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New Murals At Mission Valley Mall Celebrate San Diego’s Neighborhoods

Video by Katie Schoolov

If you’ve been shopping recently at the Mission Valley mall, you may have noticed some new bold artwork, a project of the San Diego Cultural Arts Alliance. KPBS video journalist Katie Schoolov talked to the artist as he created the murals, each one celebrating a different San Diego neighborhood.

Seven big, bold murals that celebrate San Diego's neighborhoods went up this month at the Mission Valley mall, but they're more than just interesting artwork. They're helping channel the artistic energy of teens who've been caught tagging.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

An 8'x8' mural portraying a vintage car and the Kensington sign was installed at the Mission Valley mall on October 2, 2014.

Westfield Mission Valley commissioned the San Diego Cultural Arts Alliance to do the murals. Some of the money the group received for the murals is being used to teach professional art techniques to teens who have damaged public spaces with graffiti. It's part of their Graffiti Education and Mural Arts Program.

“We do get a lot of graffiti around the property," said Brandon Matzek, the mall's marketing manager. "So to show these teens, ‘Hey, you can do something professional and productive with that energy,’ we thought that was a great message.”

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Westfield Mission Valley’s marketing manager Brandon Matzek removes stances from in front of the newly installed murals at the Mission Valley mall in San Diego on October 2, 2014.

Earlier this year, the mall added a 120-foot long mural to four walls in the underground parking structure, where the most graffiti happens.

"We haven't had a single tag or unwanted graffiti on those walls," Matzek said. "People are really respecting them. And we wanted to do another piece up here to inspire others to put that energy toward something creative."

Matzek came up with the idea of portraying a different iconic San Diego neighborhood sign on each of the seven 8-foot by 8-foot panels. The bright murals now fill up alcoves along the wall between Nordstrom Rack and Bed, Bath and Beyond.

“We know we have plenty of customers coming down from the surrounding neighborhoods, and we want to show some love back," Matzek said.

The Cultural Arts Alliance hired Egyptian-born artist Michael Makram Nicola to design and paint the latest murals. Nicola moved to San Diego three years ago, leaving behind his successful art business in Egypt. He designed and created large-scale projects for hotels and churches around the country. His stained-glass window in Sharm el-Sheikh's Heavenly Cathedral is one of the largest in the Middle East. This project is a bit different.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Egyptian-born artist Michael Makram Nicola paints a mural in his studio in San Diego on September 1, 2014.

"It’s just a mood or a spirit. It’s not like my previous murals," Nicola said. "This is just a shopping mural, to have a lot of energy. Just kind of fun.”

Nicola wanted the work to appeal to every generation so he paired vintage cars and the old neighborhood signs with modern splashes of color to represent what he calls “shopping spirit.”

Not having lived long in San Diego, Nicola was unfamiliar with the neighborhoods, so he drove around and took photos of each one first. He spent September painting the murals in his studio, and they were permanently installed at the mall on Oct. 2.

“When you pass this way, you can just feel the energy of the art, which is my goal," Nicola said. "And I hope that the people like it."

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