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By Michael Uhila
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Posted on Thursday, March 3, 2011              EPA Today Facebook page  Follow epatoday on Twitter   EPA Today Blog Icon       

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Students painting murals
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If you walked down the street near the East
Palo Alto Academy, you could hear the music, but when you got closer, you could also smell the spray paint. On February 26, the EPA Academy, which is located on Pope Street in Menlo Park, hosted Festival “GAP Fest,” an art and musical celebration put on by the Graffiti Arts Project (GAP).

GAP, as it is called, is a collaboration between the Mural Music & Arts Project (MMAP) and the East Palo Alto Police Department. GAP targets children between the ages of 13-18. It was established in 2010 to allow the youth of the community an opportunity to use the medium of graffiti and hip hop to express themselves.

On this particular Saturday, I was welcomed by Sonya Clark Herrera, the executive director of MMAP, who spent much of the afternoon being the photographer for the celebration and multi-tasking between her photo shoots.

A scaffold was put up for a mural the GAP students could spray on. Kids and adults put on gloves to spray together. A speaker in the background played some old school break beats. Sonya’s dog was heard barking at some other dog. During the whole event, you could feel the love in the air, while you still smelled the spray paint. One of the attendees at the festival was an artist named Scape Martinez who used the phrase "broaden peoples minds." Martinez said he wanted people to know that there is a difference between graffiti artists and taggers who vandalize public property.

It was clear that the kids at EPA Academy were not vandalizing the school. They were putting art on the walls. Martinez said that he wanted all of us to broaden our minds so that we could understand that graffiti won't just be limited to the streets, but it will enter the classrooms like it has at EPA Academy.

There were a lot of people like Martinez, who had a lot of information, so I walked on.

Paloma Belara from Papa Lo Down, a boutique PR Firm in San Francisco, also attended the festival. I asked her if graffiti is currently marketable and she gave a definitive “Yes.”  Belara is  also a publicist for Estria, who holds an event called the Estria Invitation, which is a graffiti battle that takes place in Oakland in October.

Given the talent that was on display at the GAP Festival, it's possible that someone at the EPA Academy on Saturday could enter the battle and win.

While Herrera took more pictures, her dog barked at somebody carrying a box of spray cans. As one might expect, food was served at the festival. This time, the menu included jerk chicken, fried plantains, salad, rice and lemonade. The diversity at the festival was obvious because of the different ethnicities and ages. But the fact that everyone got along only added to the event’s success.

In addition to the mural, there was a table where kids could create a moniker for themselves and put together their own artwork in a sketch book. Some of the students, who weren’t using paint, performed and rapped about being leaders in the community. Students from Stanford University made sure people signed in and filled out a survey.

East Palo Alto's Police Chief Ron Davis was at the event to show that the East Palo Alto Police can support GAP and, at the same time, continue to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the youth of East Palo Alto.

The school’s Vice Principal Jeffrey Camarillo, known as Mr. C, spoke and the most valuable part of his speech occurred when he said that, since the implementation of the Graffiti Arts Project, there have been no fights on campus.

Maybe this project is also a violence prevention program. Maybe this event will steer a few of the youth into graffiti as a marketable career path. Maybe the process of making art can improve the quality of life for everyone. Maybe a future president of the United States is at this event. Maybe this event is drawing all of us closer to a unity that is primordial. Being at EPA Academy on February 26, 2011, certainly broadened my mind, and when I walked away, the smell of spray paint was still in the air.

Updated: March 13, 2011 at 11:17 p.m.

To contact the writer of this article, send an email to muhila@epatoday.org


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