This dissertation is about the uses and function of public art and makes the argument that public art should be viewed as an historical project. When developed within the framework of a collaborative community project with a thoughtful consideration to the experiences, values, and aspirations of community members, these projects challenge neocolonial tenets of exploitative labor conditions, racism, homophobia and sexism. By imagining public art as an innovative process that crosses the boundaries of social justice, history, and collective memory, Judith F. Baca established, and the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) employed a form of remembering that served as an essential component to understanding how communities envisioned themselves, their struggles, and their ability to transform history.
Reimaging certain flashpoints in U.S. history through the historical projects of public murals urges a more nuanced consideration of the past that dislodges narratives of de jure and de facto discrimination and racial violence. What results from this reconsideration is a construction of multiple histories that challenge universally venerated, yet often distorted legacies of this nation. This dissertation also makes the claim that Baca has spent a lifetime developing a process that at its core is a voice of the people and that speaks for the community. It is a process that has been refined over decades and a process that this is still being shared with the future generations of artists and activists. Chronicling her work and understanding her artistic and political ethos also demonstrate how she broke with a long line of prolific and respected artists in an effort to build broader and more inclusive opportunities for her community.