By: Sarah Cañez
Photos: Courtesy of Keep Cuenca Beautiful

Cuenca is a beautiful city—a UNESCO World Heritage site—full of historical buildings and lovely green areas. However, unsightly graffiti and tagging mar buildings in Cuenca’s El Centro. To discuss this issue, Susan Burke March, a local expat, formed a Facebook site in 2017 to collect suggestions to help keep Cuenca beautiful. 



Kevin Donnelly, a local expat, had previously worked with city officials in California on a successful program to clean up tagging and to maintain historical significance. Social science studies had shown that a city full of tagging is perceived as unsafe and not well managed. Kevin, along with J.T. Neira, a retired Ecuadorian who spent many years in the US, formulated a similar proposal to present to the Cuenca city officials. The proposal had two parts: 1) Maintain and keep Cuenca beautiful by assisting the city in their efforts of beautifying Cuenca by removing tagging and repainting; and 2) Coordinate with local artists, under the direction of the city and UNESCO officials, to identify appropriate walls in Cuenca to paint artistic murals.

J.T. submitted the proposal requesting permits for the cleanup in November 2019, to municipal officials Señor Boris Cornejo, Engineer in Marketing, and Felipe Manosalves, Director of the Municipality’s Areas Historicas de Cuenca.  Arquitecto Manosalves approved the proposal and directs the efforts of the volunteer groups.


                                         Volunteers_JT & Ken

The approved program includes committed volunteers, permits from the municipality to restore tagged walls, donated money and supplies, and a focus to spread awareness to the community. Initially, Sherwin Williams donated paint to the city in advance of November 2019’s celebration of Cuenca’s 20-year anniversary as a World Heritage UNESCO Site.

Ana Ortiz, Manager in the Municipality Department of Public Works, scheduled a Saturday “City Minga” from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every week for residents and citizens to remove tagging on a specific wall or building in El Centro and then repaint the wall.  

Every Monday and Tuesday, eight teams of four to five volunteers had worked in El Centro between Huayna Capac to the east, General Torres to the west, Pio Bravo to the north, and 3 de Noviembre to the south, cleaning and repainting.  Team leaders were charged with keeping the walls clean in their territory.  Leaders organized and supplied the volunteers. Señor Boris Cornejo, Engineer in Marketing Property and business owners have responded favorably to all these efforts.

The city and many citizens are aware of the tagging issues but never had solutions until this group presented their proposal. While the municipality has no money to support the initiative, the city has given its complete support to the volunteers and the program to Keep Cuenca Beautiful.


ETAPA Box with Ladies_Pair

The Department of Public Works provides a storeroom on Francisco Febres Cabrero to store paint and supplies. The Guardia Civil was tasked by the city to maintain a specific watch for repeat taggers, particularly at night, on walls that were recently cleaned and repainted. Shop owners often came outside to help with volunteers’ efforts and were vocal in their gratitude.

The “Keep Cuenca Beautiful” Facebook site began in 2017 with 10 members. By the end of 2019 the site boasted 650 members and more joined each day. A GoFundMe site (Keep Cuenca Beautiful) has raised $3725.00 but obviously more is needed.

To volunteer, leave a message on the Facebook page for either J.T. Neira or Burt Johnson (page administrators).  J.T. Neira can be reached directly by cellphone @ 098-662-8710 to volunteer or to donate paint.  (permission was given to publish his name and number).


NOTE: This article and accompanying pictures were submitted before the announcement of the threat of Covid-19 and subsequent shutdown. The Keep Cuenca Beautiful organization plans to begin work again once the city moves to green light. 

Sarah Gunter
Latest posts by Sarah Gunter (see all)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: