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USC students fight to keep public art alive in L.A.

USC Price School students
Sabha Salamah ’12, left, and senior Karina Casillas are defending public art through M.U.R.A.L. Project LA.

To USC’s Karina Casillas and Sabha Salamah ’12, art is a language — a language quashed in Los Angeles for a decade. So they decided to do something about it.

Casillas and Salamah started M.U.R.A.L. Project LA, an initiative that documents the murals of Los Angeles to show the importance of public art through civic engagement.

On April 5 they’ll attend The Next List Summit, a national showcase for innovation by college students, to talk about their work. They’re also scheduled to appear at 11:30 a.m. PDT April 7 on CNN’s The Next List, which documents up-and-coming visionaries across the country.

See photos from the CNN shoot:


M.U.R.A.L. stands for Maintenance of Urban Real Art in Los Angeles, and it grew out of the students’ participation in “Celebrating Leadership for a Post-Partisan Age,” the inaugural class from the new USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy.

Taught by the institute’s academic director, Nancy Staudt, the class challenged students to push for change on a policy issue important to them. The young women, both of the USC Price School of Public Policy, were united by their desire to defend the place of murals in Los Angeles’ landscape.

In October, the women went downtown to City Hall with other public art advocates to testify in packed council chambers in favor of a proposed ordinance that aimed to bring about a public art renaissance in the city. It would allow murals to be legally created on private property — a first since the city outlawed street art in 2002 as part of an all-out ban on anything that could be construed as outdoor advertising.

The ordinance passed, a feat documented and celebrated on the group’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. The pair later presented their work at a USC Schwarzenegger Institute symposium.

USC senior Casillas, a native of Santa Ana, Calif., is a Polymathic Fellow and McNair Scholar, while Salamah, of West Covina, Calif., has interned at law firms and government relations organizations. As both apply to graduate schools, they plan to continue their mural project, bound by their passion for visual expression.

To submit your own photos to their project, join them on Instagram at @muralprojectla or send photos to

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USC students fight to keep public art alive in L.A.

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