Art students see hard work defaced as vandals target Old Northeast murals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's being called the shame of a neighborhood.

Murals designed for an old school building in Kansas City's Old Northeast neighborhood are being defaced with graffiti, and neighbors want it stopped. So do the artists who designed the murals over a three-year period.

There's damage to thousands of hours of artists' work. In 2014, students from the Kansas City Art Institute partnered with Kansas City Public Schools to beautify the old Scarritt Elementary School, which closed for good in 2011. On two occasions this summer, the building has been tagged by a vandal's spray paint.

"You'll notice the hexagons show up repeatedly throughout the building," Hector Casanova said, while pointing out the intricacies in the school's murals.

It might be the biggest canvas Casanova, who is an assistant professor at Kansas City Art Institute, has ever worked. It's also one of his biggest frustrations, seeing his students' artwork ruined by graffiti writers. Casanova's students spent three years designing the panels that make up the murals, which are displayed on all four sides of the school building. Casanova says, at first, he complained to the Kansas City School District, which still owns the building.

"It's heartbreaking. It's frustrating," Casanova told FOX 4 News. "City workers would come and paint over the tags, but then, a few weeks later, the tags would be right back."

The graffiti kept coming. Casanova says the school was heavily tagged on two occasions this summer. The professor says he's not mad. In fact, he wants to meet with the vandals, in hopes of persuading them to use their art more constructively.

"There's a creative voice there," Casanova said.

"They've done incredible art, and to see it defaced like this is discouraging," Bobbi Baker-Hughes, CEO of the Northeast Chamber of Commerce, told FOX 4 News.

"One of the things we'd like to do is know who the kids are that would like to be able to share what could be budding talent to come and do some stuff on free walls. We want to encourage that, and discourage this."

Last week, neighbors went door-to-door in the Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood, passing out fliers and asking for help in finding out who's to blame for the graffiti.

"It was first on the walls and then, on those windows," Abigail Contreras said.

Contreras, 20, and her husband live across the street from Scarritt Elementary School. She attended the school as a child, and says the murals helped brighten up the neighborhood. She and her family want the spray paint to cease.

"It was beautiful. It was always broken and all the windows were broken. Since he put the portraits in there, it looked really nice. It looked really bright," Contreras said.

Kansas City Police say they haven't made any arrests in this case. KCPD Ofc. Darin Snapp says police depend on tips from the public to solve graffiti crimes, since eyewitness reports are typically their only source of useful information. If you can help police, please call the Kansas City Crimestoppers tips hotline at (816) 474-TIPS.