LIFESTYLE

Community project in poverty-stricken Mexican town literally brings art to people's homes

Hundreds of houses painted in bright colors in what organizers claim is Mexico's largest mural, is part of a government-sponsored project is called Pachuca Paints Itself, in the Palmitas neighborhood, in Pachuca, Mexico, Thursday, July 30, 2015. German Crew is the artist collective responsible for painting the mural project. Director Enrique Gomez, who goes by MYBE, said the crew has painted 1,500 square meters with 20,000 liters of paint. The project aims to bring the community together and rehabilitate the area. (AP Photo/Sofia Jaramillo)

Hundreds of houses painted in bright colors in what organizers claim is Mexico's largest mural, is part of a government-sponsored project is called Pachuca Paints Itself, in the Palmitas neighborhood, in Pachuca, Mexico, Thursday, July 30, 2015. German Crew is the artist collective responsible for painting the mural project. Director Enrique Gomez, who goes by MYBE, said the crew has painted 1,500 square meters with 20,000 liters of paint. The project aims to bring the community together and rehabilitate the area. (AP Photo/Sofia Jaramillo)

A community project in central Mexico is bringing art to people's homes. Literally.

A group of artists known as the Germ Collective have spent 14 months turning the hillside neighborhood of Las Palmitas into a giant, colorful mural in an effort to bring the working-class "barrio" together and change its gritty image.

Working hand-in-hand with residents, muralists have painted the facades of 200 homes bright lavender, lime green, incandescent orange — hues more commonly found in a bag of Skittles than in the drab, cement-and-cinderblock neighborhoods where many of Mexico's poor live.

Seen from afar, the individually painted houses combine to form a cohesive, if abstract, swirly rainbow design. Bright stripes that begin on one wall run across several homes before swooping into graceful curlicues.

It's an homage to the wind: the city of Pachuca is nicknamed "la bella airosa," a Spanish phrase that loosely translates as "the beautiful breezy city."

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Project director Enrique Gómez said the goal is to promote community integration and change the negative image of the neighborhood.

"I never thought we would have such a big impact," said Gómez, a tattooed and goateed former gang member who turned his life around when he rededicated himself to graffiti art and muralism.

Before, he said, Las Palmitas was a sketchy area where people avoided going out after dark or interacting with each other. But as the project nears its final stages, you see people talking to each other more, children hanging out on the steep stairways that cut through the neighborhood.

"Honestly, what surprises me the most is that people are really changing," Gómez said. "They are growing, there is more community spirit. People are taking the security of their neighborhood into their own hands."

The city government-sponsored project began with persuading homeowners to let their homes be painted, followed by a whitewashing of each building to symbolize that all the residents are equal. The art collective tapped locals, some of them gang members, to cover the houses with more than 5,000 gallons (20,000 liters) of paint.

"It's very satisfying," said Alfonso Reyes, a construction worker who lives in Las Palmitas. "In the morning you wake up and look around and see the colors that surround you. It's very pretty. You go out and say, 'Ah, everything is so nicely painted and fixed up.'"

In its final stage, artists are painting more than 16,000 square feet (1,500 square meters) of murals along the narrow streets.

Reception of the "Pachuca Paints Itself" project has been so positive that plans are in the works to paint another poor neighborhood, the nearby Cubitos.

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