Slabs of gray all around the city are being transformed into bright, positive images about community.
The Tacoma Murals Project has completed murals in neighborhoods throughout town since 2010. It was originally created as the Community Based Murals Project as a part of the city’s Community Based Services (CBS for short) and the city’s arts program.
Artists are selected through job ads posted on the city website. Teams of artists are then formed, consisting of lead artists and around five assistants.
The art team has to work with the community on ideas for the mural through a series of community meetings, which can range from hosting formal meetings to visiting garage sales.
Rachael Dotson, a lead artist, used the community meetings to extrapolate ideas and said she enjoyed meeting people she probably wouldn’t have a chance to interact with otherwise. Dotson wants to make an impact on the community with the murals, while at the same time putting Tacoma on the map. She wants people from the east coast to fly out here and see them.
According to Daniel Crittendon, whose family owns the wall where the Hilltop mural is located, community feedback on the mural has been very positive and helps brighten up the community. “This was just a brick wall falling apart like the rest of the building”, Crittendon remarked.
Currently there are nine murals of different shapes and sizes which can be found on a variety of surfaces, such as retaining walls, the sides of buildings, and across bridges.
Location: An apartment complex at 5301 S. Orchard.
Lead artists: Rachael Dotson, Joni Joachims, Jeremy Gregory
Participating artists: Liza A Brown, Kate Cendejas, Brian Hutcheson, David Long, Mary McFarland, Laura Ospital, Chelsea O’Sullivan, Natalie Oswald, Yvette Simone, Shannon Wallace, and Janice Lee Warren.
Description: A very surreal and imaginative landscape, a great backdrop for a children’s playground. The mural includes images of children singing and dancing on giant flowers, while the moon and other celestial objects watch from above. The mural not only spreads out over the whole playground but also includes details up and around nearby stairways.
43rd Street Bridge
Location: A bridge that connects 43rd street over railroad tracks.
Lead artists: Chris Sharp, Kelda Martensen
Participating artists: Kate Cendejas, Brian Hutcheson, David Long, Mary McFarland, Laura Ospital, Chelsea O’Sullivan, Natalie Oswald, Yvette Simone, and Janice Lee Warren.
Description: There’s a bird on it! This mural spotlights and accentuates the natural beauty of the surrounding area, depicting various flora and fauna. It’s located on a bridge that goes over railroad tracks. When we took pictures of it we noticed a few shopping carts had been tossed over into the valley below.
Location: On the side of a wall of the Foam and Fabric building near S. 84th Street & S. Park Avenue.
Lead artist: Kelda Martensen
Participating artists: Dionne Bonner and Brad Pugh.
Description: This mural really puts the Fern Hill neighborhood on the map and has become something of a local icon. The message “Greetings from Fern Hill” uses bright, colorful lettering like something from a vintage postcard.
Location: On the side of a building at 2143 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Lead artist: Jeremy Gregory
Participating artists: Kate Cendejas, Larine Chung, Jena Marks, and Marlin Peterson.
Description: The hilltop mural displays a landscape of flowers and a big blue sky with clouds. Figures include local heroes and a prominent young girl playfully interacting with a small slug. Jeremy Gregory took notes on comments from the community, like “[you’re] making our property tax go up, but that’s alright.” Gregory also recounted when Marlin Peterson was working on the part of the mural with the little girl, when a girl who looked very similar to the girl in the mural walked up, except she had knockers holding her hair together, so they added them to the mural.
South Tacoma Way
Location: On the front of the building at 5148 S. Tacoma Way.
Lead artist: Rachael Dotson
Participating artists: Michael, Corcoran, Josh Everson, Jani Freimann, and Trinda Love.
Description: Includes images of the community and Tacoma’s past, featuring some neat horse-drawn carriages!
St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store
Location: 4009 S. 56th Street facing the street.
Lead artist: Christopher Jordan and Kenji Stoll.
