The Mural Project tackles Topeka’s graffiti problem

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A Topeka project is covering eyesores with art in an effort to tackle the city’s graffiti problem.

For five years Elisa Gallegos ran a liquor store with her husband with no crime problems.

“Then we started getting graffiti on the east side of the building and a lot of gang signs and things like that,” she says.

It’s an issue Topeka Police Lieutenant Joe Perry says is growing, so he’s started The Mural Project – working with Topeka groups to transform destructive gang symbols into beautiful works of art.

“We’ll have the artist outline it and then the community actually paints it in,” Perry says.

A vacant building right next to Speedy Gallegos on N.E. Seward is the project’s first canvas.

“We’ve got written consent from them to paint the mural, they’ve agreed to keep the mural for at least five years,” says Perry.

Most of the graffiti is covered up by a mixture of free paint, but the people involved with the project say walls have so much potential.

When you have art in public, you have community members who know each other, you have a sense of pride,” says Executive Director of Arts Connect, Sarah Fizell, who has partnered with TPD on the project.

“The building of the ownership and the pride is what we’re looking for and the mural is just a tool or the vehicle to get us there,” Perry adds.

That sense of pride, Perry says, could help prevent this vandalism.

“They’re more likely to be protective of it and if they see little Johnny about to do something, they’re going to yell at him,” he says.

Gallegos wants the benefits to come next door.

“I’m really hoping, I would really like them to do it to our building,” she says.

The entire project, covering 6-8 buildings in the city, is expected to cost about $10,000 in grants and donations. Right now, the group is looking for designs from artists. Painting is expected to start in June.

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