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Shell Beach artist raising transgender awareness with mural

New mural in Shell Beach to raise transgender awareness

Local artist and filmmaker Ben Froncowiak is painting a mural in Shell Beach that he hopes will help raise awareness for transgender rights. The mural was partially completed during filming.
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Local artist and filmmaker Ben Froncowiak is painting a mural in Shell Beach that he hopes will help raise awareness for transgender rights. The mural was partially completed during filming.

In downtown Shell Beach, where murals of surfers and ocean scenes line many of the buildings, a different kind of subject is being painted onto the side of one business.

Ben Fronckowiak, an aspiring filmmaker and artist, is halfway through a 12-foot mural on the side of Smith Towne Gallery that features an “Alice in Wonderland”-style queen — a slightly surreal, larger-than-life woman wearing a crown — as a way to raise awareness for transgender and transsexual issues.

“I know that it is something small, and I’m just starting out, but I wanted it to be something to empower people ... basically just to be themselves, be individuals (and) don’t feel like they ever need to be stuck,” he said.

Fronckowiak said he became involved in trans rights while attending the UCLA School of Film and Television. While in school, he began filming backstage at The Palms Bar, a well-known LGBT hangout in West Hollywood, before it shut its doors in 2013.

“It was interesting because I realized it was hard enough for a heterosexual person to find a lasting relationship, so how hard must it be for a trans person?” he said. “Being there was a huge impact on my painting and my art.”

I wanted it to be something to empower people.

Ben Fronckowiak, Shell Beach

Fronckowiak is still working on a documentary highlighting the love lives of trans performers using the footage he shot during that time, but he said he has since reached a point where it became too expensive to produce. In response, he started a GoFundMe crowdfunding account to help raise money to produce the film, called “Women of The Palms,” which he hopes to use to help raise further awareness for trans issues.

When the documentary is completed, Fronckowiak hopes to take it to film festivals and use it to spur awareness of the lives of an underrepresented population.

On Wednesday, “The Queen” was missing her crown as Fronckowiak had yet to add hair and the signature headpiece — but even without the decorations, she still cut an imposing figure.

He said the piece has drawn positive comments from people walking and driving past, including from kids walking to Shell Beach Elementary School in the mornings.

“That’s cool, you know?” he said. “Because when a kid says they like something, they’re not lying about it. They really actually like it.”

Fronckowiak also noted he especially enjoyed the kids’ responses because he once was one of them. He attended Shell Beach Elementary School in sixth grade and walked the same path those kids take each day.

“I was that kid walking back and forth,” he said. “So it’s kind of weird. It’s like, ‘What if I was still that kid and then seeing this painting, then what would I think?’ 

He expects the mural to be completed this week.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

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