Some towns as disparate as Harlingen, TX and Vernon, BC have decided that the way to attract outsiders is to paint and promote a bunch of local murals. The 29 murals in Vernon are history based and about the town. They are interesting to see, oriented toward local happenings, and make Vernon unique. The largest city I know about that has decided to have a bunch of artists paint murals to promote itself is Tucson, AZ. Seeing murals was one reason for Ruth & me going there. Accessing them was neither easy or possible now.
Even though they are out-of-doors, the murals are scattered all over a city with many ongoing construction projects blocking access to them, and they have grown to more than one-thousand. Many of them fortunately exist in downtown Tucson. The ones that I saw were professionally sophisticated and reflective of this city’s culture. This project, however, has become very eclectic and diverse. I saw murals that basically had animal subjects, showed bikes in motion or other forms of transportation, or featured singing stars not normally associated with the local scene. In one hour downtown on a Sunday morning I walked several blocks and saw many murals, sometimes 3 or more in one circled block. This was possible only because Ruth drove and dropped me off to take the photos that accompany this essay. Because parking is difficult downtown (parking meters and garages don’t allow short-term use) this mural seeing would not be possible to do easily until social conditions improve. I saw one tour online that involved seeing 23 of them during a 3 mile walk. Ruth & I wanted to take a tour, but in our limited time with no easy access, we didn’t know which tour to take and had no one to ask. COVID and the border mess nearby has basically shut down this entire city when it comes to seeing any indoor attractions.
There are many sites online about these murals that lead to more questions than answers with no one to ask. Many murals are clearly by professional artists and are signed and perhaps copyrighted. Several tour websites remind visitors to bring cameras, but what are the consequences of taking pictures of the work of living artists? How do you keep folks with cell phones from taking pictures of murals and sharing the photos? How do the artists preserve and refresh their work? These very inventive depictions are vivid and everywhere in Tucson. We found a few of the ones we wanted to see behind walls, or access required entering what appeared to be private parking lots. If you want to sample this huge project, proceed with caution and plan to take and book a tour before even going to Tucson.
It’s also very hard to learn the history of this community endeavor. Apparently it started way back in 1964 when artist Ted DeGrazia completed a 96-square-foot mural. In 2018 an interested committee asked for and accepted mural proposals from artists. Most of the ones accepted are seen downtown, but murals are clearly now all over Tucson. We finally gave up on seeing our favorites and headed for Mount Lemmon.