Taming the painting
Eagle Eyes uses murals to reduce graffiti and promote safety
By Heidi Masek firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Litchfield Lane in Manchester and you’ll find murals across garages in the residential alley.
Neighborhood group Eagle Eyes initially offered free murals to get rid of graffiti, said Cheryl Mitchell. The paintings also “brighten up and beautify the neighborhood” and provide traffic calming — people slow down to see them, she said. More people tend to walk through the alley, too.
Eagle Eyes painted 17 garages last year and found only small instances of graffiti on three this year, Mitchell said.
Eagle Eyes was launched after Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs was shot in Mitchell’s yard in 2006. Mitchell had found that she knew far fewer people on her street than she did as a child. Eagle Eyes started as a neighborhood watch and grew into a multi-faceted organization.
Eagle Eyes’ current focus is the Maple Street skate park. Over the last two years they’ve painted a mural and cleaned up another that was already there with the help of kids, young adults and artists. Having more parent and adult presence in the park would make a big difference in the neighborhood, she said.
Local artist Kathy Tangney (www.kathytangney.com) helped the mural program twice. Tangney last met Eagle Eyes at the skate park in June where volunteers helped cover graffiti and repair a mural. Maybe 50 kids alternated between skating and painting, Tangney said.
“It really was a very cool experience,” Tangney said. She talked to Anthony Williams, an AmeriCorps VISTA community artist, who organizes the Eagle Eyes’ mural program, about “the kids and the anger and the need to do something. It’s kind of a way to [redirect] the kids’ energy in a positive way,” Tangney said.
Some kids worked on “free style” murals that day and Tangney found it interesting to watch them sort out a disagreement about what should be painted. “It’s funny, that need for territory, or space to do what they want to do,” Tangney said.
Mitchell said some kids who paint graffiti “have really great talent but don’t use it properly.” Tangney thinks a designated place for graffiti, as is done in New York, would be useful. Tangney also thinks Manchester could use more murals, at places like Bridge and Elm streets, which used to have “a great one,” she said. There was another great one on the former Merrimack Restaurant, she said.
“I just think they’re an interesting ... and vibrant part of the town,” Tangney said. Local people express themselves in murals, and she’d like to see the art of the many cultures now in Manchester expressed this way.
The mural program is working and growing, and “it’s worth it to see would-be taggers do something from the heart in a designated area,” Williams wrote in an e-mail. Eagle Eyes is planning more murals on Litchfield Lane, one on Stark Lane, and a 50-foot long one on the back of 142 Central St., according to Williams. He wrote he is working on setting up painting dates in August, and is starting to get corporate support. Burger King sent volunteers to help at the skate park, he said.
Mitchell said Eagle Eyes is hoping to do mural work on doors and perhaps mailboxes. However, they haven’t received as many requests this year. Mitchell believes that more people are struggling just to keep food on the table, and aren’t worrying about beautifying the neighborhood. Eagle Eyes often has trouble locating landlords to seek permission to paint.
Mitchell’s property has a mural dedicated to her grandson who passed away.
Community police have been “absolutely wonderful” in assisting the group, Mitchell said. Eagle Eyes’ other efforts include identifying and assisting elderly neighbors, holding holiday parties and street clean-ups and finding assignments for people to work off community service. The group even acts as a resource, helping neighbors figure out things like where to go for emergency food. Eagle Eyes puts out a newsletter every two months with 165 on their e-mail and snail mail list (see eagleeyes1.org.p4.hostingprod.com).
To help raise money to cover costs, Eagle Eyes is holding a yard sale Sunday, Aug. 9, from 9 a.m. tentatively until 4 p.m. at the corner of Lincoln Street and Lake Avenue in Manchester.