Binational teamwork transforms another North Park alley

Posted: December 2nd, 2016 | Arts & Entertainment, Feature, Featured, North Park | No Comments

By Margie M. Palmer

Bluxom Salon owner Marchelle McKiernan couldn’t be more proud of the colorful mural that has been painted on the back wall facing the alleyway, which is accessed off Utah Street in North Park.

The work of art — behind the salon located at 2855 El Cajon Blvd. — is the latest installment in El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association’s Take Back The Alley (TBTA) program. Since its inception in 2012, the program has helped repurpose blighted, poorly lit alleyways into vibrant community spaces.


Mural artist Rodrigo Villa (far right) with Bluxom Salon owner Marchelle McKiernan and friends. (Courtesy of Bluxom Salon)

“As of now, the city [of San Diego] views the limited uses of alleys as a place for garbage pick-up and access for fire trucks. Alleys turn into public safety hazards unless somebody is maintaining them, investing in them, or giving them a better use,” said Beryl Forman, project coordinator for the association. “Murals, when done well by great artists, become iconic, well-respected locations within a neighborhood.”

The latest TBTA installation, Forman said, has been incredible.

“It’s actually the first time that a business owner has taken the lead on this effort, tastefully decided on their vision and design, recruited volunteers, sought out donations, scheduled regularly occurring planning meetings, hosted the event and invested their own money in seeing the project through,” she said. “It was also a great opportunity to include a muralist from Tijuana and have a bi-national exchange that we are now calling Barrios Hermanos.”

McKiernan said she wound up connecting with the mural’s artist, Rodrigo Villa, thanks to a recommendation from the association.

“They told me they had an artist who has a really big following in Mexico who has a visa to come into the U.S. to do art,” she said. “As soon as I saw the piece he envisioned being on the building, I just knew. I felt that should be here. In urban neighborhoods, alleys can be a scary and dingy place, and I liked the idea of taking a place like that and turning it into a place to hang out, each lunch and engaging the community to make [it] comfortable.”

_webComing up with the vision for the wall, Villa said, did not take long after he saw pictures of the space. Both he and McKiernan are hopeful the mural will tap into the hearts and minds of those who see it.

“I am hopeful my art will be well-received by the community as the intention [for] Bluxom’s wall is to improve and liven the space while beautifying the street. As a frontier artist, I am convinced that it is important to keep these manifestations alive and active while inviting the viewer to think,” Villa said.

“For me, my goal here is to tap into as many senses as possible with the mural. We will be bringing in speakers, new lighting, tables and planters. We are making it into a really nice space and we hope to see it utilized,” McKiernan said.

“I also have this idea of organizing a wall crawl, where we do an El Cajon Boulevard wall crawl, or also go into North Park. These murals are all over, and I think it would be really fun to organize an event where people bike or walk through the neighborhood that will help activate businesses up and down El Cajon Boulevard.”

—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines in a myriad of news publications for the past 10 years. You can reach her at

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