Murals without vandalism. How do they do that?


Wandering around Pittsburgh I came upon this fabulous mural depicting cherry blossoms in bloom and a charming collection of old homes.  It was off the beaten track, enlivening not a park but the parking lot for a neighborhood restaurant.



How does something so wonderful get done, anyway?  By an organization called the Sprout Fund, with money from some local sources, and with lots of hard work by a few earnest believers in public art, I’ll bet.

Well, I’m a believer, too, and I’ve been asking all over town about the possibility of having murals in a few ugly but prominent spots in the heart of town. Literally everyone I’ve asked about it – except one artist – dismissed the idea as impractical because, as we all know, they’d just be vandalized.

So, Pittsburgh can have murals but my small town in Maryland can’t?  Washington, D.C. has murals all over town, but we can’t?

You see how my rant goes.  But that one artist who didn’t dismiss the idea LOVES it and has, with her experienced fund-raiser of a husband, volunteered to take it on as a project.  So maybe a year from now I’ll have something lovely like this to show off from my very own neighborhood.

Readers, do you know of murals in your town that have been spared by vandals?  Do tell us how it was done.


    • That’s what my research says, too! Plus a bunch of other practices that generally reduce crime – like keeping litter picked up – and also engaging local “youth” to help in the creation of the murals.

      • Engaging the local youth is a good way to get hidden gang signs in the mural. Gang tags have evolved to be illegible to most people while being perfectly clear to bangers. Also, only members of the local gang will respect the mural. Rival gangs will attempt to tag it.

  1. It’s not murals, but the city of Fort Collins, Colorado has been sponsoring artists to decorate utility boxes all over town. There are the hamsters on the wheel by the gyn, the bees, the dots, the flowers and the animals of all kinds. This is the link to map of the boxes and people really do have their favorites. And it really has cut down on vandalism and grafitti. It is a part of the Art in Public Places Program. Maybe a small start to something bigger?


  2. Austin is full of well-loved murals, and generally they are untouched by taggers. However, in the past year two iconic murals near the University of Texas campus were damaged, one by taggers, the other by a crazy person (

    According to one of the mural artists, taggers usually respect murals. However, “Once they go in there and start tagging, the other taggers think it’s okay,” Awn says. “If you don’t nip it in the bud early, they take over… The real taggers won’t mess with murals, they know. It’s just these young idiots that aren’t even real taggers.”

    • I have a few friends that are graffiti artists. Every single one of them would be upset at being referred to as taggers, even ‘real taggers’. There are ‘Graf artists’ and there are ‘taggers’. Taggers are the little D-bags that scribble their names on everything. Oftentimes this activity is associated with gangs and the claiming of territory. The only murals they respect are those done by members of their own gang. Everything else is fair game. Graf artists on the other hand make art and won’t deface a mural, period.

  3. In California there is a Program called 1% for Art. No longer recall what it’s 1% of, but yes, utility boxes and murals on otherwise ugly walls, decoration of the tunnel of an overpass–take what’s ugly or plain and decorate it, and it usually stays as painted. The City of Capitola in Santa Cruz county had an extraordinary artist or collection thereof for the utility boxes, and I know of at least two murals that are worth a few minutes’ view at least.

    One sees a lot of kids’ work on utility boxes, too.

    Good luck on getting some of that in your town. As to the mural, the bark looks nothing like a prunus, but it does look like a kousa dogwood, which those flowers match.

  4. We have some beautiful murals in town. I have no idea how they are not vandalized. I do know that living in a small town does help. If my kids were doing something “bad” in town I would probably know about it before they arrived home. Ha ha.

  5. Richmond (VA) is full of them – there are murals along the riverfront, near restaurants in the city, and in the (Virginia Commonwealth) university area. The latest crop seem to have sprouted on the sides of an otherwise truly ugly structure right where two minor but high-traffic city thorofares cross; it’s near a community college’s in-town campus, so there’s a small link for you. Of them all, the riverfront collection is the oldest, and I think it was deliberately opened to graffiti artists from the city, perhaps as a means of keeping it from appearing without permission elsewhere?

    Years ago, I lived outside Honolulu. The artist Wyland once painted a magnificent mural of a whale on the side of a building…and the city made him remove it, as the building’s owners hadn’t paid to have a billboard. I think Richmond used to do that, too. In the past decade, maybe, though, that mindset has changed. For the better!

