Some of Mesa’s cultural jewels are hidden in plain view. They come in the form of surfing poultry, talking teapots and air-born bovine. They are Mesa’s murals, passed every day without a second glance.
“As long as murals are done in good quality, and looks purposefully done, everyone can appreciate that,” said Mesa gallery owner and artist Mark Imbeault.
Aside from adding a little color to the community fabric, shop owners say the murals deter crime and provide the framework for the city’s arts district.
There’s even talk of hosting a community mural created by a professional artist and produced by children.
“I think, for the most part, the general public can appreciate art,” Imbeault said.
“IT MAKES PEOPLE HAPPY”
One of Mesa’s oldest murals belongs to Pat Foster, co-owner of Pete’s Fish and Chips.
Foster said the company has employed a professional artist to paint murals at her businesses for 20 years — “before it was cool to do it.”
“For all I know, we started it,” Foster said.
The mural on the wall of the drive-thru restaurant on Mesa Drive depicts cartoonish ocean life and provides a little distraction for those eager for their Super Seafood Combo.
“The customers comment and think it’s funny,” Foster said.
So far, Foster has not been contacted by any city officials looking to crack down on the mural, she said.
“I think it’s cute and it looks better than white stucco,” she said. “It makes people happy. It’s a victimless crime ... if it is a crime.”
The city code stipulates that a mural may be located in a town-center area that is subject to a sign permit, and requires a review by the Downtown Development Committee.
There has been at least one mural owner with a run-in with the city — if only by accident.
Doug Erenberg, owner of the feed mill buildings on Hibbert Street and Broadway Road, brought artists in to paint the mural in 2003.
When the group met at the mill to get started, they were swarmed by five Mesa Police cars responding to a graffiti call.
“I had to tell them I’m the building owner and I had a notebook showing them the murals I had done on other properties,” Erenberg said.
The inspiration for that mural first came from Erenberg’s desire to contribute to the downtown art scene.
“So I decided to sponsor my own mural,” he said.
He also wanted to pay homage to the buildings’ original use, which was an important feed and grain mill that served East Valley dairy farms.
Thus the parachuting cows.
“So I recruited an artist who worked with me to come to Arizona to do something fun on the wall,” Erenberg said.
Gary Brown has never had a graffiti problem in the 15 years since he commissioned the shark mural outside Surf & Ski.
“That’s really been neat, and I really appreciated (that),” he said.
Murals have been known to reduce the appeal of vandalism, according to a 2004 U.S. Department of Justice report on graffiti.
“Graffiti offenders appear to respect the artwork on such murals, but the surfaces can be protected with anti-graffiti coating,” the report states.
But that is not always the case in Mesa.
As long as the area is visible and accessible, it’s a target for “taggers,” said Lenny Hulme, deputy transportation director.
“They get hit just as many times as any other place,” he said, adding that vandals sometimes will throw black paint on a mural first to create an area to tag.
But the murals usually are a sign of community pride.
“It’s where it’s located, and what the city and the people involved want to see presented in the public,” Imbeault said. “I love it of course, being an artist. I like to see things painted.”
Imbeault painted the whimsical mural inside Mrs. Potts Tea Party, which hosts tea parties for little girls.
He said he would be in favor of someday doing a community mural, directed by him but painted by children or high-school students.
There are no concrete plans in place, as the downtown Mesa art scene is mainly focused on sculptures.
“But hopefully we can launch that sometime soon,” he said. “We need a wall. We need to find a spot — any spot would be fine.”
“WE WANT THE WORLD TO KNOW”
For Charla Chilcott, owner of Mrs. Potts Tea Party, staking a place in downtown Mesa has been a priority.
She said she gets requests to come to Ahwatukee, Scottsdale and Queen Creek, but can’t leave the 1930s house that gives her shop its charm.
Two streets away, Don Salter was brainstorming his own ideas for a mural.
He wanted to base it on a trip to Egypt.
On the left side, a sun. On the right, a moon. And a pyramid in the middle.
But he also wanted something that reflected his business, Saltmine Studio Oasis, so he included the faces of musicians John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
“I thought it would be a great divider for the driveway,” he said.
Salter built his studio in 2003 after being lured to the area to be part of the arts scene.
“We see it as a chance to show off our cultural vibe,” he said. “We are proud of being in the Mesa arts district. We want the world to know we have one."