Five Tucson artists will paint trash containers throughout the city under a new mural art pilot program intended to help curb graffiti.

The Tucson Arts Brigade, working with Tucson Environmental Services, hopes the program will also improve urban aesthetics and ultimately save taxpayers money on graffiti abatement.

The five finalists were chosen from 44 applicants who ranged from established painters to first-time muralists. The artists are Johanna Hand, Sasha Lewis, Niki Glen, Porter McDonald and local graphic artist Ruben Moreno.

Organizing these projects keeps local residents engaged, Moreno said, and people become impassioned when artists beautify a neighborhood. Plus, the entire process of planning a mural has an overall positive effect, he added.

“I think it inspires the up-and-coming artists, and it gives community members a sense of pride for where they live,” Moreno said.

Moreno has been painting murals for 25 years and received his first public grant while in high school. Creating public art has been an inherent part of his life, Moreno said. He fondly remembers painting murals at his grandmother’s home.

A large part of public art is sharing a creative vision with your city, Moreno said, and being part of that community dialogue keeps him motivated.

Although balancing work and creating public art proves difficult, Moreno said he can’t neglect his creative outlet.

“The times that I’ve stopped doing art I’ve become unhappy,” Moreno said, “I have to go back to it.”

For this project, Moreno depicted a vibrant, picturesque desert landscape highlighted with a full-spectrum rainbow that’s contrasted by one drab human figure dumping garbage into the scene.

The piece was designed to be interactive, Moreno said, so the human figure was made to scale. Moreno hopes the mural will make people think twice about environmental issues and question how they affect their surroundings, he added.

Regarding the potential expansion of the pilot program, Moreno said communities who support mural art feel warmer. And paying to continually paint over graffiti and not using public space for the arts makes little sense, he said.

“I don’t know what needs to change, but I’ve always thought the more art, the better,” Moreno said.

The city invested $5,000 in the pilot program, which was matched by the Graffiti Resource Council, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit vandalism prevention organization.

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik said city leaders have been working on this program for quite some time. Even though such initiatives may not end the exorbitant cost of graffiti abatement they will certainly help save money as well as beautify the city, Kozachik said.

“I’m glad it’s finally coming to fruition,” he said.

And come next year, Kozachik said, the council will discuss getting the Tucson Department of Transportation and Tucson Pima Arts Council involved with the pilot program.

Kozachik said preventing graffiti, or “tagging,” is a costly community issue and the city is looking to soon work with local service providers to help get it under control.

“We’re all in this together and hope to get the private sector involved,” he said.

David J. Del Grande is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact him at starapprentice@tucson.com