Muralists cover-up Minneapolis graffiti, despite gang intimidation

Painting a mural in crime-plagued neighborhoods can be risky.  One group of teen artists in south Minneapolis found that out the hard way after an intimidating encounter with gang members.

Art director, Jimmy Longoria leads teens through a city funded program called, “Step Up” to help paint murals in communities plagued by crime. The group of mural artists paint over gang graffiti to beautify the neighborhood, but also understand their work can be interpreted by gang bangers as a sign of disrespect.

Longoria says some gang members drove by an alley off East Lake Street and started to glare at them and asked why they were covering up the graffiti.

“It's sort of this unspoken indirect intimidation. It happens all the time to the people who live and work here.” One artist said.

Although some artists were a little nervous they continued to keep on painting.

“I am responsible for all these teenagers and I don't want anybody to get hurt,” Temesgen Fekadu who manages the teens said.

“We just get in a zone, keep working and don't let it phase us,” another mural artist said.

“And we said we are taking this wall away from gangs and then they just drove away,” an artist said.

It’s a part of town that’s a known hot spot for drug deals and prostitution, which is why they're trying to take back this alley way, one brush stroke at a time.  These murals take all day to paint and when the project is done, any trace of gang signs are gone and rarely come back.

“We stand our ground and keep painting until we get the job done,” a Step Up member said.

Even though it can be scary at times, these artists say they'll keep painting, knowing this lone bright spot they just created, is already making a difference.