Ventura, it’s also about informing people from around the world about our local history. We wanted to do this in the lifetime of the original residents because so many of them are elderly and, actually, quite a number of them have passed on since the original project. Beyond that, I hope to bring a sense of pride and history to the community.”