Mice in the News

Let Your Inner Mouse Out

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mural mice 1by Undercurrent Leaks (click to view in original website)

“There are many mice in the world but few know they are big enough to make a difference.” – Mural Mice Tag line

Welcome to one of Arizona’s finest group of artists! I introduce to you, The Mural Mice, also known as, The Prescott Downtown Mural Project. Our more private interview with the directors of the group, R.E. Wall and Margaret (Maggie) Dewar, came to be one of the most enlightening and inspiring conversations that we’ve had in quite a while. The Mural Mice extend themselves not only to the creation of their murals and theatre productions around the Prescott, Arizona area, but also to the community as an intricate part of the artwork they produce. The word “they” used in the last sentence is quite an extensive “they” because of the many community members involved with the murals. Anyone, some 2,500 people, or whoever essentially touches the murals and is involved with the entire mural process, is considered a member to The Mural Mice.

R.E stated, “I started the very first ground work on the mural process and Maggie stepped in about a year into the project right about the time there was a need for some kind of a name to our project that would be more inclusive to children and senior citizens, etc. There was a local festival that was (and still is) happening called Tsunami on the square and we wanted to be a part of it. There was a criteria that said we needed to be a performing art troop and that’s when I got pissy and said, ‘What are we supposed to do? Stand up on blocks of cheese and pretend we’re mice?’ That’s when the birth of ‘The Mural Mice’ came into being. There’s also a mythology around the mouse that we’ve widely discussed. Mice are one of the oldest, intelligent mammals on the earth. When they do scientific experiments on mice, it’s because they have similar genes to humans and therefore, humans have similar genes to mice. Essentially, there’s a little mouse in every one of us. The mouse has always been there in the mind of man. The Hopi’s have a prophecy that at the end of the age the mice would close the door and they would do that by bringing the stories back, which is what we’re trying to do within our art.”

We’re in the public; we can’t hide in a studio. – R.E.

“The project was launched in 2005”, R.E. stated, “In response to a community voice having been sort of left out of the political dialogue in our town. The arts have been a point of contention for our city government. The mural project was meant to address a marginalized society and community. The idea was to build a catalyst, or mural collective voice for our community to speak to our government and nation about who we are today and not just focusing on our historic culture.”

With this said, we should mention that reading our article about the Prescott Community Garden, would be helpful in understanding the political split in the Prescott area. I definitely think you should read it but to sum up; The Prescott area consists of a very conservative, rodeo loving, tobacco spitting, whiskey row-ish (yet religious) mentality that clashes with the tree hugging, Birkenstock wearing, “hippies” and they all circulate this very small populated town. This, as you can imagine, is a recipe for some very hot topic issues. R stated, “Because we’re liberal we’re targeted as ‘pushing our liberal agenda,’ but you have to be fair about that. The fact is, more liberals participate in the formation of the art we do and if others would participate, instead of complaining about the art, then their opinion would be involved with the art as well.”

“The murals are meant to bridge some of those issues in the Prescott community.” – Maggie

R.E. and Maggie explain how their murals develop into reality:

“The mural process involves the collective survey, researching and basically getting all the data relevant to our community and designing as a community. We take our designs and put it up for election. Then, the community ratifies it and we organize paint parties. When all is said and done with the painting, we bring theatre into the process. We have the characters jump out of the wall and tell the story back to the citizens of our town.” R furthers, “This is what I like to call a ‘Cultural Security Project.’ It educates people on how to fight back the corporate invasions the town throws at them and allows them to stand together as democratic voice and to define themselves so as not to be defined by the branding of towns and tourism.”

It’s apparent that the mice members are quite aware of the issues surrounding their town and are active in the effort to bring the community together. Everyone within the community is encouraged to participate in the process of the murals and this includes people of a conservative nature.

