Good graffiti

Teens' mural will enliven brick wall along TRAX route

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 2 2000 10:33 a.m. MDT

Brush-wielding urban youths are applying paint to a brick wall.

They are not graffiti artists or gang taggers.

Far from contributing to the graffiti problem, the teenagers decorating a side of the K Construction Corp. building near the 1300 South TRAX station are replacing the graffiti which has historically plagued the site.

The replacement: a carefully planned mural that the youths designed in consultation with 10 adult artists.

"You have to shift your whole thinking," said Elaine Harding, director of the Salt Lake's Global Artways program. "Kids are not the problem. Kids are the solution."

Tuesday the heat is intense — only late morning and already approaching 90 degrees. The handful of youths, ranging in age from 14 to 17, are sweating. All students of Horizonte Instruction and Training Center, they have been going to art classes at the nearby Sorenson Center as part of Mayor Rocky Anderson's multi-pronged youth programs.

The thrust of the programs: give youths something to do, something constructive to fill their time, and satiate their desire for action.

"A lot of graffiti is just kids trying to express themselves," Harding said. "This is an intensive way of tapping into their potential."

Many youth programs go unnoticed, but this project stands out. TRAX riders who have resigned themselves to dreary urban landscapes can't help but notice the incomplete but brightly colored mural.

"I'm a TRAX rider, and the boring walls have made me nuts," said Anne Vinsel, one of the adult artists helping the youths.

Vinsel is painting a bright yellow sun on the wall, mopping the sweat pouring down her forehead every so often. She is wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat. In this heat hats are de rigueur for all painters except those with bushy hair or a stiff fashion sense. Student Gina Palu, in fact, is employing an umbrella as a parasol.

"It's fun," she said of the painting. "It's pretty hot out here, (but) it's better than sitting in class."

The students attend two hours of art classes at the Sorenson Center every day for six weeks, for which they are given Horizonte school credit.

Graffiti can satisfy a graffitist's artistic inclination or challenge a competing gang to a fight. The mural has stirred similarly strong emotions . . . positive ones. TRAX riders have offered encouragement and asked to join in. The students have taken carloads of friends to the site at night to show them their handiwork.

"We've had some interesting drive-bys" to see the mural, Vinsel said.

Being next to the rails, the mural's theme is imaginative transportation — rocket bicycles, cars with feet instead of wheels, sneakers with ice-skate blades. It is the first of what Harding calls "a tapestry of beautiful murals weaving throughout" the TRAX corridor.

"I think it's a wonderful thing," said K Construction co-owner Reed Hawkes. "People will look and see whose building this is. I think this shows some community involvement. I like that."

But we still haven't addressed one problem: What's to stop the graffitists from covering the artwork with their own type of decoration?

Not to worry, says Nikki Bown, a city communications management analyst working with the project. "These murals are a proven way to keep gang graffiti and gang wars down. The gangs for some reason respect that kind of artwork."


E-MAIL: alan@desnews.com

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