18-meter Greta Thunberg mural brings flood of controversy & commentary

18-meter Greta Thunberg mural brings flood of controversy & commentaryCompleted mural of Greta Thunberg | Photo: One Atmosphere / Twitter
Sasha Perigo
Published on November 14, 2019

On Tuesday evening, nonprofit One Atmosphere dedicated a completed mural of teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg at 414 Mason Street.

The dedication was accompanied by a “Greta-inspired” performance by the San Francisco Brass Ensemble, written by San Francisco Symphony’s Jonathan Ring.

The formidable 18-by-9 meter mural has generated a lot of discussion online. Criticism of the mural on social media took many forms. Some accused the city of San Francisco for paying for the mural with money they could have used to take action on climate change. Others wondered if Greta herself would approve of the mural, as she has rejected idolatry. There were questions about whether spray paint used to create the mural could itself generate dangerous emissions. Some have even said the mural looks like Vladimir Putin.

Who paid for the mural, and what were their goals?

The completed mural, which reaches to the top of the Native Sons building, measures 18 x 9 meters | Photo: One Atmosphere / Instagram

Like most murals in San Francisco, the Thunberg mural was not paid for by the city. It was commissioned by a volunteer-run nonprofit One Atmosphere, which works on educational projects related to climate change.

Paul Scott, One Atmosphere’s Executive Director, told Hoodline the mural has been in the works for over a year. The first step was securing an artist and a location for the artwork.

One Atmosphere approached Argentinian artist Andres Petreselli, who signs his work as Cobre, to complete the project. Cobre is well known for his large scale portraiture. A Cobre mural of Robin Williams' eyes was previously on display in mid-Market.

Cobre donated his time to complete the mural, while One Atmosphere donated paint. The decision from Cobre was particularly notable, because he doesn’t usually address politics in his work.

“I feel connected with the politics behind [it] because I think it is real and if I have to compare it with the rest of my murals, this is the most political one that I ever made,” the artist told Reuters.

The mural adorns the side of the Native Sons building, which houses concert venue August Hall. One Atmosphere's proposal was rejected by multiple building owners, so Scott said he was “thrilled” when the Native Sons Building came onboard.

The Native Sons Building | Photo: Carrie Sisto / Hoodline

Scott said that the One Atmosphere team is aware that Thunberg is not “looking for fanfare.”

“[T]he surprising reality is that many people on the street have never heard of her,” Scott told Hoodline. “So if this mural makes more people aware of Greta and her message, then we are helping, because she is an extremely powerful voice for change.”

Despite her explicit requests for supporters to avoid idolatry in the climate movement, San Francisco is not the first city to feature a mural of Thunberg. Large scale murals of Thunberg have popped up in a handful of cities internationally, including Istanbul, Alberta, and Bristol.

Thunberg’s team did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The beginning stages of the mural, with only rolled acrylic paint | Photo: One Atmosphere / Instagram

As for spray paint being harmful to the environment, One Atmosphere thought ahead. On their Instagram, the organization explained that most of the mural was completed with acrylic exterior paint rolled onto the building by hand. Though some of the mural’s details can only be completed with spray cans, the spray cans used do not contain the harmful chloroflurocarbons and are “low pressure cans with a minimal carbon footprint.”

One Atmosphere’s Thunberg mural is the first project in a campaign to create murals of climate activists across the city. Scott was secretive about where these projects might be located, but asked people to stay tuned at One Atmosphere.org.