When asked about the common imagery of cities, the word “graffiti” is never too far from the front of your mind. A staple in urban areas, graffiti comes in many different forms. From street artists painting murals to simply tagging your name, graffiti has a distinct style and an expansive history that started in 1960s Philadelphia. Merced has not been spared from its fair share of tagging on walls, dumpsters, billboards, and anywhere else people see fit. Recently, the Merced police department has committed to focus some of its energy on graffiti abatement in unincorporated areas (areas that are mostly uninhabited). But what about the rest of the city that doesn’t fall under that umbrella?
Some stores have taken their own stance on graffiti abatement, such as Trevino’s Mexican Restaurant, when they painted a mural on the side of their building. The large scale painting shows the outline of a child along with the words “Sometimes a child is so special its innocence is so pure, heaven needs to take its angel back at night. A star to wish upon to light up the dark sky.” This makes Trevino’s the second restaurant on Main Street to have a mural covering one of its walls; the other being King’s Donut Shop a couple blocks further down the road. This couldn’t have occurred at a more perfect time, seeing as not long after a call was put out to artists from Merced to paint the utility boxes on nearly every corner of Merced’s downtown area. Typically, utility boxes are gray or green, and for some people they’re so forgettable that they blend in with the sidewalk. Community fundraising would determine how much of a budget the chosen artists would have to work with on each of their assigned boxes. Unsurprisingly, the community responded loudly, and each of the fifteen artists had more than enough to cover the cost of their supplies.
After their supplies had been obtained, they set to work on the utility boxes. Each artist was given complete creative control over what they would paint. When they had completed, it was as if a fresh coat of paint had covered all of Merced’s Main Street, not just the utility boxes. Many people felt like it was a step in the right direction of making the downtown area of Merced a more lively and fun place to be.
“It kind of became a game,” Nevaeh Mendoza, who has lived in Merced her entire life, said. “My friends and I would point out the ones we hadn’t seen before to each other all the time.”
Eventually the initial awe that came along with the art pieces being new was replaced with a happy contentment that the murals fit into Merced’s downtown as simply as if they’d always been there. Now a staple of Main Street, many people wish to see more projects like this receive funding.
“Most buildings downtown are gray. There’s so much space to paint cool [things],” one artist said.
Along with bringing a new sense of excitement to the area, many people have noticed that efforts to bring art to empty walls discourages people from tagging said walls. Ever since Trevino’s mural went up over the previously tagged plain gray wall, no new tags have appeared over it. The same can be said about most of the utility boxes as well; a far cry from how they were before the fifteen artists came along. Seeing as the response to the murals and art has been overwhelmingly positive, it’s no surprise that the public wants to see more efforts like this made to beautify the city.
“I think the only way to make [Merced] look good is to make it less boring,” the artist said. “Stop the industrial feel and make it look lived in.”