City Combats Graffiti, Blight With Art

// Tacoma Murals Project artists create murals reflecting the character of the community

Tacoma’s one-time targets for vandalism and graffiti are slowly going by the wayside as a result of a few dedicated artists. In partnership with the Tacoma Murals Project, area artists are coming together to create murals using designs that reflect the unique characteristics of the community.

Two murals were created over the summer and unveiled last week at Bergerson Terrace apartments and the South 43rd Street bridge. These sites, once seen as blank slates for taggers, graffiti artists and thrill seekers, are now colorful, creative pieces of art produced by experienced mural artists and novices alike.

“Mural painting is very different from studio painting, and not just in terms of scale,” said Naomi Strom-Avila, cultural arts specialist for the City of Tacoma. “The idea of creating a mural also involves gathering community input and coming up with a design that fits the location.”

Mural sites are selected in areas historically targeted for vandalism and graffiti, or areas that are lacking public art. This type of addition to a community has the potential to activate a neighborhood by bringing residents together. “We’ve seen in past projects that it gives people an excuse to talk to each other and share their ideas,” Strom-Avila said. “People develop a sense of pride for their community, and that’s important.”

The Tacoma Murals Project also includes an educational component to teach talented, established artists about the process of working with residents to create a high-quality mural using community input.

“We saw this project as a great learning opportunity for local artists,” Strom-Avila said, noting the extensive front-end work involved before the painting even begins. “The input artists look for is more than just ‘What do you want to see in a mural’? The artists try to fully understand the needs of the community, and ask for residents’ vision for the neighborhood and what they ideally want their community to look like.”

The project itself stemmed out of Tacoma’s Safe, Clean and Attractive initiative to make the city safer by reducing crime, and cleaner by removing debris and nuisances. The Graffiti Reduction Through Community-Based Art program was created in 2009 in conjunction with these efforts. Since then, the artists involved in the project have created nine murals total, with another five planned for next year.

Lead artist Jeremy Gregory worked on the Bergerson Terrace mural, which transformed a dilapidated playground wall into a bright, colorful starry night scene that even includes images of several prominent community members. “I spent time walking around the area, asking people what they want to see in a mural,” Gregory said. “Now that it’s finished, I’m hearing people say that it changed the whole area. It was a total success.”

As a former graffiti artist himself, Gregory fully believes these murals will reduce tagging in the area. “When you respect something, you don’t mess it up,” he said, adding that none of the previous murals have been tagged.

Gregory’s next project is a mural for Two Five Trees, located in Franciscan’s Polar Plaza. The 27-foot-long mural will transform the space into what organizers are calling Two-ville – a part-Bavarian Village, part-Whoville holiday escape.

“We’re taking Two Five Trees to the next level this year with Jeremy’s façade in Polar Plaza,” said organizer Justin Mayfield. “This is a multi-million dollar plaza in the heart of downtown, and anything we can do to make it more festive is exciting.”

To learn more about how to get involved with the Tacoma Murals Project, visit www.tacomaculture.com.

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