By JUDITH JOFFE-BLOCK
With baggy clothes and a can of spray paint in hand, Eli Lippert, 19, could be mistaken for one of the taggers that plague the 24th Street corridor after hours.
But on a recent Tuesday night, the Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center instructor was putting the final touches on the neighborhood’s latest weapon against taggers who scrawl on the metal shields that protect businesses at night: roll-downs transformed by teen muralists.
In effect, the Night Gallery Mural Project is betting that taggers will respect the locally produced art.
“We have a huge problem with graffiti,” said Erick Arguello, who heads the Lower 24th Street Merchant and Neighborhood Association.
Last year, Arguello’s association saw a chance to address graffiti, dark blocks, and crime by painting and illuminating roll-downs. When they won a Community Challenge Grant from the city, the project became a reality.
Teens enrolled at Precita Eyes mural classes designed and painted five murals on roll-downs on the north side of 24th Street between Alabama and Florida and two on the block east of Hampshire. In addition, the $35,000 grant paid for lighting over each mural that illuminates the art and the dark sidewalks.
Since the new murals can only be viewed at night, Arguello is hopeful that they will draw more evening visitors to the neighborhood.
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Lippert said seven to ten of his students, all boys ages 12 to 17, worked on the community health-themed murals between Alabama and Florida three evenings a week during July and August. Instructor Catalina Gonzalez oversaw the group of girls who painted a Thailand-themed mural on the restaurant Manivaah Thai a few blocks away.
Raul Moran, whose family owns the eatery La Espiga de Oro, was pleased the artists took his suggestion to paint an ear of corn on his roll-down, a reference to the translation of the restaurant’s name. He was also glad to see the taggers have left the roll-downs alone.
“I think they respect the mural,” he said.
The lights and finished murals are debuting as crime rises in the area. Six murders have occurred in the Mission since August 22nd, according to police.
The sidewalk was quiet as Lippert and fellow teacher, Fred Alvarado, painted the mural’s credits around 9:30 p.m. near the corner of 24th Street and Alabama.
“This is fantastic what they are doing,” said James Fong who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years and was en route to Taqueria El Farolito across the street. “They are adding a layer to this neighborhood, a colorful layer.”
But the crime in the area made even Alvarado second-guess his aesthetic choices on the colors he used to paint on the credits.
“What do you think Eli, man, I did this in blue,” Alvarado said to Lippert, referring to the names of the sponsoring organizations he had painted in turquoise—a color, he realized, too close to one of the area’s gangs.
Lippert wasn’t concerned.
“It looks good, man,” he said.