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Blight fight

Mural artists turn bad walls good with guitar-playing goats

Lead artist Joni Joachims is responsible for be-goating the wall at South M Street and South 34th Avenue. Photo by Kristin Kendle

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While the City of Tacoma could fight vandalism with a series of electric fences, 24-hour guards or good old-fashioned centurions with cat-o'-nine-tails, the creative people at the Tacoma Arts Commission decided to combine art and community instead. The result was the Tacoma Community Based Mural Program - a project featuring five lead artists and 20 mural students who boldly went forth and painted oft-graffitied walls of Tacoma. And while time will tell if the project helps stop graffiti, Tacoma now has 20 new mural artists and seven colorful new murals.

The goal of the project is both to fight urban blight with art and to build the variety of murals and mural artists in Tacoma. So, during the summer, the Tacoma Based Mural Program lead artists were each teamed with four students. The teams were trained on a wall at Portland Avenue Community Center. After a series of training sessions, the five teams were matched with community groups and sent to reform walls gone bad.

"We asked community groups to come forward and apply," says Amy McBride, Tacoma Arts administrator. "They had to show that the walls had been targeted in the past."

"One of the trickiest things about being a public artist is to work with a community, but still maintain some level of your own voice and vision," says McBride, noting the teams worked closely with the communities in every way they could. What you see is by no means a single artist's prima-donna vision, but a collaborative effort, interweaving community opinion and stories.

Joni Joachims is the lead artist responsible for be-goating the wall at South M Street and South 34th Avenue. Joni has been painting murals around Tacoma for 15 years, and is also responsible for the mural at Lowell Elementary in North Tacoma.

Wait ... be-goating, you ask?

Indeed, Joachims' wall is now decorated with fanciful goats - goats with guitars, goats with leisure time. The working goats that cleaned up nearby Billy Goat Hill helped to inspire the mural, though these guitar-playing goats seem to have a lot of free time on their hands.

"I had four student artists on my team this summer and I have to say I learned a lot from them," says Joachims. "One student had the idea of spray painting the background. I had never done that before and it was a great idea. So he made the stencils and showed us how to spray paint the background design on the M Street mural."

"I think what the students learned was how fast you have to paint, how much hauling around of paint is involved and generally dealing with the outdoor conditions," says Joachims. "Mural painting mainly takes guts, a lot of big brushes and the realization that it's just paint and if you don't like it you just paint over it."

The lead artist for the mural in Hilltop, Jeremy Gregory, started as a graffiti artist in the early ‘90s, and honed his wall-painting skills before moving on to graduate from the Art Institute of Seattle.

"The main points I discussed with my students were how to design a mural that is clean and easy to execute, and how to transfer the design to the wall using a grid," says Gregory. "All the students were already artists, which was awesome because it wasn't just a teacher teaching the students."

And while part of the goal of this project was to involve the community, there were challenges. "It seems like a gamble to just design something you think is cool in hopes that the community will embrace it," says Gregory, who, with this thought in mind, hit the streets and found that communities don't always come complete with ideas.

"People were pretty shut down," he says. "This whole attitude switched after we started painting. People started to open up, giving suggestions, compliments and sharing their thoughts. People would honk and yell compliments, families would stop by. Neighborhood kids would check in to gauge the progress and ask questions. It was a very positive experience that achieved the mission of the program in every way."

The murals can be found at:
38th Street and Portland Avenue, lead artist Chris Sharp
2143 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, lead artist Jeremy Gregory
South 84th Street and South Park Avenue, lead artist Kelda Martensen
South M Street Underpass, South 34th & South M Street, lead artist Joni Joachims
Heritage Bank, 5438 South Tacoma Way, lead artist Rachael Dotson
Portland Avenue Community Center, 3513 E. Portland Ave., training mural

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