Maggie stated, “Public art is very political because everyone has an opinion about their public space. Some of the art in the downtown area is not always up for discussion.” If you have been to the Prescott area, you are most likely familiar with the famous and historic downtown area where there are bronze statues depicting the “history” of the area. Maggie continued, “The bronzes were just placed up and there isn’t a whole lot of dialogue before they happen.” R interjected, “They are gifted to the city so the city says, it’s free but we’re the ones subjected to the artwork. There happen to be three war statues on our square and there aren’t any peace statues, to me it’s imbalanced. But here we are in “their” town. It’s their Buckey O’Neill and their Vietnam veterans and their cowboy culture. The Prescott area calls themselves, ‘everyone’s hometown,’ and they’re inviting everyone here and as soon as they get here, ultimately they’re told you can live here and pay your taxes but when it comes to have something to say or influencing what the town is to become, you’re not necessarily welcome; you’re welcome to a point.”

R brought up a very important aspect of our culture that pertains not only to Prescott and its issues surrounding the community but also to our country in general. “We don’t need disaster to bring us together, we need to create ways to bring us together without catastrophe. We’re trying to tie all these cliques together that normally wouldn’t converse.” The Mural Mice know all too well about catastrophe and although they invite and acknowledge the controversies of their public art murals, they never expected the intense media attention revolving around their very well know mural at Miller Valley School.

“Art heals the city.” -R

The Miller Valley School project included about 380 students and 100 artists in the process of the mural. The painting is quite something to behold up high and mighty for all to see, right on the corner of Iron Springs Rd. and Miller Valley. The artwork is nothing short of astonishing with its vivid color. This color was not restricted to the natural landscape depicted in the painting and was actually the centerpiece of the controversy surrounding the mural. The imagery also included some of the actual students that went to the school and just so happened to be “ethnic.” Quite a scary, ahem, I mean, taboo topic in the Prescott area because, well, you know, race is an issue right?

“When they attacked it they couldn’t get a foothold on how to destroy it because of the many people involved with the process.” – R

The mural suffered a disturbing and frightening attack by some of the citizens of Prescott and this included City Councilman Steve Blair who was a host on the 1490 AM KYCA radio station. Blair’s disgusting, ignorant, and contradictory statements on the air about the race of the [actual] children depicted in the mural, fueled a media frenzy that stretched across the nation. “It was more than just about the brown people on the wall,” Maggie began, “It was more about a new group of people coming into town and trying to change things. How dare they volunteer to change this town! The mural merely highlighted the issue of race in this community. For instance, tons of people were telling us many stories and history of racial issue in the Prescott area but the bigger picture was that there was a new population that was overwhelming the old population and there’s a resistance to that.”

“This was not an isolated incident,” R continued. “Each mural (5 to be exact) has diversity in it and the library mural is the most controversial as far as the story behind it but every single mural we’ve created, we have someone say, ‘get the nigger off the wall, get the spik off the wall.’ This kind of behavior has been consistent but at the same time we get notes in our drop box that say, ‘please add more diversity and culture.’”

“The Miller Valley mural has been our most public spot and the most visible, making it quite exposed and controversial.” – Maggie

R.E. and Maggie break down the situation that created a mass media frenzy over a year ago and remains an issue to this day:

Once upon a time, “The mural followed two to three years of removal of the Mexicans from the Barrio, which is the neighborhood that goes to Miller Valley School. When the Ice Agents were kicking doors in at sunrise and finishing up their work while everyone was just getting up, we’d see it day after day, round-up after round-up, through our neighborhoods. After quietly doing that without coverage by the media, they had successfully removed 2,000 Mexicans. Legal or not, they wouldn’t want to live in a town that treats people like that. So this dropped the enrollment of the school and they thought this mural project would increase enrollment. When we designed the mural with the kids and faculty there, we were all interested in seeing a well-rounded demographic included in the painting. Though Prescott is 97% Caucasian, the school itself, at the time, was 40% minority. The student body was very colorful and the mural for that school really fits but for the rest of the town it stands out.

The flash point of the story was the denial that there were Mexicans in this town. It’s easy to say that now, because you can’t hear the music through the Barrio anymore and you don’t see them playing soccer because they made organized sports illegal at our parks. They did this to target the Mexicans whom were the main people playing soccer.

