If you stand at the southeast corner of Haight and Pierce, you might run into the very people whom Kate Deciccio painted on the walls of the corner building. There's the little girl who rides her scooter in the neighborhood. There's the older guy who sells Street Sheet. And there's the host of other people — including three young taggers, and a young African-American pianist — who live in the Lower Haight and are central to the large artwork that Deciccio painted a year ago. The work's biggest image, though, is of the late Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, Africa's best-known environmental activist. None of the people in Deciccio's street art are named on the building — an omission that's partly designed to prompt curiosity in passersby, and dialogue.
"The most interesting art is art where people feel they're in on something, and that brings people together to talk about what's going on with it," says Deciccio, who collaborated on the work with another artist, Delvin Kenobe Leake (he did the colorful background imagery). "While we were painting, a lot of people took great interest in figuring out who everyone was. All the people who really know everyone in that mural live right in the Lower Haight. So if you're a person who's curious about that mural, and want to know who the people are — you don't need to go to a key on the side of the mural. You just need to talk to people in the neighborhood, and they'll tell you."
Deciccio was commissioned by the apartment building's owner, who was tired of having the property randomly tagged. So far, so good. Since Deciccio's and Leake's panorama first appeared, the building has remained tag-free. Since then, Deciccio has, in collaboration with artist Ronnie Goodman, put up a similar mural on the walls of Two Jack's Nik's Place (401 Haight) that features other local residents. Many of Deciccio's subjects are non-white. Deciccio, 33, has done other public work around the Bay Area, and for years has led art projects in prisons and psychiatric hospitals. She always interviews the people she portrays.
"All my work is really steeped in community dialogue," says Deciccio, who lives in Oakland. "The Lower Haight is a neighborhood that's changed tons. And it's a neighborhood that's seen a lot of violence. And it's a neighborhood where kids — particularly youth of color — have been criminalized. It's really common that we see criminalized images of youth of color. The mural shows adults and kids as contributors to the identity of their community."
And those contributors include the depicted taggers. "We thought it'd be fun, and also tongue-in-cheek, to include the issue of tagging," Deciccio says. "The city is spending so much money freaking out about kids who are tagging. While we were painting the mural, actual kids who had tagged that wall — teenagers who were [street] writers in the neighborhood — came and saw that we were using good, high-quality spray paint. They were excited. We asked them to paint the mural with us. A great way to make sure that murals don't get tagged is to include everyone in the process. There are a lot of teenagers in the Lower Haight who are [street] writers. And that's a contribution to their community."