Balmy Alley is a one-block-long alley that is home to the most concentrated collection of murals in the city of San Francisco. It is located in the south central portion of the Inner Mission District between 24th Street and Garfield Square. Since 1973, every building on the street has been decorated with a mural. Artists who have produced murals in the alley include Juana Alicia, Susan Kelk Cervantes, Brooke Francher, Miranda Bergman, Osha Neuman, Carlos Loarca, and Xochitl Nevel-Guerrero.
The earliest murals in the alley date to 1972, painted by Maria Galivez and children in a local child care center. Artists Patricia Rodriquez and Graciela Carillo had rented an apartment on Balmy Alley and painted their first mural in the Alley, a jungle-underwater scene, in 1973. Their two-woman team soon expanded and became known as Las Mujeres Muralistas. Fellow member Irene Perez painted her own mural on the alley in 1973, depicting two back-to-back figures painting flutes.
In 1984, Ray Patlan spearheaded the PLACA project to install murals throughout the alley featuring the common theme of a celebration of indigenous Central American cultures and a protest of US intervention in Central America. Topics of the murals included the Nicaraguan revolution, Óscar Romero, and the Guatemalan civil war. This culminated in the addition of twenty-seven murals during the summer of 1985, funded in part by a grant of $2,500 from the Zellerbach Foundation. This art project proved influential, inspiring the La Lucha Continua Art Park/La Lucha Mural Park in New York City the following year. Painting continues regularly in the alley, including a restoration of one the PLACA murals in 2014.
The Balmy Alley murals have been described, along with San Diego's Chicano Park and Los Angeles' Estrada Courts, as a leading example of Chicano mural environments giving expression to a history of displacement and marginalization traditionally experienced by Mexicans and Chicanos of the United States, and as a means to reclaim the spaces historically denied to them.
- Ochoa, María (2003). Creative Collectives: Chicana Painters Working in Community. UNM Press. pp. 38–41. ISBN 978-0-8263-2110-7.
- Salvioni, Daniela; Fuller, Diana Burgess (2002). Art, women, California 1950-2000: parallels and intersections. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 179–180. ISBN 0-520-23066-3.
- Jacoby, Annice, ed. (2009). Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo. New York: Abrams Books. pp. 103–111. ISBN 9780810996359.
- Peters, Nancy J.; Brook, James; Carlsson, Chris (1998). Reclaiming San Francisco: history, politics, culture: a City Lights anthology. San Francisco: City Lights. pp. 235, 236. ISBN 0-87286-335-2.
- Jones, Carolyn (2014-09-09). "Mission District mural fades after 30 years, but message doesn't". SFGate. Retrieved 2014-10-12.
- Latorre, Guisela (2008). Walls of empowerment: Chicana/o indigenist murals of California. Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 30–31. ISBN 0-292-71906-X.
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