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Mural used to promote school unity

Nick Durr, 16, his red shorts covered in paint, shot one last line of Safety Orange from the spray can before stepping back on the blacktop to survey his work.

"I'm pretty much baffled," said Durr, viewing his work with amazement.

His friend, Brian Carter, 21, agreed. "It's huge."

Both have spent the afternoon spraying graffiti on a wall at St. Petersburg High School. But the result _ a mural to promote unity on their campus _ is school-sanctioned.

"We wanted to do something that would leave a lasting impression on the school," said Durr.

A pointed-ear devil, the school's mascot, whirls across the surface; a young boy waves a flag reading "Peace;" and "Mowgli" and "Beeone," Durr and Carter's tags, are scrawled along the bottom.

The mural is the latest activity sponsored by the campus' multicultural club. Their "Stamp Out Hate Week," where students participated in activities to bring attention to prejudice, and a peace tree, a non-religious holiday tree last December, proved popular. But the club also wanted a project that could be more permanent.

Durr first suggested the mural last fall, but work didn't begin until spring break. With $500 from the student council and an additional $500 from the Student Advisory Council, the two purchased dozens of cans of spray paint. Most of it was finished by graduation, but Durr and Carter were at work last week putting the finishing touches on it.

"We wanted to get something up there for the students that would unify the school," said Nan Griffin, the multicultural club's co-sponsor and a French teacher at the school.

They hope that the message and the size of the mural will help promote the multiethnic theme of the club, and inspire tolerance at the school.

The multicultural clubs were first formed in 1990 to celebrate diversity among students and give them a safe place to meet. They are required on every Pinellas campus from elementary to high schools, but vary to reflect their school's ethnic population.

Besides sponsoring the mural, St. Petersburg's club also works with other students and groups to help end conflicts that can appear.

"The most influential groups among students are other students," said Howard Hinesley, Superintendent of Schools for Pinellas County, who created the plan for the multicultural clubs. "Sometimes it's negative, but it can be positive."

The initial response to the mural has been strong. Parents and students admired it from the bleachers during this year's graduation ceremony.

However, even a project designed to promote unity can cause tensions. Complaints and vandalism that appeared on a cluster of international flags in the mural forced the two to make some last-minute adjustments.

"People were saying their flag wasn't up there," said Durr. "It's just a big hassle, so we finished removing them today."

Carter, who helped design the mural, doesn't attend the school, but he and Durr share a love of graffiti. The two met two years ago and are members of an art group, MIA.

They paint on their walls at home and on boards in their garages, but they "practice in other places," said Carter, laughing.

Members of the multicultural club assisted with some of the painting, but because of their experience with graffiti and spray paint, Durr and Carter did most of the work.

"You need can-control," said Carter. "You need to be able to control the drips so you don't make the mural look bad."

This won't be Durr and Carter's last project. Their next target is a wall inside the school where the two have been commissioned for a new mural by the Biology department. And the topic for their masterpiece?

"The rain forest," said Durr.

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