It costs residents $25 for a Mission Hills Town Council membership, and that’s a total bargain, considering the power it buys. When it was announced that Vons would be tearing down its old store and replacing it with a new one, the Town Council made sure that its community’s needs were met by forming a partnership with the chain grocery store that gave members a say in the structure’s design.
Mark Fehlman, the Town Council’s former president of two years, says the group is slowly funding new public-art projects in the neighborhood, the Vons mural—an enlarged image by local urban-landscape photographer, Philipp Scholz Rittermann— being the most recent example.
“There’s a lot of people getting behind it,” Fehlman says of public art and the creative use of space in the community. He says it’s not just Town Council members getting involved.
When Brooklyn Girl Eatery had its soft opening earlier this summer, he says, owners Victoria and Michael McGeath donated $13,000 in profits to the Town Council so that it can maintain existing community art projects and add new flair.
In early July, the community group approved a mural for the west-facing side of M-Theory Music by artists Jonny Alexander and Celeste Byers. They started painting on July 27 and will finish the 15-by-30-foot wall by Aug. 6. Alexander and Byers—both of whose work has been featured on CityBeat’s cover—are friends with Fehlman’s son Drew, and with their zine, Sioux Magazine, available for free at M-Theory, the project quickly fell into place. Fehlman says the artists’ plans were approved in just four days.
“The big idea we brought up to the Town Council is the importance of spreading new art throughout the community. Mission Hills is kind of a stronghold where young artists haven’t infiltrated,” Alexander says.
“There were a couple of young people at the Town Council meeting,” Byers recalls. “At one point, they yelled, ‘We’re the next generation!’”
Along with the Town Council’s approval came supply money. Now, the artists are busily painting the wall, mostly at night, before Byers’ next art show in San Francisco and when Alexander has to travel outside of San Diego for work.
To design the mural, the friends started sketching separately before combining their work. They know each other’s styles, Byers says, and both enjoy painting landscapes and nature with “weird patterns” throughout. “It’s how we envision the world, taking its natural processes and breaking them down, interpreting them our way,” Byers says of the spacey scape’s inspiration.
“This is art for art’s sake,” says Rick Tyner, M-Theory’s manager, who coordinated the project. “And, hopefully, it ends up helping our visibility.” Tyner commends the Town Council for approving the project, and he hopes for many more.
“There’s the library, music store, and soon there will be art—all on this corner,” Alexander says, and that’s something he and Byers are particularly proud of.
Byers recalls a Town Council meeting in which one of the members played devil’s advocate just for fun, asking the question, But what if people don’t get it?
“I said, ‘Art isn’t about being told what to paint,’” she says.
Listing examples like the new Vons, the mural at Pioneer Park and the ATM-machine-turned coffee-cart on Goldfinch Street and Fort Stockton Drive, Fehlman says the Town Council is ultimately concerned with the community’s identity and what sets it apart from other San Diego neighborhoods.
“Independent expression makes communities unique,” he says. “That’s why, along with local businesses, we’re in support of it—so that people who live here have a sense of independence from the rest of San Diego.”
The Town Council encourages anyone with ideas for further beautification to visit missionhillstown council.org and submit them for review.