Fighting Graffiti One Mural at a Time:Students, Mayor Team up for Solution

By Seth Daniel

Using vibrant yellow paint, Angel Huynh and Eric Le – advanced art students at Everett High – began tracing out and painting a new mural on the Northern Strand Community Path Tuesday morning.

After the anti-graffiti efforts of scores of volunteers last month were thwarted by a renegade vandal, Mayor Carlo DeMaria and School Supt. Fred Foresteire teamed up to put together a program they believe will detract vandals from spray painting ‘tags’ on the Northern Strand Community Trail.

The solution: Art.

About a dozen seniors from Everett High School converged on the Community Path Tuesday morning with cans of paint in hand and brushes at the ready. Behind the community farm area just south of the Tileston Street Bridge lies a stretch of concrete retaining wall that has been a frequent target of graffiti vandals.

Students, armed with paintbrushes and vibrant yellows, reds and blues, hoped to make a dent in the problem, and spruce up the community at the same time.

“I think it’s a pretty cool idea,” said senior Manal Riadi, who paints frequently. “We want to do these things for the City to improve it. I hope everyone will be happy to see it and we’re excited about it, especially being able to do this mural…Everett really doesn’t have much public art. Neighboring cities do have that and now we will start to have some of our own.”

The mural is the first, large-scale mural outside of school property. Art students in the past have done some murals in the schools, and they also have painted the stoplight control boxes around the city. However, the current mural will be a much larger undertaking – being 50-feet long and containing all sorts of subject matter related to gardening and the diverse nature of the city.

The idea, Mayor DeMaria said, is to eliminate graffiti and beautify the city.

DeMaria had been outraged last month when graffiti artists painted over the hard work of volunteers who toiled to cover up graffiti on the citywide clean up day, April 22. Less than a week later, all of that work had been foiled and graffiti was right back where it had been buffed out.

In response, DeMaria and the Everett Police began stepping up the use of special cameras at graffiti hot spots. However, the mural program also sprung out of that frustration and has included using the talents of local youth in combatting the problem.

“As part of our beautification process in the City of Everett it is a goal of mine to bring more public art to our community,” said the mayor this week. “We began a number of years ago, working with local artists and community groups to create beautiful murals on our utility boxes. Public art on the bike trail is the next step in our creative place making efforts.”

Amanda Smith, art director for Everett Public Schools, said the program is a partnership with the Art Department and the Mayor’s Office.

“They’re hoping to beautify a lot of places in Everett and this will be the first one,” she said. “We are always looking for ways to showcase the talents of our kids and this is a great way to do that in a public place…Art like this draws people in and makes people want to move into the space – to stop and take a look.”

The program is under the direction of teachers Annette LeRay and Evan DeMarzo, and will be a project of the Advanced Art Class. LeRay and DeMarzo said the students have been waiting to do the mural since last fall. They have been busy sketching the piece in the classroom, and on Tuesday they were out on site for the first time.

“It never seems real until the paint goes up on the wall,” said LeRay as a vibrant yellow circle unfolded on the white-primed wall.

The mural will feature vegetables like tomatoes and fruits, and will also feature garden fairies and other novel items. The sketches come out of the numerous diverse styles of the student artists, and the finished product will also give a nod to the ethnic diversity of the City of Everett.

More than anything, it is the hope of the students and the teachers that the new work of art will be respected by graffiti vandals – that it won’t be defaced once it is complete in about two weeks.

“Many cities actually do this,” said LeRay. “If there’s a big open space that tends to attract graffiti artists to a specific area, a lot of times cities get a mural artist to fill that space. Usually, graffiti artists will tend to avoid that area because they respect the art work. At the same time, it beautifies the space. We’re hoping that’s what plays out here too.”

Already, it was making a positive dent.

One bicyclist on his way to work using the Path abruptly put on his brakes, pulled out a camera and took several pictures.

“This is awesome,” he said, before pedaling off.

One neighbor on her third floor porch watched intently as the students began to work, voicing her great approval.

“Can you do my porch afterward?” she joked.

One thing at a time, in this case.

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