Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008

Mural to symbolize growth, transformation

Arts on the Block enlists out-of-school teens for project

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Carien Quiroga (left) of the Wheaton-based Arts on the Block, the lead artist for a new mural on the retaining wall at the intersection of Piney Branch Road and New Hampshire Avenue, and apprentice artist Christian Rivera, 19, talk about the project Friday during an unveiling presentation at Broad Acres Elementary School in Silver Spring.
Today, the retaining wall at New Hampshire Avenue and Piney Branch Road is gray, colorless and marred with graffiti. But by the end of the summer, a group of local activists and young artists plan on converting it into a vibrant mural featuring the sun, moon, comets and other heavenly bodies in a bright array of colors.

Since mid-October, a group of 14 out-of-school youths have worked with the group Arts on the Block in a Wheaton studio to create a simple and artful design that they hope will become a lasting deterrent to graffiti at the retaining wall located near the border of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

The program’s participants worked up to 20 hours a week for a stipend and received work experience while trying to go back to school, transition into the workforce or just keep out of trouble, said Jan Goldstein, the director of Arts on the Block.

‘‘It was something to keep me occupied so I wouldn’t do anything stupid,” said Carlos Walker, a 20-year-old Washington, D.C., resident who got involved with the program after confusion with his class registration forced him to stop attending facility maintenance classes with Job Corps in Anacostia, he said.

Christian Riviera, a 19-year-old Wheaton resident and aspiring artist, said he wanted to help create something positive in his community and get to practice his art at the same time.

‘‘I hate seeing [the graffiti],” he said. ‘‘It’s disrespectful to the community.”

On Friday night, several of the participants and lead artist Carien Quiroga unveiled the design that was chosen for the wall, which is 560 feet long and ranges from 3 feet to 20 feet high.

The design features a kaleidoscope-like progression from left to right across that begins with the moon and changes colors as it transforms into comets and the sun.

‘‘The sun is the bright future,” said Elisa Rubio, 18, of Langley Park.

Above the design were the words ‘‘change,” ‘‘growth” and ‘‘transformation,” which the participants said represents what they hope their project will help accomplish along the New Hampshire Avenue corridor, an area that is often a byway for gangs.

The wall is owned by the State Highway Administration, which has agreed to the mural. Goldstein said the design will be painted on aluminum sheets, which should be finished by April. Arts on the Block is seeking volunteers to help erect it during the summer. She said the total cost of the project will run between $75,000 and $100,000 and is being paid for by an ‘‘amalgam of community partners.”

Initial money came from a grant from the Open Society Institute, a private foundation. The project has received donations for materials, and additional support has come from the office of Prince George’s County Councilman Will Campos and Montgomery County’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs, Goldstein said. Arts on the Block also plans to hold fundraisers.

Victor Salazar, a coordinator with the crime-prevention group Weed and Seed, said the project’s sponsors, which include the Maryland Multicultural Youth Center and Collaborative Supervision and Focused Enforcement (C-SAFE), hope the new mural will contribute to efforts to reinvigorate the corridor, including a planned renovation of Broad Acres Local Park and a transit center at the Takoma⁄Langley Crossroads.

‘‘This could be the beginning of change in our community,” he said.