Almost any casual stroll through the Mission District can result in a face full of high-grade graffiti, such as the glorious, blow-you-off-your-feet lettering jewels that recently appeared on a disreputable stretch of Florida Street at 16th. But you don't have to hunt the streets to find good public art. Mural-drenched Balmy and Clarion are two havens of vibrant urban paintings that have been granted a pass as part of the city's “beautification” efforts. The delightfully brick-paved Balmy came of age in 1984, when Ray Patlan spearheaded the creation of more than 20 murals on the struggle in Central America. Some of those still remain, as does the protest edge under the guidance of Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center. Clarion Alley, which ramped up in 1992 under the Clarion Alley Mural Project, is more edgy (it used to be a spot for drug use), showcasing styles as varied as anything in the nearby Valencia Street galleries — venues that, over time, have featured work by many alley artists.
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