In 1998, Rose Johnson, a pioneer of the local arts scene who died in 2009 at the age of 48, created a mural on a former mortuary building that sits on a busy strip near Thomas Road and 16th Street, in an area that’s since become one of the city’s best-known hubs for mural art.
Johnson’s mural, titled The Prayer of St. Francis, has humanitarian themes — on the wall are a dove, a peace sign, and a rainbow flag, as well as human faces representing many colors and races — and was completed with the help of several local students.
Now, this piece of Phoenix art history is set to disappear, as building owners prepare to cover it up with new work.
The south-facing portion of Rose Johnson’s 1998 mural, as it looked several years ago.
The building is currently owned by the Civitan Foundation, a nonprofit serving children and adults living with developmental disabilities.
The foundation plans to replace the mural with new artwork, according to its call for art issued in early November and posted on the website for Arizona Commission on the Arts. Phoenix New Times reached out to the Civitan Foundation, but had not heard back as of this writing.
“The mural must be painted on durable panels that can be attached to the exterior wall,” the written call states, adding that the mural will be installed on east- and south-facing portions of the building.
The call also notes that the mural should be painted with anti-graffiti materials, reflecting the fact that The Prayer of St. Francis has repeatedly been tagged.
The north-facing portion of Rose Johnson’s mural in September 2019.
Several parties have worked to save the mural in recent years. Michael Anderson spearheaded a 2017 effort to save the mural while serving as head of the Coronado Neighborhood Association, but crowdfunding didn’t hit the necessary mark, which at least one expert put in the six-figure range due to the deteriorating condition of the building’s walls.
In 2019, artists Maggie Keane and Lucretia Torva initiated a renovation plan for the mural. Keane’s best-known work includes a Prince mural located along Grand Avenue. Torva’s recent work includes an homage to Ruth Bader Ginsburg painted in the Oak Street alley recently recognized with a New Times Best of Phoenix award. Last year, foundation head Dawn Trapp told New Times that the group was still considering the mural’s fate.
Civitan Foundation says it’s looking for an outdoor mural that reflects “the neighboring community, the character and history of the building, and Civitan Foundation’s place in the community.”
The foundation is seeking a professional mural artist based in Maricopa Country. The total project budget is $8,000; artists can apply through Sunday, December 6. Finalists will be notified in late December, and the foundation expects to install the mural in late March 2021.
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