Mural Art: Transforming Graffiti One Wall at a Time

Mural Art: Transforming Graffiti One Wall at a Time

The now transformed wall is an inspiration and has created joy for the neighborhood.

By Oceanna Holton

Oceanna Holton, director of Dragonfly Art Studio, got the idea to create the mural about three months ago as a way to engage her students in tasteful “street art” beautification projects in one of the summer camp weeks she holds each year. She and other professional artists taught the students about the history of community murals and the difference between legal (murals) versus illegal (graffiti) street art. We at Dragonfly Art Studio always connect the projects that we teach the children — whether it is sculpture, South American art, or abstract art — to the connection in art history, which includes the artists, the origin of the art, and its evolution.

What was once a drab gray cinder block walkway lined with the haphazard graffiti that has plagued many walls in America, is now a colorful, playful mixture of innocent and creative artwork by a group of very talented young artists. This pathway is one of four in this neighborhood that is a passageway to nearby Johnny’s Market and other places. They could all use a refresh for sure.

After obtaining permission from homeowner Kim Pang, whose property borders the 200-foot wall off Monterey Drive in the Casa Linda neighborhood, the Dragonfly Art Studio group went to work. Our professional artists first prepared the wall with a background where the kids could overlay their images. First a coat of heavy primer was painted on to cover up the existing graffiti. Then they added a pictorial backdrop of earth, sky, mountains, and vegetation for the children to decorate with colorful, whimsical, and realistic creatures that appeared day by day, covering up the graffiti in this well-traveled alleyway. Several neighbors in the area came out to help prep the wall, and others have already expressed gratitude to us for beautifying a highly trafficked alleyway. It feels really good to take part in this community collaboration that turned a decades-old concrete walkway into a public art exhibition.

The children created the mural under the watchful eyes of artists Gabriel Holton and Pete Gardini, retired Santa Fe High School art teacher Gary Myers, and noted New York mural artist Pablo Ancona. The professionals carried out the project with safety and respect for each other’s creative ideas in mind. Myers said the children working on the mural could “get a sense of community, of adding something positive” when neighbors came by to look and comment on the piece. He said at first sight the wall was full of “pretty nasty graffiti, so the kids now see that if you approach the creative process the right way you can call it art.”

Watching the children at work, neighbor Rosemary Romero, spokeswoman for the Casa Linda Neighborhood Association, said members of the group had been painting over graffiti on the wall for years. Romero said she hopes local property owners who see the mural are inspired to donate their outside walls for similar art initiatives. Those who would like to be involved with  the Dragonfly Community Mural Project should contact Oceanna at 670-5019.

The students also had a fun time creating stencils to paint on the wall. Neighbors first noticed the colorful animals — some based on realistic creatures, some whimsical — popping up on the cinderblock wall of an alleyway earlier in JulyWolves. Fish. Turtles. A bunny. A frog sticking its tongue out. And, perhaps most unusual of all, a winged unicorn — an alacorn, said the little girl who made it. (Google confirmed she was right.)

The spray-painted animals were set against the prepainted backdrop of different environments. Outer space with planets, stars, flying saucers, and extraterrestrials. An underwater scene with creatures known and many never seen before.  A wintry mountain pass to provide a feeling of coolness in the summer heat. A lake with monsters and friendly starfish watching as you pass them by. And in the sky there are lightning bolts, clouds ready to pour down rain on us all, a flying pig. And there are flowers of all kinds and colors everywhere.

In recent years, perhaps the most well-known Santa Fe mural was the 40-year-old piece on Guadalupe Street that showcased local cultures and landmarks, created by Gilberto Guzman and a cadre of artists.

That one’s gone now. A year ago, Guzman and the state Department of Cultural Affairs came to an agreement to allow the department to remove the large painting on the state-owned Halpin Building as part of the agency’s plan to build the Vladem Contemporary museum on that site. Guzman has agreed to create a scaled-down version of the mural for display inside the lobby of the Vladem Contemporary.

But when one mural gets covered up or taken down, another can pop up, as the Dragonfly Art Studio project proves. “I really hope it just brightens their day, to see this beautiful artwork in a public place,” said teen artist Myles Leonard, one of some 40 students participating in the nearby Dragonfly Art Studio’s summer art classes.

The now transformed wall is so inspiring and has created such joy for the neighborhood. We hope to incorporate more mural projects in the Dragonfly Art Studios’ curriculum to make more neighborhood art. 

To help fund this creative endeavor, please visit


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