  6. Susan,

    You haven’t been to Buffalo in a while; since your last visit, we have installed murals everywhere. Almost too many, especially in my neighborhood. They have not been vandalized, but I am ready for more three dimensional public art installations.

    Though we did just get one 3-D piece–Shark Girl! This will go into moderation because of the link, so be sure to OK it!

  7. Below, a comment via email from Perry Frank, project director of DC Murals.
    The link has it right–funding and hard work. In DC, murals are funded by a couple of city sources–the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the Department of Pubic Works. Arts and Humanities selects venues and the artists do mock-ups and compete for the bid; Public Works funnels money through two nonprofit groups, Words Beats and Life, and Albus Cavus–the groups select abandoned sites and work with youth to create the murals. Also, many murals in DC are privately sponsored and funded.

    The Public Works initiative started as a “graffiti abatement” program–a way to discourage vandalism and graffiti by replacing it with wonderful art. The answer to your question is that these great murals are rarely defaced, and if they are can usually be easily touched up. What helps is getting the whole community behind the arts initiatives–public education and information, usually starting with local community leadership. (Also, kids who do graffiti can be incorporated into the mural making, becoming part of the team lead by professional muralists.)

    Murals do cost money, for supplies, equipment, and stipends for artists and helpers. To make this happen in Greenbelt, you need to see if the city can create a budget–or perhaps money could come from the arts commission in your county (or the state of MD). You need to check into how other cities in MD are doing it–look at Baltimore, I think it has some. The local commissions, in turn, get their money from general budgets and/or the National Endowment for the Arts, through grants.

    It is indeed a process to get this in place, but with eager artists and some advocacy, Greenbelt can join the crowd–many smaller communities also have murals. The fear of defacement is really just an excuse for not putting some energy into developing a local program–yes, there may be a bit of graffiti, but if you get the whole community involved it will be small–especially if part of your mission and public information campaign addresses the general love of the murals and also the opportunity for youth to participate.

    I hope this is a help–get back in touch for more info and visit our site, By the way, our team has a benefit coming up next month, as well as a presentation at the DC Historical Studies Conference and an exhibition at the Martin Luther King Library (both in late November.)

  8. And more from Perry Frank:
    Remember that it is also possible to create murals with private sponsorship and funding–all you need is a dedicated wall, artist(s), and funding for supplies and equipment. But, each will not be less than a few thousand dollars.)

    To add to what I wrote–the entire issue of mural conservation and preservation is on the table now. Graffiti is a small problem compared with destruction of the buildings that the murals are on, usually to make way for new development. Our group will be suggesting guidelines similar to those required for buildings in historic districts (which, I assume, would include all of Greenbelt)–that is, seeing if the mural can be incorporated into the new construction, etc.–and in any case, putting in place a documentation program so that great art is not completely lost, but preserved through photos, etc. This issue was never dreamed of when public murals came to DC in the early ’70s–I would love to see cities that are just starting their mural programs get guidelines in place from the get-go.

    Another thing–in DC, the murals sponsored by Arts and Humanities and Public Works have guidelines about approval of content–each proposed mural must be run by the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, which sometimes call for changes. These rules came about because of neighborhood objections arising in some situations. For example, the scantily clad Boxer Girl on our website evoked strong objections in a neighborhood trying hard to be more family friendly–so you need to remembers that if the program is to be successful, Still, DC’s murals are vibrant and edgy, especially the newer ones. Also, many reprise and dramatize local history–imagine the historical potential in Greenbelt!

  9. My group the Garden Fairies did a massive mural in Tarpon Springs FL. We had some vandalism to our mural, someone took a hammer to one of our dimensional eggplants, twice. This happened soon after the piece was installed in 2014. I think the crime was perpatrated by someone in the community who had an axe to grind. It took us a day to fix the eggplant with a new coat of concrete. Luckily, no one has done touched the mural since, but I do have a fund set aside for repairs. The mural is 17 feet tall and 22 feet wide About 80 people — Garden Fairies, our friends and families and about two dozen children from the Tarpon Springs Recreation Center — contributed the estimated 2,000 hours to complete the project.
    The mural, composed of 46 panels, was installed Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. 2014.

  10. Adding to my above comment… I estimates the value of our mural to be about $60,000.
    The project received no public funding and was made possible through fundraising activities of the Garden Fairies and Greater Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce, which included a benefit party and the Garden Fairies’ 2009 garden tour. See more at

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