The Tea Party, the minute men, KYCA AM radio station, City Councilman Steve Blair, and the Ice Agents were all part of the way the city has been sterilizing the “right” people to live here. ‘Keep it white. Keep it right. ‘

The school board, then, came to us three times and told us to lighten the skin of the Mexican-American boy, whom was the biggest student depicted in the mural. The funders from Prescott Alternative Transportation, the school board, the principle, superintendent, and the teachers (the mural committee) came to us and asked us to lighten the skin tone in response to the many (disgusting) comments by Prescott citizens. When we didn’t do it they brought up the superintendent and they said, ‘lighten the skin or you’re not going to get paid.’ It was my [R’s] idea then, to throw up a little patch of pink paint across the forehead of the boy and leave it there and listen to the spirit. Soon, local news got a hold of the story, then the state and soon the story spread across the nation. One day, 500 people showed up at the site of the mural to protest the lightening of the skin, and this really overshadowed any opposition. That morning we also got a phone call from the superintendent claiming that they wished to apologize for their initial want for us to lighten the skin of the children. The school wasn’t necessarily acting upon racist viewpoints they were acting upon the pressure from the community that was going to affect the well-being of the school.

There was a lot of racism shrouded in practical, political language such as, ‘Immigrants are putting a drag on our economy,’ but really when you look at it from Prescott’s standpoint, it was fear, ignorance, and racism.”

And then, we lived happily ever after…. Not quite…”When the world media walked away, we suddenly were alone and the local media moved in on us along with opinions from the city councilmen and the Governor who ordered a cease and desist on all of our projects (that is still in effect today). She called them illegal murals, all of them. There was an effort from the radio station (KYCA) that claimed they were under attack by liberals and the town was in danger by ‘terrorists.’ They sent detectives after us and went through our trash and when they couldn’t have the murals removed because of all that was involved, they then declared that we could not paint any other murals without a contractor’s license along with paying additional taxes.

The murals are not the problem, the attitude of the town is but we are working on moving forward. We are building plaques for the library mural, working with Prescott College to build a community mural about the Verde River, which is in danger of being siphoned by SRP, and we are working with a teenage homeless shelter called ‘Turning Point,’ along with the children’s museum. We are trained to be self-interested and we need to get away from that and work together, that is the message we want to send.”

“I finally understood the impact of art. Suddenly they could only see what they were afraid of.” – Maggie

Although the members of The Mural Mice have been through some enlightening turmoil over their ‘Go on Green’ mural, they are still remarkably humble, inspired, motivated, and most importantly, loving. They had no harsh words towards Steve Blair and only sought to speak the truth. The mice kept their cool even when Steve Blair issued a so-called “apology” by shaking R.E.’s hand during a city meeting, all the while averting his eyes and never directly verbalizing any form of the phrase, “I’m sorry.” Blair also has never actually spoken to R or Maggie, even through the media ordeal that he created.

The members were mostly concerned with a sad and unfortunate event that happened during the turmoil of the mural where three children were run over in the intersection that the mural faced. The children were trying to cross the street so as to admire the mural when they were run over by an elderly woman and were severely injured. We felt, along with the mice members, that this was a very important piece of information to provide since in the midst of all the media attention with the mural, the children were supposed to be the main focus behind the message of the art. Who got hurt in this process? How did the actual children in the photos feel about Blair’s comments? How do the children in the school feel? Their voice got lost in a lot of the hysteria behind the mural.

Our murals tell a thousand stories.” – Maggie

R stated,

“Part of our message through this whole thing is to take art and wage art, use it as the weapon or the tool; ‘The brush is mightier than a hundred swords.’ There are a lot of artists in the Prescott area but they are disempowered artists. It’s all about getting their art in a gallery or getting their stuff shown by Disney or in Hollywood. They just don’t know how artists can step out and make their voice known. We do our art in public places but we understand that we have to do it with respect.”

We openly applaud the members of The Mural Mice for their dedication to their art and feel that their grasp on the defining aspects of art is beyond inspiring. They are modern proof of the controversies behind art and how it provides insight into society and humanity. They have been heavy contributors to the continuation of art as a living, breathing voice. Although their murals speaks for themselves, we felt the need to give the artists their due respect. We hope that despite the controversies, the murals will be remembered as generous and beautiful works and yes Steve Blair, you are welcome to your opinion, which, for your information, is the point of art in the first place. Welcome to the world of art, congratulations, you are one step closer to a less ignorant mind (perhaps).