You see them on the sides of buildings, beneath bridges, in subway stations, around schools and on just about any other man-made surface that has space for a coat of paint. Murals are some of the largest and most prevalent works of public art — and in Ventura County, they can be found from the beach to the hillsides and every space in between. 

The murals that dot downtown Santa Paula tell the history of that town in pictures, while more recent works installed by students participating in the Oxnard Housing Authority Resident Services La Colonia Youth Summer Mural Project are connecting their ancestral culture with their experiences today . . . and pointing toward a future they envision for themselves and their community. 

Artist MB Hanrahan has been involved in numerous mural projects around the county, and sees them in many ways as “a voice for the people.” 

“It’s a medium for the underrepresented — which is very traditional,” she explains. “They write their meanings right on the wall.”

And tell their stories, too.One major example of this is the Tortilla Flats project, conceived, designed and installed by Hanrahan and Moses Mora. Mounted beneath the 101 Freeway at Figueroa Street, the numerous panels represent slices of life from Tortilla Flats, the neighborhood that once thrived in this section of Ventura and that was displaced by the freeway in the 1950s. Most Tortilla Flats residents relocated to the Westside and other parts of Ventura, but the story of the community itself endures through the murals. 

The Tortilla Flats project was enormous, and while Hanrahan and Mora led the effort, numerous artists,organizations and community members were involved. Mural projects are like that. The sheer size of a wall, as well as its public nature, creates an opportunity to involve others in the process, making murals a powerful tool for building community.

Nowhere do you see this more clearly than in the One-Block-At-A-Time Facade and Mural Beautification Program. 

“That’s the whole point —partnership and collaborative effort,” says Jackie Pearce, executive director of Ventura’s Westside Community Development Corporation, which launched the program in 2016 along with Jim Rice, then the executive director of the Bell Arts Factory. The program aimed to encourage business owners to improve their properties through artwork, lighting, trash cans, etc. The WCDC helped connect owners with artists, assisted in navigating the city’s permitting process and finding materials, and sometimes provided matching funds as well. “Oaxaca to Ventura” (co-created by MB Hanrahan, Rolando Sigüenza and Uriel Leon) across from the Bell Arts Factory and Lisa Kelly’s “Pollinator Series” on the Avenue Center are two works of art that came out of this initiative. 

Murals do more than just beautify the neighborhood. Often they encourage other improvements — better lighting, repaired walls and windows, cleaner streets — that address blight.When one business owner gets a facelift, others often feel inspired to follow suit. Gradually, the entire neighborhood might become safer, more walkable and generally a more pleasant place for residents to shop and mingle. Artists receive payment and an audience for their work; businesses earn more money;residents take pride in where they live. Everybody wins . . . and it all starts with some paint on a wall.

As we at the VCReporter have seen so many murals going up the last few months — including a few just steps away from our offices in Downtown Ventura — we’ve become inspired to document these large-scale, open-air forms of expression through our latest initiative, the Mural Project. With this we hope to create a catalog of murals found across Ventura County with an online archive that includes an image as well as the location and as much other identifying information (artists, date, inspiration)as we are able to gather. We will continue to add to this over time, and occasionally showcase work in our print edition.

We could use your help. If you see a mural not already part of our Mural Project, take a photo and send it in,including the location and any other information. If you know something we don’t about a mural we have archived online, let us know and we’ll update our records. Hot tip on something in the works? Drop us a line. Are you an artist who has a mural to include? We’d love to see it.

“It seems to me that people put art on walls to humanize their space,” Hanrahan says. “When you open an art history book, the first images you’re going to be introduced to are cave paintings.” 

We are far from the cave today,but the desire to leave a mark where we live and work endures. We hope to celebrate that impulse through the Mural Project.

The Mural Project is our visual record of the murals across Ventura County. View murals currently cataloged at VCMuralProject.com. If you have pictures or information on other murals to be included, or additional information on the murals already cataloged, please email us at editorial@vcreporter.com.