JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – You can’t have a policeman on every corner to discourage crime, but a work of art that inspires people to care for their community can achieve similar results, a Juarez artist says.

“People feel more dignified. They feel happy to go to the park, go bike-riding, go out with their pets. I feel that when I paint murals people get excited […] They beautify the environment, they promote culture and (people) deserve it,” said Juarez artist Jonathan Vizcarra.

The City of Juarez has hired Vizcarra and other artists to bring life to the urban blight, particularly in high-crime areas. South and Southeast Juarez, as well as neighborhoods near the U.S. border, have some of the highest homicide rates in a city that last year recorded more than 1,200 homicides.

Jonathan Vizcarra

Vizcarra, an Autonomous University of Chihuahua engineering student has painted benches and walls in the Fronteriza neighborhood abutting the Rio Grande and his latest project is painting murals on 12 basketball courts in Los Aztecas in Central Juarez and Primero de Mayo in South Juarez.

The torso of a woman with blonde hair, blue eyes and dark skin completely covers the concrete of a basketball court next to benches and a sandlot. Another blue-eyed girl with light dark skin and jet-black hair adorns another court farther down the park. The eyes are subtle pushback on stereotypes of female beauty, and the works feature females in honor of International Women’s Month.

Juarez and El Paso, Texas, artists are creative and have a lot to say about social issues in the region, but often they lack the physical spaces to express themselves, Vizcarra said. Juarez’s commitment to the arts and the artists is a step forward, he added.

Primero de Mayo residents say they like the murals and hope they make a positive impact on their children.

“It’s a pretty court. But it will be important for young people to take care of it,” said Ernesto, a long-time resident of the neighborhood.

Amateur artists design a mural on the wall of a community health center in Juarez. (Courtesy City of Juarez)

This is not the first time Juarez uses murals to promote community bonding and discourage crime.

Last summer, the city commissioned 10 murals discouraging the use of illicit drugs. Most of the artists were teenagers or young adults who became leaders in drug prevention through their participation in the exercise, city officials said.

The paint, rollers and brushes were donated by Juarez maquiladora plants, said Daphne Santana Fernandez, municipal health director.