Minneapolis to give out grants to deter graffiti

The Brian Coyle Center and West Bank Business Association are among the recipients.

Deonte Lawson paints accents for the eagle's feathers Thursday during the second day of working on a flag mural in South Minneapolis.

Deonte Lawson paints accents for the eagle’s feathers Thursday during the second day of working on a flag mural in South Minneapolis.

Bryna Godar


In the span of two days, 15 youth transformed a dull cement wall in south Minneapolis into a vibrant mural that swirls from an American flag into a soaring eagle.

The vast cement slate used to provide a canvas for graffiti and gang tags — about 30, according to property owner Morton Leder.

Now, he hopes the mural by local nonprofit Mentoring Peace Through Art will dissuade gang tags like many other such paintings have done throughout the city.

The organization is one of 10 groups slated to receive a grant from the Minneapolis Division of Solid Waste and Recycling for innovative graffiti prevention projects this year. The Brian Coyle Center and the West Bank Business Association are also among the recommended recipients.

The projects include murals, mosaics, increased lighting and community education, all serving to dissuade graffiti tags throughout the city.

The Minneapolis Transportation and Public Works Committee approved the 2012 grants last week, and the full City Council will vote on the grants Friday.

“By taking the money we would have spent scrubbing graffiti and turning it into micro-grants preventing graffiti, we have used our resources more wisely,” said Councilman Gary Schiff.

The murals function to dissuade gang tags and discourage drug sales and prostitution near the murals, said Connie Fullmer, co-founder of Mentoring Peace Through Art with husband Jimmy Longoria.

Longoria intentionally utilizes varied brush strokes so that graffiti tags won’t be visible on the mural.

“We create the illusion of red and the illusion of white with a lot of different colors,” said 21-year-old Kate Hondlik, a project leader with the group.

Mural detail is vital in preventing tags, Schiff said, because large blank spaces of color still get tagged.

 “Gangs really prefer a nice blank palette so their message stands out,” he said.

The vibrant murals also prevent gang activity in front of them, because people who walk past stop and stare at the mural, Fullmer said.

Minneapolis Clean City Coordinator Angela Brenny said the project areas typically see a 50 to 70 percent decrease in graffiti. Reports of graffiti have dropped from 13,442 in 2007 to 8,083 last year, partially due to the grants provided in four of the past five years.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Glidden said one measure of the program’s success is seeing beautiful art on walls once covered with tags.

“It has a whole change in how much pride you have in your neighborhood,” she said.

Youth involvement, leadership

The groups not only work to prevent graffiti – they also strive to empower youth and engage the community.

Jennifer Blevins, director of the Brian Coyle Center on West Bank, said through its mural program, youth learn how graffiti is damaging to the community and reasons not to become taggers themselves.

“They’re also demonstrating ownership and taking responsibility for having an attractive and safe neighborhood,” Blevins said.

The center also has a youth employment team that documents and reports graffiti to businesses and the city.

Fullmer said Mentoring Peace Through Art tries to have kids do everything from working with business owners to designing the mural and painting it.

Deonte Lawson, 17, said the job boosts his work ethic.

“It keeps you attacking obstacles, and that’s the best part about working because you feel accomplished at the end of the day,” Lawson said.

Hondlik said the program focuses on creating strong leaders and workers.

“[The kids] believe in themselves – I think that’s the most important thing about this program,” she said.

Community art

Brenny said murals are more effective in preventing graffiti when groups get community support and input.

Mentoring Peace Through Art youth talk to community members and property owners to determine the subject of the mural.

For the mural on Leder’s building, he requested an American flag.

“Because it’s an American flag, I don’t think that they’ll be as apt to desecrate it,” Leder said. “There’ll be some respect maybe, for the flag.”

For another mural featuring elephants and monkeys, a 14-year-old Somali boy working with the program went into the surrounding Somali businesses to discuss what was culturally acceptable to paint.

“This is not public art, this is community art,” Longoria said.

While the youth were working on the American flag mural, an ice cream truck company owner stopped by to talk and later sent free ice cream for the group.

Blevins said people walking past make “wonderful comments” or sometimes want to jump in and help paint.

“People have better perceptions of the youth when they see them doing good work,” she said.

On the Brian Coyle Center’s first mural, the kids painted a border of national flags to represent the area’s diversity.

Controversy arose among the Vietnamese immigrants in the neighborhood about the use of Vietnam’s flag, leading the kids to paint the immigrant community’s preferred flag.

“It was a great cross-cultural learning experience,” Blevins said.

City requirements

Dave Paulson, director of operations at the Cedar Cultural Center where the Brian Coyle Center painted its first mural, has to clean up graffiti when it occurs.

“I’ve been at the Cedar for nine years now, and we maybe got serious tagged only twice, but we’ve had a lot of random walk-by stuff,” he said.

Property owners have seven days to remove or paint over graffiti. If they don’t do it in that time frame, the city sends someone to do the work and then bills the property owner.

Schiff said when gangs tag a location, it’s an enticement for rival gangs to cross out a tag and make their mark.

“Graffiti begets graffiti,” Schiff said, so it’s important to remove it quickly.

Paulson tries to remove graffiti from the Cedar Cultural Center property as quickly as possible and said he thinks the city’s time frame is good.

“If they don’t see it after they’ve done it, then they’re less likely to do it again,” Blevins said.

Leder, however, said he disagrees with the city’s approach to graffiti.

“The city forces us to cover it within seven days. Now, I’m 88 years old, why should I go out in the rain or the freezing temperatures in seven days and have to cover that without severe penalties?” Leder said.

“They should treat the victim with dignity and respect,” he said.

Property owners used to have 21 days to remove the graffiti after police had taken a picture. The city would then send an inspector, and if the graffiti was still there, the city would fine the property owner.

Future murals

Paulson said he’s glad to have the mural at the Cedar Cultural Center.

“I’m not sure if you can attribute anything to the mural actually being there, but in my experience, tagging is down in recent times over what it was say five years ago,” Paulson said.

Mentoring Peace Through Art has multiple mural locations planned for this summer, and the Brian Coyle Center is working on determining its next location.

“We are to the point where property owners will request that their building be a site for the mural,” Blevins said.

She said the murals aim to increase the beauty and the perception of the neighborhood as a welcoming and safe..

“Everyone in the neighborhood wants the neighborhood to be recognized as a safe place.”