What Happened to the ILSP Mural?

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White wall

This white wall once featured a living and thriving mural. It was as beautiful as it was inspirational, with a positive message that gave you a warm-fuzzy feeling as you stepped away. That’s not an easy thing to achieve in this part of the city.

The mural was sponsored by the Independent Living Skills Teen Center (ILSP), a non-profit that works to accomplish something also not easily achieved anywhere; the center “helps teens in foster care develop the skills they need in order to live successfully once they leave the foster care system.” Their mural was created in 2004 by students from ILSP in collaboration with muralists from Precita Eyes.

Each morning the sun that rose over San Francisco would slowly creep its way down the mural’s surface, adding sunlight and contrast to the shade created by the garage across the street until, for just a few hours each day, it would be fully lit and glowing, like an athlete in her prime.

On foggy and rainy days the mural would hide much of its brilliance but none of its heart, like a beautiful woman wearing a veil. And within a few days, as is customary in San Francisco, the sun would return to feed and refurbish the sun-hungry paint.

ILSP mural

The ILSP mural was cheery and upbeat, with a youthful energy enhanced by colorful optimism, making it very different from everything else at the humble and practically hidden Clinton Park/Valencia Street Mural Gallery.

Unlike framed art, which is always seen under controlled conditions, street art is experienced under unpredictable and changing circumstances, much like you’d experience a living person or animal. The ILSP mural was a friendly encounter, as far as murals go.

In contrast to the typical gallery or museum experience, in which you’re usually given ideal lighting and viewing distance, street art is seen from odd angles, in rain or snow, by street lights and flashing car lights, and sometimes with parked cars and motorcycles in the way. This adds an unpredictable element to the experience; as if parts of your favorite novel or movie were rewritten for each time you read or viewed them. It also adds a challenging factor to a loving photographer.

The VALENCIA/CLINTON PARK STREET MURAL GALLERY features a block-long assortment of murals and graffiti, though with considerably less impact, controversy and public fanfare than CLARION ALLEY just over a half mile away, but it provides a relevant addition to what I call the VALENCIA/15THART-CHIPELAGO, and makes for a stimulating walkthrough experience.


Last April I photographed the ILSP mural as I walked by early one morning. I went back days later and photographed it again under proper sunlight. It was at this time that I happily discovered the rest of the murals on Clinton Park and on Stevenson, which include some stunning work by local artist Amanda Lynn and others.

A few months later I was surprised to discover that the ILSP mural had been tagged, but expected some kind of effort to save it from whomever it was that saved city-funded murals.

I had enjoyed the familiar roundness of the tags on garage doors and unwilling business windows before, but this time it felt oppressive and idiotic, as if a completely separate subtext was just beyond my field of view and I could only see the stupidity of it all… Some destruction is senseless… the result of idiotic male ambition… our history is replete with acts of violence against people too weak to properly defend themselves, and this seemed to resemble such an act.

Still, there had to be more to it…

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