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Mural Arts: Painting great pictures with 'shameful' funding

Murals attract tourists, combat blight and increase retail sales and property values.

It's no secret that the Mural Arts program does more than simply paint pretty pictures, but many City Council members were bowled over by the extent of the services detailed during executive director Jane Golden's testimony at a recent budget hearing.

"There's nothing fiscally irresponsible about this group, and they hit every single aspect of both the good and bad we're dealing with in this city -- whether it's reentry, crime or neighborhood organizing," Councilman Jim Kenney said. "We don't show them enough love and I'm telling you it's really a disgrace."

Murals attract tourists, combat blight and increase retail sales and property values. But the city program also hosts community meetings and cleanups, provides hundreds of jobs, educates disadvantaged youth and teaches writing and computer skills to former prisoners and juveniles recommended by the probation department.

"They get skills that go far beyond art skills," Golden said. "I can't say how important that is, working in a public space where people support your efforts in a positive way."

The recidivism rate for those programs is less than 10 percent compared to over 50 percent statewide. Council was also impressed with the program's ability to leverage public dollars into grants and private donations. Out of an anticipated operating budget of $6 million, only $940,800 is slated to come from the city.

"Mural Arts does deserve more," Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said. "It's shameful to have to raise so much to keep going when they do so much for nothing."