VENTURA : Store Mural Picked for National Exhibit

A huge mural that covers the entire side of a Ventura Avenue liquor store is one of 50 pieces of community art selected for a national exhibition in Washington, D.C.

Painted last year by dozens of Ventura Avenue children under the direction of artist M.B. Hanrahan, the colorful 12-by-72-foot mural features anti-drug and anti-violence images, including gangsters burning their guns.

A 16-by-20-inch photograph of the mural will be displayed on Capitol Hill during the last week of June.

"It's amazing," said Jennifer Moritz, program manager of the Learning Systems Group, the nonprofit agency sponsoring the national exhibit. "It's extremely large and it's in a neighborhood that's kind of plagued by drug use."

The Ventura Avenue mural and 49 other examples of community-sponsored art projects depicting the anti-drug and violence theme beat out more than 6,000 pieces submitted to the exhibition, Moritz said.

"It really gets the [anti-drug] message across," she said of the Ventura Avenue project.

Avenue youngsters joined Hanrahan last spring in a communitywide effort to spruce up the neighborhood by painting over the graffiti-ridden wall at 580 N. Ventura Ave.

Before the painting was completed 13 months ago, transients and drug dealers often hung out in the vacant lot next to Avenue Liquor, the store's owner said Thursday.

But since the mural was finished, Ray Ramirez said, troublemakers have disappeared from behind his shop.

"It draws attention, and nobody wants to be drinking with a spotlight on them," Ramirez said of the mural. "I can't believe the difference. Personally, it's not my cup of tea, but the people around here just love it."

Funding for the project came from the Ventura County Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, which officials said seeks out programs that will steer children away from drugs and violence.

The painting "raises awareness for people about the relationship between drug and alcohol abuse and violence in their community," said Mark Summa, an assistant with the county office.

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