Mural Magic New underpass art reflects diversity of Salinas community

| YOUNG VOICES MEDIA PROJECT

Article and photos by Richard Rojas

Salinas, nestled in the heart of California’s agricultural landscape, has been a magnet for murals for several decades. Breathtaking new ones reflecting the diverse spirit of the community have just been added to three freeway underpasses, either covering bare walls or enhancing murals that have existed for decades.

Two artists, MJ Lindo (@MJLindoArt) and Joshua “The Lawyer” (@JoshuaTheLawyer), have added their two cents to Salinas’ open-air gallery, showcasing the vibrant stories and voices of its residents on the 101 underpasses at East Market Street, Alisal Street and Sanborn Road.

MJ Lindo, an artist specializing in storytelling through murals, and Joshua “The Lawyer,” an artist and advocate for justice, joined forces to create art that resonates with the community, working as a team under the collective name Rough Edge Collective. Both wish to be identified solely by their artist names.

Their latest project, sponsored by Caltrans as part of a beautification program in cooperation with the Arts Council for Monterey County, involves transforming mundane walls into colorful and meaningful representations of Salinas’ past and future. The murals honor the hardworking spirit of past generations, including the immigrant story, and symbolize the wisdom passed down to future generations. One mural features a horse, representing the past, and a smaller version of the horse as a toy, passing on its wisdom to the future.

“A lot of us come here to work and provide for our families, and (the mural) is the representation of that,” Lindo said.

Funding for the mural project is solely provided by Caltrans, reflecting the state’s commitment to supporting artistic endeavors that revitalize and beautify communities. The project has also garnered support from local organizations, schools, and volunteers, who have come together to contribute to its success.  The walls of the Alisal underpass were painted by La Neta Murals, a Salinas team of muralists whose proposal was selected to bring color to the area.

Getting approval from Caltrans for the project was not without its challenges. The artists had to navigate the bureaucratic process and demonstrate how their murals would enhance the aesthetic appeal of the area while representing the community’s values.

Multiple artists have contributed their creativity to transforming Salinas’ walls. Each mural was created by different artists, adding unique perspectives to the city’s evolving artistic landscape. The East Market underpass was home to several beloved murals, including one of the Aztec Calendar by Jesús León, and another one depicting local indigenous histories by Salinas muralist Arturo Bolaños.

Why are murals such an important aspect of community? “Murals can create a sense of pride and ownership among community members and promote a positive atmosphere, making the area more welcoming and meaningful places to live,” according to an article by Australian mural artist Happy Decay. 

The transformative power of the murals goes beyond their aesthetic appeal. They serve as visual narratives, representing the cultural richness and diversity of Salinas while inspiring positive change and unity among its residents. As visitors and locals encounter the vivid displays, they are inspired to engage in conversation and connect with the stories on the walls.

The Salinas mural project stands as a testament to the transformative power of art and the positive impact it can have on a community. Through the creative vision of artists like MJ Lindo and Joshua “The Lawyer,” the city of Salinas has experienced an artistic renaissance, breathing new life into its streets and inspiring unity among its diverse residents.

A community celebration is being planned for some time in August after Caltrans finishes landscaping and lighting to complement the murals.

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About Richard Rojas

Richard Rojas graduated from Alisal High School in 2022 and is now starting his second year at San José State University. He participated in various community programs during high school including Radio Bilingüe. This is his second year with Young Voices Media Project.