FORT WORTH — Fort Worth was named an All-American city, in part, thanks to a group of teenagers armed with spray paint. Their legal street art is now getting some big reactions.
Carlos Orozco is a former tagger who joined the program known as We Are Legal or WAL.
"I don't want to get caught again," said Orozco. "I don't want to go back to jail."
He and his friends used to do scribble spray paint on public walls.
He is now on a different track. He called himself an artist who emulates Van Gogh with modern versions of "The Starry Night".
"I'm impressed than I can do something like this with aerosol instead of going on private property and just tagging my name." Orozco said.
WAL teenagers and mentors spray paint murals with permission. The program teaches kids to respect private property.
It also tells taggers to find someplace else.
Mentor Hugo Garcia finds the spaces and inspires the teenagers with new challenges.
"This takes time," said Garcia. "A tag takes seconds. If you do something that takes time, people that take seconds will not paint over it because they think 'hey, this is a lot better than what I am going to be doing.'"
The city says WAL murals save taxpayers money.
Graffiti reports have declined drastically, and crews are rolling beige paint over tagged walls less often.
Alison Letnes is the city's graffiti abatement coordinator.
"My team has to hunt for sites now," said Letnes. "And the square footage we're cleaning up has dropped 47 percent."
Instead of beige paint, the kids bring color to different parts of the city.
Starry Night sits behind the Rose Marine Theater. Their work is on a church building near Yucca and Interstate 35W. It also adds life to Carter-Riverside and Diamond Hill High Schools that used to be targets for tagging.
"The community is quite impressed with our art," Miriam Villegas. "Nobody has seen it. It's unique. And everybody loves it."
Villegas has been in the program for two years. She loves the artistic side of things, but she has also seen a change in her friends.
For Carlos Orozco, the work goes deeper than a coat of paint. He said he is back in school, away from the parties and drugs, and trying to see his future in a different light.
"They may still see me as a tagger, but seeing that I am trying to do good," Orozco said. "I guess they could have a different look on me."
WAL takes requests from property owners and businesses. For information, call the Fort Worth Graffiti Abatement Program.