Altadena coffee shop mural center of controversy

A new mural painted on the side of an Altadena coffee shop has grabbed the attention of the community, with some saying it's too "violent." 

The artwork recently went up on the wall of Unincorporated Coffee Roasters, which sits in a strip mall on Lincoln Avenue. The art depicts several black, abstract human figures, holding what appear to be weapons, engaged in a struggle. 

She' She' Yancy has lived in the area for nearly 50 years, right next to the building. Her father used to own the building. He was the first and only Black pharmacist in Altadena. In her nearly half century in the neighborhood, she said she's seen and lost family to gang violence in the area.

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"It's a gut punch every time I pull in and out of my driveway," said Yancy. "I don't need to be reminded of the bloodshed here. It just brings back that nightmare over and over again."

Cleon Peterson is the artist behind the mural, and said that was never his intent when the coffee shop chose to allow him to share his art on the wall. Peterson said his art "shows base archetypes of power and violence in the world and the potential for darkness and destruction within us all," adding that while he acknowledged that his art is "difficult" he said he wants it "to be a positive force in the world."

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Some locals said they enjoyed the mural. Tricia Culverhouse said she's not surprised the art has gotten such a vocal reaction, because "great art, that’s what it should do. I mean the idea is to get people thinking."

Some, like Juan Carlos Velasquez, said they liked the mural despite the violent imagery. "We shouldn’t hide from our history or hide from what’s happened around here if this is what people think it represents," he said. 

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Others like Ashley Guiton said the violence depicted comes off wrong.

"It is art. It probably does have a different meaning to it, probably to him," Guiton said regarding artist Peterson, "but me, as a Black folk and many other Black people, we see it as a different way… No matter what color skin you have, violence is never the answer."

Peterson stands by his work, and said that the mural "offers an opportunity to examine ourselves, our actions and lives, and how we treat those around us."

He called it "sad that, in this case, the work has been used by a small group of people in the neighborhood as a platform to be divisive and destructive, which contradicts its original intent in every way." 

Despite the controversy, the mural is not permanent. It will only remain up for a year. But still several in the community want it taken down sooner than later.