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Vista residents help create public art

by San Diego Union-Tribune

VISTA — Vista residents have had a chance to experience public art in an unusual way lately: by creating it.

The city has sanctioned two Mural-in-a-Day events, one July 16 and another last August.

They ultimately aimed to improve the aesthetics of the Townsite neighborhood, which many consider to be an underserved part of the community. City officials hope the murals, along with the time invested by the community, will help curb graffiti, a common problem in the area.

“There seems to be very little graffiti and vandalism put on murals,” said Buddy Smith, chairman of Vista’s Arts Commission. “Taggers consider themselves artists and don’t want to destroy other people’s artwork. That’s the theory at least.”

The mural painted this month, 13-feet high and 69-feet long, depicted antique advertisements for Vista as the avocado capital of the world. It adorns the side of Urbn Pizza at 203 Main St., a highly visible spot.

The other, painted on the sheriff’s substation at Liz Duran Park, portrays children playing soccer, basketball, football and baseball and running track.

Artist Art Mortimer, who teaches mural painting at Los Angeles Trade Technical College in downtown L.A., designed the murals and led the approximately 30 residents, standing atop step stools and scaffoldings, in the work.

The helpers were required to attend a workshop the evening before the painting.

Mortimer lived in Vista from when he was in first grade until college.

“When I was growing up in Vista, that was a long time ago, the avocado trees and avocado groves were everywhere,” Mortimer said.

He recently found labels from old avocado crates at the Vista Historical Society & Museum, he said. Those, combined with his memory of the city, inspired the work.

Creating a mural with artistic merit that could be completed by residents, who often are not artists, poses its own difficulties.

“It’s always a challenge to design and create something that can be done in one day,” Mortimer said. “In a sense it’s kind of a trade off. If you’re going to do a Mural-in-a-Day you sort of get what you pay for — you don’t have the time to spend to make it really nice. (But) there is a real benefit in many communities of getting people involved.

“In this one … I think it turned out really really well.”

Others agreed.

“It’s nice seeing the public’s reaction to it,” Smith said. “Everyone was just (saying), ‘Wow, the public painted that?’”

Mortimer designs the murals in his studio and draws outlines on the wall to provide a guide for the painters.

Since 2001 he has done Mural-in-a-Day projects throughout California, including Lompoc, Banning, Bishop, Tehachapi, Twenty-nine Palms, Manteca and Crescent City, as well as one in Vale, Ore. He was selected for the Vista works by the city’s Public Arts Commission.

The works were funded by a $10,000 National Endowment of the Arts Challenge America grant. A city spokeswoman said no more murals are planned for now unless the city receives another grant.

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