Community members and staff agreed to revitalize and add nine figures to the 1978 “Song of Unity” mural at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley.
After years of withstanding sun and rain there was a call for work on the structure and resuscitation of the facade.
Choosing to renew the mural took inward dialogue between La Peña staff and the community that supports and serves it. La Peña originally announced the mural would be replaced entirely in mid-2012.
“There hadn’t been a discussion with the closest members of the La Peña community let alone the community as a whole,” said Marci Valdivieso, a longtime community member and performer at La Peña. “I remember being a child and feeling like this was home and … you can’t just take down the wall from my home.”
After months of meetings between an ad-hoc community committee and La Peña, an agreement was reached that the original figures would be kept and that all funds for the renewal would be raised by the committee.
“We sent out a petition and got 400 signatures. We showed La Peña that there are all these people interested in keeping the ‘Song of Unity’ in concept and content,” said Valdivieso.
Community members were asked to submit names of artists and activists to be entered in a random drawing. On Feb. 8, Jon Fromer, Florence Reece, Juana de la Cruz, Miguel Enriquez, Hilda Ferrada and Rosa Quintreman were drawn. La Peña staff requested adding Mercedes Sosa and June Jordan, while the committee added former Chilean president Salvador Allende, overthrown by a military coup.
La Peña was founded in response to the U.S.-backed coup in Chile that began the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and disappearance of thousands of Chileans. It became a metaphorical home for immigrants like Valdivieso’s father, musician Rafael Manriquez, who fled from the Chilean dictatorship. The mural is symbolic of solidarity during turmoil.
The mural balances politically and culturally inspirational figures from Latin and North America—with Victor Jara and Pablo Neruda to the left and Paul Robeson and Malvina Reynolds to the right. Conjoining the artists are sacred birds representing North, Central, and South America—the bald eagle, the quetzal, and the condor respectively.
Leading the renewal along with Cristian Muñoz and Maria Guzman is one of the four original muralists, Ray Patlan.
“We’re doing studies on portraits right now … and the bodies with some of the shaping need to change too,” said Patlan in his studio.
Currently the committee is working toward raising $26,000 that would cover costs of labor, construction and supplies.
“We don’t have any foundation money. We’re determined to pay the muralists for their time, but that can only happen if the fundraising is successful,” said Valdivieso.
Already through the community’s donation of service, mural costs have been cut in half. The grassroots efforts are characteristic of the La Peña community’s past endeavors and successes.
The next fundraiser concert will be on March 16, 8 p.m., Cantoras for Song of Unity, with Lichi Fuentes, Holly Near, Avotcja, Mochi Parra, and Linda Tillery. See Lapena.org for updates on fundraiser concerts in April and May. Donations accepted through the Indiegogo campaign Song of Unity Mural Renewal 2013.