Participating artists: Tiffanny Hammonds, Kisha Rardin, Alex Schelhammer, Christian Vicente, Alex Williams, and Ernesto Zamora.
Description: A colorful and imaginative commentary on humans and their interaction with nature. Incredibly vibrant and unique, based on the idea of community togetherness inspired by the thrift store itself.
38th & Portland Ave.
Location: Retaining wall at 3804 Portland Avenue.
Lead artist: Chris Sharp
Participating artists: Shanna Duncan, Asia Tail, and Patricia Vazquez Gomez.
Description: According to the city, this had been one of the most-tagged walls in Tacoma. The community wanted the mural to include a message of Hope and Home. An interesting aspect of this wall is that unlike the other murals, it has a ridged surface that must have been difficult to paint on.
Location: On a hillside retaining wall near S. M Street and S. 24th Street near Bob’s Java Jive.
Lead artist: Joni Joachims
Participating artists: Brad Dinsmore, Rajaa Gharbi, Kathleen Gray, and Tenold Sundberg.
Description: This mural is adorned with many images of goats playing and grazing contently amongst trees, flowers, and a Sasquatch. One of the larger murals, with a variety of different scenes.
Portland Ave Community Center
Location: On a restroom building in the Portland Avenue Park.
Lead artist: Rachel Dotson, Jeremy Gregory, Joni Joachims, Kelda Martensen, and Chris Sharp.
Participating artists: Dionne Bonner, Kate Cendejas, Larine Chung, Mike Corcoran, Brad Dinsmore, Shanna Duncan, Josh Everson, Jani Freimann, Jill Frey, Rajaa Gharbi, Kathleen Gray, Alexandra Kerl, Trinda Love, Jena Marks, Marlin Peterson, Brad Pugh, Tenold Sundberg, Asia Tail, and Patricia Vazquez Gomez.
Description: This was the first completed mural of the project and was created by several mural artists and features many different styles and subjects. Overall, it looks like a big jam session featuring animal-human-robot hybrids of all shapes and varieties.
Future murals are in still in the planning stages and artists have been meeting with the community to come up with ideas for them. The five walls are located at:
220 Puyallup Avenue on the east wall facing C Street. Lead artist: Chris Sharp.
A retaining wall on the 3200 block of East L Street. Lead artists: Rachael Dotson and Jeremy Gregory.
The south and east walls of Waterhouse building at 2502 Commerce Street. Lead artists: Rachael Dotson and Jeremy Gregory.
On the south wall of 6323 McKinley Avenue facing 64th Street. Lead artist: Joni Joachims.
On the south side of the building at 5441 South Sheridan Street facing 56th Street. Lead artists: Kenji Stoll and Chris Jordan.
When coming up with ideas for the murals, “I like to focus on the future of the neighborhood”, said Jeremy Gregory, a lead artist on many of the murals. “We’ll go to a community meeting and gather information about the community, like stories and history about the community, but I don’t want the history to be dominant.”
One of the goals of the mural project was to discourage graffiti, particularly on the retaining wall near 38th and Portland Ave., according to Cultural Arts Specialist for the Tacoma Arts Program, Naomi Strom-Avila. What used to be one of the most-targeted walls in Tacoma for tagging now sports messages of “Home” and “Hope.” Murals are covered in a special coating called Vandal Guard. According to the product’s website, Vandal Guard is a trademarked anti-graffiti polyester overlaminate. The coating enables the murals to be washed off if they get tagged.
Rachael Dotson got her start doing a mural by the waterfront, and has since created murals in Auburn.
Jeremy Gregory will be involved in a mural project with designer Robert Gilbert around the Point Ruston development.
The project currently runs on a two-year budget of $50,000. The City of Tacoma has invited citizens to give their input at several public Community Budget Input Meetings throughout July. Specific dates, times, and places are posted on the City of Tacoma website.
The city runs a detailed website on the Tacoma Murals Project, with more pictures and information at http://www.tacomaculture.org/arts/murals.asp.