Artist Karen Chen of Karen Sue Studios designed and assisted students at Ethel Phillips Elementary School in the painting of mural

New Mural Unveiled at South Sacramento Elementary School Thanks to Clean California Grant

Caltrans, the city of Sacramento and the Franklin Neighborhood Development Corporation unveiled a new public art mural today at Ethel Phillips Elementary School on South Sacramento’s 21st Avenue, the first of several murals and street improvements funded by a $1.75 million Clean California local grant. The local grants are part of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Clean California initiative, a sweeping $1.2 billion, multiyear cleanup effort led by Caltrans to remove trash, create thousands of jobs, and engage communities to transform public spaces.

In addition to several culturally significant murals created by local artists, the Clean California grant will fund the planting of new shade trees and drought-resistant landscaping; the creation of accessible sidewalks; lighting improvements; and the addition of artistic bus shelters to encourage public transit use.

“I want to thank Governor Newsom for these Clean California investments that will beautify Sacramento and help us uplift our vibrant communities,” said Mayor Darrell Steinberg. 

“This stunning mural and the ones to follow capture Governor Newsom’s vision for Clean California – beautifying our communities and empowering the next generation of leaders,” said Caltrans Director Tony Tavares. “We are excited to work with partners like the city of Sacramento to bring quality beautification and improvement projects to underserved communities throughout California.”

Local artist Karen Chen, of Karen Sue Studios of Sacramento, created the first mural. More than 450 students at Ethel Phillips Elementary School helped paint the unique mural showcasing the school’s dragon mascot during a school-wide paint day on May 8.

“A large number of the students are of Mexican heritage, so the mural’s dragon is a Quetzalcoatl or ‘feathered serpent,’ whom the Aztecs believed created the world and taught them about many things, like writing, art, and music,” Chen said.

The mural includes the Mexican national flower, a dahlia, in yellow which represents friendship and happiness. In the design, Chen also included a lotus flower from her own Taiwanese heritage.

Chen said, the lotus flower is special in many cultures, because it can grow in dirty and muddy water yet stay clean and beautiful, adding “it reminds us that even when things are difficult, we can still stay kind and strong.”

Daniel Hernandez, principal of Ethel Phillips Elementary School since 2008, said he was proud of the mural created by the students.

Ethel Phillips Elementary School Principal Daniel Hernandez, Sharon Sprowls of the Franklin Neighborhood Development Corporation, and artist Karen Chen pose while students assist in painting the mural.

“We are thrilled to have this beautiful mural here, which will be an ongoing source of pride for both our students and the larger neighborhood,” Hernandez said.

Since launching Clean California in July 2021, Caltrans and local partners have removed 1.6 million cubic yards of litter from state highways – the equivalent of more than 24,400 tons or enough trash to fill the Rose Bowl over 3½ times. Caltrans has hired more than 850 team members as part of Clean California, and grants have funded 231 projects to revitalize and beautify underserved communities, some of which are already complete and now sources of community pride. In February, Governor Newsom announced a new round of $100 million in grants for local beautification projects. For more information about the Clean California initiative, visit


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