Neighbors: Group uses art, community to abate graffiti
Robert Gay helps paint a neighborhood-history mural on a 176-foot-long wall at the Lucky Wishbone in El Barrio Centro.

If you can't beat 'em, ask 'em to join you.

That's the wisdom behind a new city-wide arts initiative headed by the nonprofit Tucson Arts Brigade to combat graffiti.

Using grant money from PRO Neighborhoods, the Tucson-Pima Arts Council and the Union Pacific Foundation and donations from Tucson Arts Brigade members and Lucky Wishbone, the group is leading an effort to paint a mural along a 176-foot wall at Lucky Wishbone at 2712 E. 22nd St.

The eatery is on the edge of El Barrio Centro neighborhood, south of East 22nd Street between South Tucson Boulevard andSouth Country Club Road.

Painting began Saturday with a "Community Paint Day" after more than a year of planning. The project is expected to take several months.

Because of their involvement and the hours of work they've put into the design, students will each receive a stipend with which they may open bank accounts, said artist and brigade founder and director Michael Schwartz.

Schwartz said he has spent several days at the mural site and lots of people - including graffiti taggers - stopped to talk to him. He invited them all to paint.

Graffiti taggers see themselves as artists, so inviting them to be part of the process and makes them part of the community the mural is for, he said.

Graffiti abatement has been a big issue for El Barrio Centro, said neighborhood association president German Quiroga.

At one association meeting, a Tucson Police officer suggested applying for a grant to put a mural along an Aviation Bikeway underpass that has been a graffiti magnet. Neighbors formed a committee and looked at the site but decided few people would see a mural there. So they looked for a new spot.

Lucky Wishbone, which opened on 22nd Street in September 2008, was the newest business in the neighborhood, so they approached owner Josh Jacobsen about using his wall.

"What they were looking for was basically a canvas to paint this historical, cultural narrative of the community," Jacobsen said.

He was all for it.

"It keeps the neighborhood a little cleaner," he said. "And it just brings people together."

More online

Go to for more information on the Tucson Arts Brigade or an application for the murals project.

Contact reporter Shelley Shelton at or 807-8464.