Six massive new murals will be added to the streets of the Whiteaker neighborhood throughout August. Organizers hope the giant artwork will encourage drivers to slow down when traveling through the neighborhood, promote vaccines for COVID-19 as the virus continues to spread and, most importantly, fill the highly artistic community with even more color.
“Murals bring people together and can create a remarkable sense of place,” said mural artist Barbara Counsil as her team began to outline their chalk work. “You can see there’s a community here that’s helping, everyone’s trying to be together.”
The project was made possible by a $75,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a nonprofit philanthropy that supports the CDC’s efforts. The nine artworks will be on the street at six intersections and two crosswalks in the neighborhood. All the tracks are by different artists and have a theme of vaccine confidence. The project is just the latest effort to continue the fight against COVID-19 by the Whiteaker Community Council, which has frequently hosted vaccine clinics, testing opportunities and launched a messaging campaign.
However, the artists and volunteers were disappointed to find their canvases covered in a slick of grease and sand when they arrived to begin their work on Saturday morning. The intersections of Chesire Avenue and North Cedar Street, Clark Street and Jefferson Street, as well as North Lawrence Street and Clark Street were all vandalized with what organizers believed to be some type of car wax. Whatever it was, it took time that was supposed to be spent producing art.
Vaccines are still a contentious issue, especially in counterculture spaces with little faith in government.
“We have many anarchists in our neighborhood. They are very hard to convince. And, you know, understandable,” said Dilena Cardona, president of the Whitaker Community Board. “Me personally, I’ve lost eight family members because of misinformation about COVID… I’m so far away from all my family and Whiteaker just hugged me and I’m trying to save my family — the ones that are close to me.”
Despite the vandalism, Cardona said most in the neighborhood are pro-vaccine. Organizers said that while the project was funded by the CDC Foundation and was about vaccine confidence, it mainly serves as an opportunity to pay artists for their work, celebrate the neighborhood and slow down traffic.
“This was a really creative way to pay artists, to honor their creative spirits,” said Doriandra Smith, Whiteaker Community Council’s program manager. “The pieces, people are obviously a bit upset about them, but the artwork is really more about the community. They are really beautiful pieces.”
Some may have tried to get in the way of the art, but the neighborhood quickly stepped up to think of solutions and help clean up the mess. Muralists and public artists are used to the danger of putting up art in public spaces, but this vandalism was the “worst” vandalism artist Liza Mana Burns said she had to deal with.
“It was a little discouraging,” Burns said. “But what was really cool is that all the neighbors, the whole community, came out and helped … so they really saved it.”
Burns’ artwork will focus on vaccine literacy. He said it felt good to know that most of the neighborhood supported the project.
“It was a little frantic,” said one of the project managers, Josh Sands. “It’s not ideal by any means. But it is what it is and after two years of working on this project, it’s not going to stop us.”
Sands focused on cleaning up the grease while artist Tyler Schmalz began working on the boundaries of his work, “World.”
Schmalz’s artwork is about a broader perspective, he said.
“During the pandemic, everyone was kind of zooming in too much,” Schmalz said. “It feels like you zoom out and realize we’re all on earth together. We are all experiencing the same thing here. This is a human problem… Vaccination is a form of mutual aid.”
The artists and their teams kept spirits high by playing upbeat music while sounds from the informal neighborhood party bounced around the neighborhood. The project will continue over the next two weekends.
“This is delightful,” exclaimed Martha Robert, a 50-year-old resident of the neighborhood, after she happened upon the scene of a play unexpectedly. He said traffic in the area should be slowed.
“There are children and there are cats in this neighborhood.”
Upcoming Whiteaker mural projects
- Barbara Counsil, “Dancing Bears” at Cheshire Avenue and North Cedar Street
- Tyler Schmalz, “World” at Clark and Jefferson Streets
- Liza Burns, “Vaccine Works” at Clark and Lawrence streets
August 13 and 14
- Wayde Love, “No Hesitations” at Clark and Adams streets
- Alayna Sibille, “Neighbors” at West Fifth Avenue and Tyler Street
- Bret Pendlebury, “Dr. Jonas Salk” at Lawrence Street and West Second Avenue
- Tamia Treesong, “Acquired Immunity” at Clark and Van Buren streets
- Christina Schueler, “By Hand” at Clark and Jackson streets
- Erick Wonderly, “Protected Together” at Clark and North Grand streets
Contact reporter Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick at [email protected] or 541-521-7512 and follow her on Twitter @TatianaSophiaPT. Want more stories like this? Subscribe to get unlimited access and support local journalism.