- Name: Kristy Sandoval
- Hometown: Pacoima
- Role: Co-founder and organizer, the Mural Mile. She’s currently putting masks on faces of murals to educate the community about their importance.
- Quote: “We’re making a public art message in the hopes we will take care of each other.”
Latest installment in a series of stories about people who have made a big difference in the community during a time framed by the coronavirus pandemic
Kristy Sandoval has made her mark on Pacoima.
For years, her work — along with a community of fellow muralists — has adorned the sides of buildings, places like barbershops, party shops, next to a gas station, where the urban landscape itself is a working canvas.
Since 2012, it’s brought needed color and symbolism to a proud working-class community, that needs messages of empowerment and education every day.
But COVID-19 has brought another blunt fact to Pacoima: some of the highest coronavirus case numbers in the county.
For Sandoval, who grew up in Pacoima, that fact has fueled her latest effort: to promote public health, creating masks to affix to the human faces on the murals that dot the community’s Mural Mile.
There she was on a recent crisp, early morning, where the side of a party supply store meets the parking area of an ARCO station along Van Nuys Boulevard, affixing a paper mask to the face of the painted Toypirina, an indigenous Tongva medicine woman. Now, in perhaps the most dangerous COVID moment, the medicine woman stares at the gas station customers as they pump, as they drive away — her eyes, beckoning in the morning rush to wear a mask.
It’s no less of a message of empowerment than it was meant to be at first, when Sandoval and a group of local female artists — The Hood Sisters (it’s “sisterhood” reversed) — created it. With its deeply rich yellows, blues and purples, anchored by Toyprina in its center, the mural was always meant to be a symbol of empowerment while honoring the area’s native origins.
Not far away, on the side of a barber shop, Sandoval’s famous “Freedom Fighter” mural of Black activist Assata Shakur remains, with its psychedelic-styled lettering and those eyes, staring out — a reminder that “the struggle” continues.
But now, in the the COVID moment, it’s about a different kind of empowerment, Sandoval said.
“By putting a mask on her, it’s putting out the message of let’s take care of each other,” she said. “We’re making a public art message in the hopes we will take care of each other.”
That message has been lacking in Pacoima, where many residents are frontline workers in the pandemic, among the most vulnerable to the disease, she said.
“My parents, they go to the store here…They are pumping gas at the local station….” she said, noting just how personal this was for her.
In conjunction with local nonprofits, like Pacoima Beautiful and Casa Esperanza, Sandoval is looking to inspire others.
Through #MaskUpPacoima, volunteers from Pacoima-based organizations, community leaders, and leaders from local nonprofits such as Pacoima Beautiful and Casa Esperanza are distributing decorated bags, with COVID-inspired zines, with coloring books in English and Spanish to inspire children and their families to follow COVID safety protocols.
On Saturday, Dec. 5, an event was planned — including the Mexican Consulate — to hand out bags containing personal protective equipment such as hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, flyers, and general COVID safety.
And, of course, there’s the murals, including planned new ones that are specific to COVID.
Sandoval said early on in her career she was more reluctant about speaking out on her art and the message — preferring to stand back and let the art itself do the talking.
But after leading the creation of Mural Mile itself, and teaching young people in the neighborhood how to do it, she’s found whole new ways to leverage her talent, and tap a younger generation of artists.
Now, she’s among the promotoras — promoting the best way she can a public health message through her art.
“We just want to do what we can to help stop the spread,” she said.