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Artistic Inspiration

Painting for Good: Operation Clean Slate

We never doubt how paint can bring about transformation. For one Orange County man it meant a career change and a way to make a difference in the world.

It all started when former Orange County school teacher Michael Howard spotted some graffiti while with his family one weekend, “I just felt it was a cry for help, that we had a problem," he said.

He began to think of how to turn it around, coming to the conclusion that if paint could be used for bad, it could also be used for good. He began contacting schools to see if he could use their walls as a canvas for expressing good messages with murals that focused on promoting nutrition, pedestrian safety and water conservation. “So many of the schools look like lock-up facilities, they're kind of barbaric," Howard said. “It's amazing what a little bit of bright color can do. It makes it look like a fun place to go and learn."

He started Operation Clean Slate as a campus and community beautification program in mid '90s. He says the key to success has been getting the kids involved in painting the mural “It adds a pride in ownership." He also added that his murals came with the bonus that they actually prevent graffiti. “Our murals rarely get tagged. If the kids know someone who worked on the mural, they won't tag it out of respect for their friend."

Howard said he likes using the colors from Dunn-Edwards Galaxy line because they are very bright primary and secondary colors, “We wanted colors that were cheerful and uplifting," he said, noting that he's is grateful for the high quality Dunn-Edwards delivers. “I started out using any ol' donated paint but then a guy from the county said we should use good paint and put me in touch with the Anaheim Dunn-Edwards store. We've been using Dunn-Edwards paint ever since and the colors and durability are so much better."

To date, Operation Clean Slate has painted over 750 murals, over 350 schools including 6 outside the US. Their staff includes 5 part time members, artists, painting assistants and a grant writer. They are currently under contract with the LA Unified School District and are busily putting up murals all over town. For Howard himself, it's become a life mission; he left teaching to facilitate mural painting full time, which is ironic for someone who didn't see art at his career path. “When I was a kid I liked arts and crafts. I took a few art classes when I was young but didn't study it in college. I was a business major, which I'm thankful for now because I now run this non-profit business."

It's the satisfaction from his job that's his real inspiration and what keeps him going, “It's interesting where you end up in life. I never would have imagined I'd be a muralist and work with kids. I'm not going to be a wealthy man doing this, but I feel extremely wealthy from the reward I get out of seeing the smiles on their faces and the thank you's at the end of the day. Not many jobs offer that. Most people get beaten down at their work, we get uplifted."

Operation Clean Slate's Choice of Dunn-Edwards Colors:

Inca (DE562)

Saturn Red (DE28)

Wanderes (DE13)

Belinda Blue (DE19)

Stella Star (DE 23)

Saturn Green (DE 12)

Comet Streaks (DE9)

Ophelia (DE4)

Mimas Yellow (DE8)

Telestar (DE6)

See the slideshow of Operation Clean Slate's murals:

Photos courtesy of Mike Howard

Watch the video on their YouTube Channel:

For more information about Operation Clean Slate, visit their website: http://www.operationcleanslate.com/