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Effort To Bring Murals To City Heights Taps Youth Artists For Help

The storefront of the restaurant Disfrutalas in San Diego's City Heights neig...

Photo by Tarryn Mento

Above: The storefront of the restaurant Disfrutalas in San Diego's City Heights neighborhood features cartoon fruit painted by a 14-year-old artist, March 28, 2019.

You won’t miss the Treasure Trove antique store on University Avenue thanks to its new mural of cartoon tea cups and pastel flowers. Seventeen-year-old Mimi Gonzalez Martinez designed and painted the Disney-inspired artwork under the guidance of a professional artist.

"When we first started painting this, people were passing by with their cars and, 'Oh nice job!' and screaming out the window, 'It’s so pretty!’” said Gonzalez Martinez, an avid drawer.

Her installation is part of the volunteer-led Avenue Mural Project that aims to enrich a community often hit by graffiti. Organizers with the effort have helped arrange more than a dozen murals on buildings, including another at Treasure Trove, walls and at a neighborhood school. Gonzalez Martinez’s artwork is one of two recent paintings by youth, and organizers are hoping they're just the beginning.

RELATED: Community Mural Initiative Continues At City Heights Convenience Store

Avenue Mural Project Co-founder Carlos Quezada said collaborating with teens is key to the initiative that aims to deter vandals from marking local properties.

"If we get them involved and make them feel like they own this community, we’re going to have more art as opposed to cleaning up graffiti," Quezada said.

Photo caption: Mimi Gonzalez Martinez, 17, stands in front a pastel mural featuring flowers ...

Photo by Priya Sridhar

Mimi Gonzalez Martinez, 17, stands in front a pastel mural featuring flowers and tea cups that she painted on the side of the Treasure Trove antique shop in San Diego's City Heights neighborhood, March 28, 2019.

Gonzalez Martinez and a 14-year-old that painted dancing fruit on a City Heights restaurant's storefront aren’t actually from the neighborhood, but co-founder Edwin Lohr said he hopes to eventually involve youth from the area, and in particular, the ones who are behind the graffiti.

"My goal would be to hire the taggers. I mean if that would be my ultimate goal: to get them on our side and beautify their community," he said.

The effort so far hasn’t eliminated graffiti, even some murals have been hit. That includes a painting by Quezada and Lohr that they had to recently fix. Still, the Avenue Mural Project is gaining momentum.

The initiative was unfunded when it launched in 2017 and the co-founders largely relied on volunteer artists or reaching into their own pockets to cover costs. Now they’ve raised $13,000, and muralists are asking them if they can join the effort.

"We’re getting requests, 'Hey can I do a wall? Can I do a wall? Can I do a wall?'" Lohr said.

Nearby schools are also participating. Quezada, a night custodian for the school district, partnered with Mindful Murals, a group that installs paintings at schools, to enliven walls used for a schoolyard game at Edison Elementary School. The Avenue Mural Project helped covered some expenses.

Valencia Park Elementary in neighboring Southeast San Diego is also working with Mindful Murals and is receiving support from the City Heights beautification initiative.

First-grade teacher Rachel Platz said the Avenue Mural Project is matching funds to bring vibrant artwork to the underserved community.

"Our students live in an artistically thriving and diverse city, but due to circumstance are often unable to experience the art wonders that San Diego has to offer," Platz said in an email. "This project will bring color to some muted walls and spaces in our school creating the bright and inspiring environment that our students deserve."

Lohr said they are already working on their next mural at a local pawn shop but acknowledged that it has been a challenge to find property owners who will offer their building facades as canvases.

Teen artists helped produce large-scale paintings as part of an initiative to beautify walls and buildings in the San Diego neighborhood.

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