KINGFIELD — When the sound barrier went up along I-35W two years ago, it quickly became a magnet for graffiti.
Today, the wall is pocketed with patches of dark brown, off-color signs that crews have painted over tags in several areas.
Now neighborhood leaders in Kingfield are taking a different approach they hope will curb the graffiti for good: creating a community mural they believe vandals will respect enough to leave untouched.
The mural will be installed around the entrance to the pedestrian bridge spanning the interstate, just west of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center.
Designed after several rounds of community input, the mural features images of two young people from the neighborhood, including the four-year-old daughter of one of its designers, and Martin Luther King Jr.
A bicycle, flowers, baskets of vegetables and a butterfly have also been incorporated into the piece.
“This has been a great canvas for taggers, but we think it can be a great canvas for artists as well,” said Sarah Linnes-Robinson, the executive director of the Kingfield Neighborhood Association.
Linnes-Robinson was among those who began working on the mural inside the rec center in late April. Over the course of two weekend workshops, a group of nearly two dozen young people traced the design onto mural boards and began filling it, using 32 different colors and 41 gallons of paint donated by Valspar.
Many drawn to contribute said they appreciated the opportunity to create a piece of art that would stand as a community landmark for years. That was particularly true for Eddie Ortogon, who lives across the street from the mural site.
“Those walls are so ugly, we have to put something up,” Ortogon said as he painted in the face of Martin Luther King Jr. “I think we need to paint all the walls.”
Two more community workshops will be held on Friday, May 18 and Saturday, May 19 to complete the mural before it is hung on the sound barrier. The project is being led by two artists — Greta McLain and Silvia Ibáñz — but anyone interested in helping is welcome to contribute.
The Kingfield project is just the latest in a long line of similar projects that have been supported by the Innovative Graffiti Prevention Micro Grant program, created by the city as a way to stem vandalism in 2008.
The city has spent $375,000 on nearly 40 similar projects since the program began, leveraging private contributions and in-kind donations along the way. Another $150,000 has been set aside for 2012, but the awards have not yet been announced.
Besides murals and mosaics, the program also pays for graffiti education and plantings that serve to break up and block walls that have been targeted in the past.
Angela Brenny, who manages the program as Minneapolis’s Clean City Coordinator, said aside from one graffiti-marred mural, the projects have been universally successful.
“Usually there is a level of respect for artwork that stops people from tagging,” she said. “Growing vines and just blocking the walls also leads people to tend to stay away from those.”
The impact goes beyond the specific site, too.
City officials count graffiti markings within two blocks of a project site before investing in a project, and later follow-up to see whether graffiti has dropped within the area.
The number of graffiti markings dropped by more than half in follow-up counts taken at project sites last year. Overall, the number of graffiti incidents has dropped from 13,442 in 2007 to 8,083 last year, city officials say.
While the city also addresses graffiti through a traditional abatement program — cleaning and covering the markings at a cost of nearly $1 million last year —advocates say projects like the one in Kingfield have a longer lasting and more widespread impact.
One reason proponents believe that’s the case is that it sends a signal that the community is standing up for itself, and will not tolerate graffiti.
“Graffiti just makes people feel like no one is taking care of the place, that no one is there to claim it so anything can happen,” said McLain, one of the lead artists involved in the Kingfield project.
“A mural doesn’t just take away a blank canvas, it shows investment in the area, and that people care about what happens there,” she said.
McLain said she has also seen young people, the most frequent perpetrators of graffiti, learn valuable lessons from previous projects she’s been involved in.
In one case, a young person admitted to her that his friends had urged him to join them in creating graffiti, but that he talked them out of it after having been involved in a mural project.
Looking forward, McLain and other Kingfield leaders say they hope the mural will serve as a catalyst additional change in the area. Ideally, they say, the mural will be extended to cover more of the sound barrier, and inspire other community projects such as plantings.
In the future, a new generation could re-imagine it to reflect their changing culture, too.
“The lifespan of a mural is usually 15 years, even with a good paint job, so at some point there will be an opportunity for this to be reinvented, for people to have a conversation about what’s really important to them now,” McLain said.
How To Help
Interested in participating? Painting workshops will be held on Friday, May 18 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturday, May 19 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, 4055 Nicollet Ave. S. There is no need to RSVP.
Reach Drew Kerr at email@example.com.