Volunteer Painter

Insider Info

Graffiti rules! Wrong!

In many communities, volunteers are willing to paint over graffiti and replace it with cheerful murals.

"The secret of graffiti is to remove it right away," says Jim King, program coordinator for a crime prevention society. "If you leave it up, it says people don't care. That encourages more vandalism and downgrades property values."

King says his volunteers first "paint out" graffiti. If the area is hit repeatedly, the society asks the business or neighborhood to consider a mural.

"The teens we get to do it have done some beautiful work," he says. Even better, the murals are typically left graffiti-free. "It's something about respect for other artists' work."

Graffiti is not the only thing that can make a neighborhood ugly. Sometimes it just suffers from age and neglect.

"Fences around school yards get really rusty," explains Susan Ellis for Volunteer Impact, a volunteer organization in Detroit, Michigan. VI sends in volunteers to repaint the fences silver, and add new basketball hoops and lines, flowers and trees.

Ellis says painting is one of the most popular activities, even though volunteers often end up covered in shiny paint. "On the silver project, they all get to calling each other the Tin Man [from the Wizard of Oz]," she says with a laugh.

Since 1984, the Foundation for Hospital Art, based in Roswell, Georgia, has employed tens of thousands of volunteers to paint murals and artwork for hospitals and medical wards in correction facilities. The Foundation has created over 30,000 paintings for more than 1,000 hospitals in over 165 countries around the world.

"We draw everything out and color-code it, so the volunteers just come in and help paint, like Tom Sawyer's fence," explains John Feight. He's the foundation's founder and executive director.

Feight says he was inspired to get art in to hospitals when he saw a woman gazing at a blank wall during one hospital visit. "I thought if I could put art in front of her, I could ease her pain," he says.

Painting murals in hospitals puts more than color on the walls. That is something Heather Neiman says she learned while volunteering with the Foundation for Hospital Art in an old hospital in Ireland.

The first day in the hospital, Neiman's job was to draw a mural in the hall of the fourth floor. Patients in their rooms came out to watch. She remembers one man in particular who was there being tested for cancer.

"That first day, he was really grouchy. The second day, the mural was all drawn out, and at 8:30 in the morning he was there waiting for me, ready to paint!"

Neiman says the man painted every day that week, and on every floor. "He told me the best day of his life was the first day he painted," she says.

At the end of the week, the man learned he didn't have cancer. However, Neiman still feels that she came away from the experience with more than he did. "That's just a wonderful feeling, putting color in to a person's life," she explains.

Mike Boivin helped paint a huge mural at the back of a recreation center. "It's to combat vandalism," he says. "The neighborhood liked it, and they said it was the best thing that could have been done."

Boivin says he realized the importance of the project when the mayor came to view their work in progress. "He came out, put on coveralls and started painting," says Boivin, still amazed. "Even he thought it was a good idea!"

How to Get Involved

Many volunteer organizations have community clean-up days, when volunteers are asked to help paint over graffiti, create murals or put fresh paint on playground fences.

To find out what might be happening near you, talk to your school counselor or call your local chamber of commerce, United Way or community resource center. These places may have the names and numbers of volunteer organizations in your area that provide community painting.

For those who want to brighten the halls of a local hospital, homeless shelter or nursing home, contact the Foundation for Hospital Art.


The Foundation for Hospital Art
120 Stonemist Crt.
Roswell , GA   30076


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