Surfing Madonna in San Diego County
In 2011, after Easter weekend, a mosaic mural appeared unannounced under a bridge in Encinitas, California, a beach town about 30 minutes north of San Diego. The 12-foot tall mosaic depicted the Virgen de Guadalupe, the Virgin Mary who was believed to have appeared before an Indian peasant named Juan Diego multiple times in Mexico City in 1531. Her image can be seen in popular culture as well as in Southern California. In this mural, she was shown riding a white surfboard with the traditional moon-bearing cherub on the board with the words “Save the Ocean” written down the side. It gained a lot of attention, with locals coming to see it in person non-stop for days. Without knowing the artist or artists who designed the mural, many believed that it was meant to be there and was dubbed the name “Surfing Madonna”. However, the city of Encinitas was not prepared to allow this unauthorized art to stay as it was considered graffiti and would intice more artists to follow. In a City Council meeting, not long after the mural’s birth, the public took to the microphone to persuade the city to keep the mural. But city officials had to order the mural’s removal as keeping it would violate the city’s graffiti ordinance as well as the state law prohibiting the government from favoring one religion over another. Before the mural was removed, the artist, Mark Patterson, revealed himself and was fined for creating the art without approval but could remove the mural and keep it in tact. With such overwhelming public support for the art, the Surfing Madonna is still displayed in Encinitas just across the street from where it was created. Not only that, the art inspired other projects aimed at promoting ocean health such as the Surfing Madonna Ocean Project, a non-profit organization that hosts a 5K, 10K, and 15K every year that was started by Patterson in 2013. This makes you wonder, how can art, that the majority of a community loved and formed a non-profit in its honor, be considered a crime?