Emily Thomson works on finishing a mural alongside one of the buildings on the south end of Little Gaetz Ave. downtown on Friday afternoon. The mural was one of three painted.

Murals created on downtown walls repeatedly defaced

Colourful murals inspired by Japan and Greece will hopefully build “community” in downtown Red Deer.

Colourful murals inspired by Japan and Greece will hopefully build “community” in downtown Red Deer.

Two mural projects were started this weekend to replace the profanities regularly scrawled on the exteriors of two businesses located just north of the downtown fire hall, on Little Gaetz Avenue.

Portraits of two geishas and cherry blossom branches are being painted on the front of the X-Static Club, at 4605-50th Ave.

And a smaller mural, on the rear of the Amphora Restaurant (formerly Dino’s at 4617-50th Ave.), depicts a Greek hillside, with pink flowers, a white-washed building and the blue Mediterranean Sea.

The subject matter was chosen with input from the business owners, who preferred having murals on their buildings to graffiti scrawls, said Brian Einarson, a community facilitator for the City of Red Deer’s social planning department.

But he added, “This is more of a community building initiative than a crime prevention one.”

The mural projects that kicked off with a musical street barbecue on Friday have involved local artists, city workers, business owners, at-risk teenagers, and the clients of the Turning Point building at 4611-50th Ave., which contains a number of social services agencies.

The Turning Point clients, some with mental health and addiction issues, helped paint the base coat of the murals and were on hand to give the artists feedback. At-risk teenagers will also help with the geisha project.

“Our main goal is to build relationships with people in the downtown core,” said Einarson.

“We thought, these are their walls, let’s get (these people) engaged in some community building.”

He knows a spin-off benefit will be reduced graffiti. Einarson bases this assumption on the “broken glass theory:”

A sociological study showed that when one of two cars was left in the street with a cracked windshield, it precipitated more vandalism, while the undamaged car parked next to it was left alone.

The murals have so far been left untagged on the busy bar strip.

And Einarson believes there’s been enough buy-in from surrounding community members that they will stay that way.

Red Deer-based artist Emily Thomson said Turning Point clients have kept her company while she’s worked on the Greek islands mural, passing her paint cans whenever needed. “Everybody has been very pleasant.”

This is the first public art project for Thomson, who has a visual arts diploma from Red Deer College.

It’s also the first mural project for Carmen Winter, who’s working on the geisha images.

The self-taught artist was planning to mentor at-risk teenagers who will assist in stenciling details onto her mural.

Tony Lake, president of the International Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Association, came up to survey downtown Red Deer on Friday after wrapping up a conference in Calgary.

He praised the murals, as well as recent improvements, such as iron benches, flower baskets and a pedestrian-friendly street design.

“We call it creating a village atmosphere,” said the Australian,.

“It’s about taking control of the streets and (encouraging) community ownership.”

Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive-director of the Central Alberta Aids Network Society which operates in the Turning Point building, believes her clients will appreciate having a beautified outdoor space.

When sometimes marginalized people are asked to contribute to such projects, it makes them feel they are valued citizens, she added.

The south end of Little Gaetz is also expected to benefit from new community garden plots, to be created this fall on a small tract of public land near the fire station.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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