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Color the Mural Unifies the South Tucson Community

Guillermo Haros Clark  has lived next to the House of Neighborly Services (HNS), 243 W. 33 St.,  in South Tucson since 1967. His kids, one of whom is now 50 years old, grew up participating in the services HNS had to offer.

Clark doesn’t speak much English. But one universal language that he does speak is art.

Clark was one of over 100 people who participated in the Color the Mural event hosted by HNS and Safos Dance Theatre, on Sunday, April 6 along the Cyclovia  route.

Color the Mural was the first in a series of year-long community painting projects to complete two murals: one that will hang at HNS and one that will be part of a Safos production.

The idea came from Carla Turco, a graphic designer in Tucson. Turco attended a conference and met a muralist who used this idea of a community mural.

With a community mural, rather than have artists paint the mural, members of the community are invited to paint it. The goal behind it, says Turco, is to unify the community.

“I want people to say, ‘I did this. This is part of me,’” says Turco.

The mural itself reflects the history of HNS and the South Tucson community. In fact, the images on the mural were voted on by community members last July.

Old photos from HNS, which opened its doors in 1946, were compiled to show important events throughout their history. A black and white photo illustrates children swimming in a pool, as HNS had the first integrated pool in all of Tucson. Color photos illustrate women singing and dancing to represent the cultural celebrations that take place at HNS.

“We wanted to bring people together and to come and reminisce on the past,” says Turco. “We wanted the people of South Tucson to remember those moments and come together.”

Essentially, the 9-by-12 mural is a paint-by-numbers project. The image was drawn onto large pieces of Pellon  by Turco and artist Melo Dominguez.  Pellon, Turco says, is a type of material that can be mounted on a wall with adhesive. It has more durability than simply painting on the wall and makes the mural transportable.

On Sunday, members of the South Tucson community and Cyclovia participants of all ages were able to step up to the mural, grab a paint brush and start painting. This simplicity, says Melissa Brown-Dominguez, project director at Safos Dance Theatre, made the project extremely inviting.

“Everyone thought, ‘This is paint by number, I can do this!’” says Brown-Dominguez. “They felt welcomed and excited.”

Vicky McMahaman, 63, was riding her bike in Cyclovia and decided to participate in painting the mural. Although she isn’t an artist herself, McMahaman says the project was a great way to unify the community.

“This is a fantastic way for people to realize art is universal,” McMahaman says. “Even if they aren’t artists they can participate.”

From children to the elderly, people of all backgrounds came together help create a piece of art. Even if participants didn’t understand the significance of the mural, they were able to reach out of their comfort zones and be a part of something greater.

“These kinds of events get your soul fed,” Dominguez says. “You’re interacting with all of Tucson.”