LAMONT -- On a quiet residential street a few blocks west of Highway 184, children from the local Boys and Girls Club are caught red-handed -- in a good way.
Their Friday morning is spent with brushes in hand as they paint new designs on the murals that sprawl across neighborhood walls at the intersection of Palm Avenue and San Gorgonio Street.
On one surface, a large purple flower and sparkling stars spring forward on a backdrop of black. On another, rays of green and magenta sunlight shine over a landscape of red and white rolling farmland that resembles a wind-washed American flag.
On a third wall, brothers David and Thomas Ramirez add sky blue hills and a large red star.
"I always wanted to paint on a wall," says 10-year-old David. "I always wanted to be an artist."
He sure seemed to be in the right place. A $1,500 grant from the California Endowment allowed him and the other youngsters to participate in the "Chicano Alley" project, whose aim is to harness graffiti-like talent for acceptable artwork in a community covered with tags.
The endeavor, which is expected to be complete by early fall, is largely the result of a donation from the Arts Council of Kern to the Dolores Huerta Foundation and its Neighbors United youth program.
Jorge Guillen, an Arts Council board member, gave a presentation to the Boys and Girls Club about "urban culturalism," an outlet for artistic expression that he says brings people together. His work can be found on brightly colored electrical boxes in downtown Bakersfield, and there's a purpose behind his palette.
After all, it took a while before a neighborhood was willing to allow his proposal to materialize.
"It's really a tool for us to get past the pessimism and the negativity," Guillen says. "We want to do something positive, something that will last."
Guillen, a 28-year-old student at Cal State Bakersfield, remembers dipping his feet in tubs of paint for art projects back in kindergarten.
He laments the budget cuts that have caused the removal of art in many schools' curricula and believes those changes have something to do with the prominence of tagging in places like Lamont.
"This art style was designed to get kids away from that," Guillen says.
Says Elizabeth Yeasley, director of the youth club on Segrue Road: "They know they have a place to go, and they can take pride in it."
Near the perimeter wall of a house at the intersection, Emily Delgado swings her brush through a tray of deep blue paint.
The incoming 10th grader at Highland High, whose work has been featured at the Boys and Girls Club's "ArtFest" fundraiser, often notices graffiti in Bakersfield.
"Unfortunately," she says.
Just around the corner, Israel Martinez emerges from his home. Martinez has lived here for three years and says people drive through just to see the murals. A handful of noisy children encroaching on the property early in the morning doesn't seem to bother him.
"They use the art in a good way," he says. "It's much better than seeing the graffiti."