The user-generated website Mural Locator was created to situate works of two-dimensional public art at any location in the world–provided of course that it’s accessible on Google Maps. Though seemingly designed specifically for the geographical cataloging of official and historical public murals primarily in the United States (where its administrators are based), it has taken on the added function of a dynamic street art and graffiti map, in addition to displaying a third category of other works not strictly within the scope of its original mission like private murals and public artworks that aren’t strictly murals per se. These flexible and adaptive applications are symptomatic of the projects’ strengths and weaknesses, its ease of use and parallel lack of specificity. I will offer a brief account of the project’s greatest assets and shortcomings before suggesting some helpful lessons for my own project taken from this analysis and possible upgrades to Mural Locator.


The site’s greatest assets are its ease of use and visual legibility. Though it’s not immediately apparent that the landing page features the most recently added mural photos, which can be explored laterally, once on the “Map” page one understands almost immediately how to navigate the system, which is built in Google Maps. Red dots of varying sizes with numbers indicate concentrations of murals, and these spread out into individual and more specifically triangulated markers as one zooms into an area. One can click on a marker and see a small image of the mural along with the user-submitted title. From there, by clicking for more information, one accesses an individual mural’s page, which has a unique URL, and features all the information submitted by the user, including a larger version of the photograph and any additional information about the artist, specific piece, its location and the photographer, in addition to the submitter’s user name, when the mural was added to the map, and various social networking buttons. A very simple commenting system allows for feedback (or spam).

A similarly straightforward submission page allows users to add to the map very quickly, with a bare minimum requirement of their name, email address, a sufficiently large image of the mural in question (at least 800 by 500 pixels) and its location. Additional, optional information fields include the artist’s name and website address, the user’s website, the mural’s title and a description for which there seems to be no word limit–it’s not immediately clear whether it allows for HTML coding. For a project that depends to a large extent on user interaction and participation–notwithstanding the administrators’ contributions, which are not insignificant–the ease of the submission process is crucial. It is also one of Mural Locator’s greatest problem areas.


The inability of adding any other information or data is very problematic for a number of reasons. Granted, the streamlining of user-generated information serves a practical function of not overwhelming the casual user, but it also limits the extent of engagement. Additional data like the duration of a mural (especially pertinent for street and graffiti art murals, whose frequent illegality limits their lifespans), the possibility of multiple artists, the organization, institution, group or corporation that commissioned the piece, the category of work under which it falls (historical mural, school mural, graffiti, memorial, etc.), materials used, style, dominant color, subject matter and many more fields are missing, relegated to the amorphous “Description of Mural” section. A related problem is the lack of transparency in the submission process. When one submits a mural, provided all required information is provided, an email message is sent to the user, informing her or him of receipt, and that the information will be reviewed for approval and publishing on the site. What exactly the criteria for review will be, who will be administering them, how long the process will take and whether or not notification will be sent are questions left completely unaddressed. The administrators do keep a blog of sorts, although this mostly chronicles news about murals in the Eastern United States.

Lessons and Adjustments

The minimal amount of information brought up by clicking on a map marker is indicative of the project’s strengths, its focus on images of murals, and this seems pertinent to my own map project on walking tours. Though I’m still uncertain as to how much information ought to be included in each point on my map–it seems clear, though, that my map will feature series of points linked by trajectories representing the sites and linking paths of various tours–I’m very weary of including too much in a small pop-up window, and find the idea of an image and title appealing. The simple submission process suggests the inherent ease of locating one specific image in a place, and the difficulty of creating a string of points along a line, each with their own data. Clearly, as with Mural Locator, data provided by users submitting walking tours to my project will need to be collected, reviewed and curated in the clearest manner possible. A more direct form of user feedback than comments in the event of errors or changes is also essential.

The blending of periods and functions, and the challenge of distinguishing between them underline the importance of some kind of time-based navigation in my project, as well as categories and tags. These would be immensely helpful in providing alternative modes of exploration. This site, like my project, at times involves moving above and below street level, so some indicator of altitude, a fully three dimensional mapping experience, would enrich both maps immensely. Similarly, the impossibility of navigating Mural Locator through Google’s Street View function seems a drastic shortcoming, and one that will hopefully not be imposed upon my walking tour map project. An added function to this project, which relates to my own, is the inability for users to create itineraries. Street art and mural tours are quite common, and it would be very valuable for users to be able to create itineraries that could then be exported to portable devices, printed or made available to others. Similarly, my project may benefit from a similar degree of creative interactivity.