Ty Swenson
Professional and blossoming artists were honored as White Center Heroes by the White Center Chamber of Commerce on Dec. 4 for turning graffiti ridden walls into murals for the community in 2012. From left to right: Evergreen art teacher Amanda Schmidt, Xavier Lopez Jr., Micheal Todd Harrison (back row), Gabriel Hilario, Kateah Nims, Binh Hoang, Robert McIntyre and Kia Hang. MURAL PHOTOS CAN BE SEEN IN THE GALLERY BELOW.

Muralists honored as White Center Heroes

2012 was the year of reinvention for many White Center walls, and the White Center Chamber of Commerce took a slice of Dec. 4 to honor the artists who took boring spaces, often times marred with unsightly graffiti, and turned them into works of art.

The artists – from professional adults to aspiring teens - “went beyond the norm to make White Center a better place,” said Mark Ufkes, chamber president, during the 3rd annual Chamber Hero Award banquet held at the White Center Salvation Army. The work was commissioned through the chamber and White Center Community Development Association (the CDA has been working with mural artists for years as part of the yearly Spring Clean event).

Xavier Lopez Jr. , a professional artist and arts and culture blogger, was given a hero award for his work after being given the greenlight to transform a south-facing wall at the northwest corner of S.W. Roxbury St. and 17th Ave S.W., right next door to Walt’s Auto Care Center.

The wall is dedicated to West Seattle Lions Club and shows lions, lionesses and cubs perched upon rocks in a mountainous environment.
Symbols of volunteer work of the Lions Club adorn the borders.

“Basically, painting and artwork in a city cuts through all of the different parts of a city," Lopez said. "Everybody respects it from different economic backgrounds and people from different cultural backgrounds respect it. It brings everyone together and it brings beauty to a city.

“It’s taking a chance on making a city beautiful and it is investing in community … investing in the hope of making things better. When you ask artists to come in and paint on your walls you are taking a chance … and I think it ends up helping all of us.”

At 1 p.m. on Jan. 20th, Lions Club International and the West Seattle chapter will hold a ceremony to name the mural and thank Lopez for his work.

Professional artist Michael Todd Harrison was named a hero of White Center for his transformation of the old White Center News building just north of Malo’s Auto Body on 17th Ave S.W.

Harrison brought the fading, tarnished façade to life with a colorful abstract design.

Living in Seattle for the past 22 years, Harrison moved to White Center a year ago and said, “Almost immediately I grew to love the community. I don’t really know why … I grew up in a small town in the middle of Kansas and I think that has a little something to do with it. It just feels a little more real, people are really down to earth.

“I just hope to bring my creativity and my energy to help try and grow this … whatever it is we are doing here … and bring whatever I can (to the process),” he added.

Harrison is a painter and sculptor who works with recycled wood and building materials. He said that work is also about community revitalization.

“I figure if you can turn that into art from an eyesore, you are flipping that energy into something positive.”

And finally, Evergreen art teacher Amanda Schmidt and her team of blossoming artists were all given hero awards for creating the largest mural in White Center, stretching 100 feet along the north wall of Super Saver Market on 16th Ave S.W.

The mural depicts the people, dress, and food of many different cultures.

“It was a pleasure for me to work with a group of students who were so excited about their work,” Schmidt said. “I will admit that some days when I’m teaching I get grumpy because everybody is like ‘Eh, I’m just doing this to get a grade, do I have a B yet?’ but these are all my A students.”

Schmidt stepped back as the kids worked on the massive project from April to October, letting them design the look and put all of the paint to wall.

“The kids had all sorts of cool ideas,” she said. “We had people of all different nationalities and ethnicities because, as you probably know, our community and our school reflects that. We had to research costumes from around the world and included food from around the world since we were painting on a grocery store.”

Evergreen students and artists Gabriel Hilario, Kateah Nims, Robert McIntyre, Bing Hoang and Kia Hang were given chamber awards along with their teacher.

The artists said the support of the community, as they drove by and honked and cheered or stopped by for pictures and suggestions, was an integral part of the process.

“(The murals) make us feel good about ourselves and it sends a message to everyone else that we feel good about ourselves,” Ufkes said.

Walls with a history of being a favored target of “taggers” and their illegal graffiti were chosen for mural projects, and the chamber said, so far, taggers are respecting the murals and not defacing them.

Tim Healy, an attorney who helped form the White Center Community Development Association and Spring Clean ten years ago, was also honored as a hero.

“Tim to me has always been a man of few words, but a huge heart,” CDA Director Sili Savusa said. “You don’t hear attorneys talk about communities the way he does.”

Xavier Lopez Jr. can be found on the web here, and more information on Micheal Todd Harrison's work can be found here.

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