“I always thought it would be nice if we had murals in the community,” Eva Vargas said Wednesday afternoon outside the Gonzalez Northgate Market in Shelltown, one of San Diego’s southernmost neighborhoods on the border with National City. “They’re usually done by graffiti, but we’re trying to move away from that.”
The neighborhood resident and community activist was appreciating a new 300-foot mural on a wall bordering a vacant lot across the street. For months, Vargas has been working with city officials, artists, and private property owners to get the mural in place on a wall that has been plagued by graffiti that residents have had to repaint again and again.
The mural was one of three — by several artists — unveiled in Shelltown today, on walls at three main neighborhood entrances. Local activist and muralist Mario Torero was the lead artist for the Alpha Street piece. He draws his philosophy on community art from the Spanish word, “Basta,” which means “Enough.”
“Here we said, basta with the graffiti,” Torero said. “The fact that this wall had been a problem for so many reasons, that’s why we decided to put the mural here.”
Graffiti artists and taggers, as you might imagine, weren’t too thrilled at having one of their largest public canvases covered with a mural.
The mural-in-progress was left undisturbed as Torero and other artists worked on it over the last several months. But a few days ago, Torero said, a tagger “left a message.”
“We’re in discussions with some of these graffiti artists now, to get them involved,” Torero said, “because we understand that this was their wall.”
The murals project was funded by the Southeastern Economic Development Corp. Vargas, a lifelong Shelltown resident, secured permission from the owner of the wall and the vacant lot it obscures. She also worked with owners of two neighborhood markets, who offered up their walls for murals by artists Miguel Godoy and Max Moses. The project cost $21,000, less than was budgeted because artists donated much of their time, said SEDC president Brian Trotier.
One of the artists, Fernando Vossa, said the largest mural is “about the human race and the inter-tangled relationship of humanity.” It depicts human faces, a strand of DNA and nearby Chollas Creek.
Shelltown resident Elena Grayton and her daughter Marilyn Santos stopped by the plaza outside Northgate, where locals, SEDC officials, City Council President Ben Hueso and representatives from local advocacy groups mingled over free tacos.
“I used to live over on 25th Street, near Chicano Park, and I would see all the murals in the park under the freeway,” she said in Spanish. “This wall was always ugly, but one day I came to go shopping with my daughter and we saw the artists painting.
“I said, ‘Look, how pretty.’”