Under the Sun

Phoenix Artists Line Up to Erase Some Pro-Trump Vandalism

Vandalism, not patriotism.
Vandalism, not patriotism. Alexis Elaine Edmonds

It’s hard to remember exactly when her fence got spray-painted with pro- Donald-Trump messages, Alexis Elaine Edmonds said.

“With the pandemic, time all runs together now.”

She figured it happened on the night of October 20. She and her partner had posted their “Biden for President” signs a few weeks before, alongside a poster touting science, Black lives, and equal rights for all.

“The rainbow flags were a total afterthought,” Edmonds laughed. “They were left over from a drive-by birthday parade my friends did for me in August. We just kept them because they’re cute.”

The signs were up for a couple of weeks in the yard of their Tempe home near Hardy and Baseline roads, and everything was fine. “We had a lot of other Biden signs up in our neighborhood. There were a lot of Trump signs, too, but hey. It happens. We got up early one day and there it was, that horrible graffiti on our wall.”

The nearly 40-foot-long block wall that ran alongside their street-corner rental had been spray-painted with the phrases “Trump 2020,” “God Bless America,” and “MAGA” in big, black letters.

“My partner saw it first,” said Edmonds, who moved into the house recently. Her partner had lived there for nearly 10 years. “She was out there calling me, ‘You need to come outside right now.’”

Some neighbors out for a walk discovered the graffiti at the same time. “They were like, ‘We should just paint big rainbow flags over all this,’ and I was like ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! Let’s give this some thought here.’”

Edmonds, who works at an in-patient psychiatric hospital, called her landlord to report the vandalism. Then she posted a photograph of the fence on Facebook. That’s where the idea of a mural really took off, she said.

“People started out offering condolences, but then they were offering to come help cover it up. I figured my friends who were artists would come over and we’d figure something out. We ran it by our landlords, and they were on board.”

Later, Edmonds got the okay from the city of Tempe to create a very visible suburban mural.

Pretty quickly, the project went viral. “It snowballed to where now we were having all these really great muralists and professional artists reaching out,” she said. “Every day there were a couple more messages from people who wanted to contribute.”

Edmonds and her partner were overwhelmed by the number of professional artists offering to help. Because the defaced fence is composed of five separate sections, they announced they’d hire five artists to create their mural — one for each section of the wall.

“We’re asking the artists to tell us what they think ‘unity’ and ‘community’ mean,” explained Edmonds, who’s lived in Tempe most of her 30 years. “And then submit some kind of sample of what they’d be painting. We’ll go with the best answers. And we have gotten some beautiful art so far, too.”

Edmonds and her partner believe artists should be paid, so they launched a GoFundMe account to raise money for the project. “We were asking for $1,200, and it was funded in less than 24 hours,” she marveled.

While the couple worked out the details of a COVID-safe, socially distanced, mask-wearing painting party, the city of Tempe stepped in.

“They wanted to power-wash the graffiti away,” she recalled. “But when we told them about the mural, they prim-
ered the whole fence. The whole thing! So that wall is ready to be painted.”

Edmonds hopes to have the artists chosen this week, and the mural completed early this month. Meanwhile, she’s been thinking bigger-picture thoughts.

“This whole thing got me wondering if our house was targeted because we’re an interracial queer couple,” she mused. “Did these people just hate our yard signs, or did they hate us?”

She’s also been thinking about the older couple who stopped their car to admire the graffiti before it was painted over.

“One of them called to me, ‘You’re not going to take that down, are you?’” Edmonds remembered. “They told me I should leave the graffiti because it was a message of patriotism. And I’m like, ‘Um, no ma’am. That’s not patriotism. That’s vandalism.”
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela