By Jenny Steinbeck
World-renowned muralist and California State University, Northridge, distinguished alumna Judy Baca ’69 (Art), M.A. ’80 (Art), Hon.D. ’18 was honored March 21 with the National Medal of Arts, in a ceremony at the White House. President Joe Biden presented the medal — the highest honor given to artists and arts patrons by the U.S. government — to Baca in a ceremony in the East Room. First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman and fellow Matador Doug Emhoff ’87 (Communication Studies) were present for the ceremony, which honored 21 people and two organizations with the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medals.
The ceremony and the medal put Baca in company with some of the nation’s most famous artists and faces — including actresses Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Mindy Kaling, designer Vera Wang, author Amy Tan and singers Gladys Knight and Bruce Springsteen.
“We’re a great nation, in large part, because of the power of the arts and humanities that is stamped into the DNA of America,” Biden said.
The president introduced each recipient and described their work and role in the American arts and humanities landscape. He described each honoree as “masters of your craft.” Of Baca, Biden said, she is “bringing public spaces to life … [an artist] who has made a canvas out of our communities all across America, especially her beloved Los Angeles. Her groundbreaking murals depict the strength and scope of human nature and tell the forgotten stories … and tell the fuller story of who we are as Americans.”
As Biden presented Baca with the medal, a military aide read the following citation:
“Judith Francisca Baca: for her monumental impact on public art in America, Judith Francisca Baca’s collaborative work has turned forgotten histories into public memory, pioneering an art form that empowers communities to reclaim public space with dignity and pride.”
After embracing the president, Baca turned to face the audience and showed her medal to the audience and the other honorees.
The National Medal of Arts “honors outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of arts in the United States,” Biden said.
Baca founded L.A.’s Citywide Mural Program and the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC). She is perhaps best known for supervising the creation of “The Great Wall of Los Angeles,” a mural that is the world’s largest. At more than 2,700 feet in length, it beautifies a flood control channel near Valley College.
Baca graduated from what was then San Fernando Valley State College with a bachelor’s degree in art. She followed that up with a master’s degree in art from CSUN in 1980. In 2015, CSUN recognized Baca for her contributions to society with a Distinguished Alumni Award. She also received the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2017. In 2018, CSUN’s Mike Curb College of the Arts, Media, and Communication granted her an honorary doctorate.
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