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Precita Eyes Paints The Histories of Mission District Citizens

We're all guilty of sometimes forgetting the pure beauty of the city we're blessed to live in. The quickest cure for that is to take a walk down 24th Street and let yourself go in the sea of smells, sounds, and the colors that make this beating heart of the Mission not only vibrant and gorgeous, but world-renowned to boot. Walls, storefronts, city-owned utility boxes and even entire building facades burst forth with bright designs and murals that all tell the stories of those who've painted them. Behind this neighborhood awash in public art is the amazing non-profit Precita Eyes.

Housed in an eye-popping, solid-blue Victorian on 24th and Harrison, the Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors' Center is a passionate collective of mural artists and educators who are famous for creating community through art since 1977. In a single year, they'll design dozens and dozens of publicly and privately-commissioned murals (one of the oldest forms of painting in the world) in whimsical colors that shine spotlights on the daily struggles and triumphs of both those who paint them and those who walk past them every day.

At the center of it all is Balmy Alley, a cherished one-block road near Precita Eyes' HQ that is stuffed with 40 individual murals. Artists negotiate with homeowners when new murals go up, or come down. The projects can either be a solo venture or a team effort done by anyone who wants to join and learn from a master muralist.

The first one, painted in 1971 by grade-schoolers, is no longer there. Many that remain are politically-charged and depict the strife that many citizens of the Mission left behind in their home countries, like El Salvador and Nicaragua. The result is an ever-evolving street gallery–as walls and fences crumble and new ones are built–that people from all over the world come to see. In my tour group alone, there were three people from China.

But Precita Eyes is about so much more than just art. While it's their work that draws us in, what they do is give a voice to many who may not otherwise have one. The organization exposes the rich histories (and hardships) of the people who make the Mission the Mission, and connects them to the rest of us.

You can take tours of Balmy Alley, learn the stories behind a ton of other Mission District murals, and the golden age of muralism in Mexico (which directly lead to the mural movement here in SF) thanks to tour coordinator,  accomplished mural artist and all-around gentle soul Patricia Rose, who's tirelessly worked at Precita Eyes since 1980. Grab a burrito beforehand on a sunny day and let her lead you through the neighborhood. Inside Precita Eyes, you can get art supplies, scope out their art gallery, and take workshops on mural and mosaic making.

Photography by Joseph Schell