Denver Urban Arts Fund Mural
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Preparation for Creative Community Intervention’s 2013 DUAF public art/ graffiti prevention grant began in December 2012 with an arduous search to find a location. After trying to obtain support for no fewer than 5 alternative sitespermission was granted to paint on the 3750 Fox St underpass. Difficulty in cleaning the accumulatedpigeon guano caused the project start to be delayed from summer to fall; this change of schedule fortunately caused many originally planned participants to not have the necessary availability during the busy start of a new school year. Nevertheless, the project still resulted in considerable community support and youth participation. West 38th organizations came together to support the proposal and hundreds of individuals expressed their support for the project as it was being applied to the wall. The positive impact of the work was evident from the beginning of its application. We began by cleaning the area of broken glass and trash and rolling a simple background of color over the vandalized wall. Just with that simple effort cars driving past began honking and smiling, waiving their thumbs up of approval from the window. In the beginning few pedestrians made their way to the shadowy and dusty underpass during their weekend strolls through town however as the project progressed an abundance of families and dog walkers made their way to the wall to talk to the volunteers and appreciate the art. The consistent flow of helpful and encouraging foot traffic: families reading poems to their children, joggers slowing down to enjoy the new color added to their part of the city, and individuals getting off the RTD buses in order to pitch in and volunteer unprompted are some of my favorite memories from the Queen City of the Plains Mural. Many people I had never met before kindly stabilized my ladder or took the time to help haul paint out of my car en route to starting or ending their days. There is something about community projects that draw out the goodwill that people carry with them waiting to offer to the world. The mural contains poetry from many sources that celebrate not only our Denver history but also our present day artists. The wall overcomes many of the racial divisions that mark, to this day, the racially divided poetry community of Denver drawing from the work of poets writing for and from the Latino,African American, Native American as well as European American peoples. The follow excerpts are included on the wall:
“ Denver Queen city of the Plains lift high our spirits sing well our praise for in you we live and are loved”
“Curtis was once called the “street of 10,000 lights”…
Colfax has always been Colfax”
“In Denver mountains bully sky scratchers for the best view”
Suzi Q. Smith
“I do not know how to love you in English
No sé cómo amarte en Español;
only know that all that life begins with love
that cannot be walled or conquered”
“We face life together in sorrow,
anger, joy, faith and wishful
I shed the tears of anguish
as I see my children disappear
behind the shroud of mediocrity,
never to look back to remember me.
I am Joaquín.
I must fight
and win this struggle
for my sons, and they
must know from me
who I am.”
Gloria E. Anzaldúa
“Though we tremble before uncertain futures
may we dance in the face of our fears.”
“I am not frequently asked which boat my people arrived on
But if asked now,
I would tell you I have Rocky Mountain rivers intertwined in my blood stream
The song of evergreen needles over snow caps in my pores
And the steps of one mile high etched into my fingertips.”
“if I had a vision or you had a vision or he had
a vision to find out Eternity,
who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who
came back to Denver & waited in vain, who
watched over Denver & brooded & loned in
Denver and finally went away to find out the
Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes”
“Love is All!”
I can’t be the only one who sees you
as this mosque spun woven gold
synagogue without formality
shofar blown car horn calling prayer
2218 random times a day
thunder-clap conducted choir
auto alarms arpeggiated against
sewer caps rattling adagio.”
“I’m from a place that’s so elevated, what we call welcome mats
Other cities mistake for clouds.
With nine different flavors of sunset and a horizon Van Gough would call a masterpiece,
And even make him proud.
Centennial State, where the gods come to sample the air
And breathe so free.
So, tell Zeus the new area code for Mount Olympus
“requiems & momentum & trimmings of bushes
dried hibiscus & hawks & shyness
brought to this place of love.”
“May the mists of time and ignorance fall away… May we know who we are..”
The mural’s anti-graffiti component was carried out through Emily Griffith High School and Bridge Place Academy. At Emily Griffith, over 70 students attended the anti-graffiti discussion I facilitated doubling my expected attendance. Students learned about the transformative power of art when backed by a community and how dramatically this way of working differs from vandalism. All students participated actively and walked away with a sense of their own ability to impact their environment in a positive way. As part of their participation these students created a set of alphabet stencils that was later used to place the above poems on the underpass. At Bridgeplace Academy 18 refugee students participated in a similar in-class activity focusing on graffiti prevention and how art can create a sense of community and belonging. These students, aged 12-13, also created a lovely set of stencils used for the wall. The remaining 30 volunteers who helped with the wall included various artists from across the greater Denver Metro Area including Cassie Zook and Jana Hope, recent RMCAD graduates, Daniel Chavez of DCM Murals, Jeremy Fagan owner of Mandala Painters, Juan Stuart instructor at Justice High, Enrique Maestas from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Christina Moglino (a visiting San Francisco artist) and the various young adult volunteers they brought as part of their teams. The variety of styles and additions to the wall is a testament to the variety of participants and the representation of young voices in the final piece. Furthermore the overall style represents the requests of the many community members queried during the project’s planning phase who requested no graffiti lettering in the piece and a representation of the variety and diversity of poets who have composed major work in Denver. The inclusion of a section of Corky Gonzales’ piece “I am Joaquin” represents a direct request from one of the assistants to City Councilwoman Judy Montero.
The recent Denver Post article celebrating the wall http://www.denverpost.com/denver/ci_24411498/denver-urban-art-mural-38th-avenue speaks to the piece’s popularity. Truly I believe that this project, in my years of doing community driven art, is the finest yet measuring a full 285 feet long and between 11’ to 22’ feet high . The transformation of the space from a dingy, vandalized and littered upon underpass to a colorful celebration of our city, its youth, writers and artists speaks to the great value that the Denver Urban Arts Fund brings to Denver residents every day.