Cruising sidewalks along and beneath roadways, keeping pace with guided waters running through our Colorado towns, narrow alleys and dog-filled parks are awash in a full spectrum of hues. Not singularly due to the return of the sun’s long absent rays, these colors collected outside breweries and next to bike racks are murals rising to pull on passers’ eyes.
Boulder is visibly an art-filled town, partially due to the City of Boulder Office of Arts and Culture. Helping to fund artists’ visions for public art since 2016 with their Community Cultural Plan, they hope to “focus on the expression of culture and creativity in the public realm through public art, the urban landscape, culture in the neighborhoods, and serendipitous encounters with the arts.” Public art is on more communities mind’s, obvious through the upstart, continuation and constant brainstorming, bringing more public art programs to the forefront in Colorado communities.
The purpose of Boulder’s Community Cultural Plan is to gather art for the public to enjoy, while showcasing the talent hidden within our neighbors. The City of Boulder Office of Arts and Culture is striving to “acquire works of art which encourage creativity, contribute to a sense of place, spark conversation, tell our shared stories and capture our moment in time…” Community members seeking art to fill public-visible spaces on their private property can us the Arts and Culture website to find artists through the Creative Neighborhoods program.
Lindee Zimmer is one artist that took part in the Creative Neighborhoods program. As stated on her website, zimmerlindee.com, public art has been apart of her life for more than six years. Her website is full of the color-rich murals and projects she has completed. Forty-eight individual pieces varying in style and color gradient make up the “mural” section of her website.
Surrounding towns show Boulder is far from being the only decorated area of Colorado. Denver wears its murals like patches on a loaded jean-jacket. Block after block, artists add their stories to brick walls, garages, and store fronts drawing patrons and their curiosity. Variety and contrast between neighboring art pieces display the abundant and varied brushes that fill the Denver community.
Such a sprawl of space waiting to be filled with art needs a solid backing to see progress in a community so large, widely spread and rampantly growing. Listed as the “sixth fastest growing city” by Forbes, Denver has leapt from its spot at number sixteen in 2013. The Denver Public Art program has found a way of continuously contributing funds to their public arts program to ensure the arts grow in proportion as the city does. “1% of every municipal capital improvement project over $1 Million” is contributed to the Denver Public Art program. Mayor Federico Pena was responsible for the start of this 1% practice which has been in place since 1988. Having been around for 31 years, the Denver Public Art resume boasts significant numbers. Keeping count on their website home page, they currently have 400+ artworks in their collection, $40 million invested in public art since 1988, and there are currently over 24 public art projects in progress.
Similar to the Boulder Community Cultural Plan, Denver Public Art sees their goals being to “Demonstrate the highest levels of artistic excellence; Enhance Denver’s identity, its civic pride and broaden our citizens’ understanding of and day-to-day experience with art; Enhance and activate the public places visited by Denver’s citizens and tourists; Feature a broad range of artists, working in a variety of media; Celebrate Denver’s history and cultural diversity; and Be selected in a fair and transparent public process.”As artist’s visions and influence spread from one place to the next carried by the momentum of their art, these visual stories find their way into multiple communities. Gamma Acosta has numerous pieces of art to be seen in Longmont and Denver and has even “participated in major street and art festivals worldwide.” (gammagallery.com) This dispersal of one artists view is a connecting link bridging communities as people follow an artist and their work from one town to the next, one continent to another.
Each art organization from town to town finds their own unique way to bring art to their community. Run wholly by volunteers, the Louisville Arts District (LAD) is “made up of small business representatives, artists, and devoted local citizens who are dedicated to building and preserving a thriving artistic community.” This organization has compiled works drawing “patrons from all over Colorado and from all 50 states” for their first Friday art walks, as stated by the LAD website. Shown on the site’s calendar, first Friday art walks will continue through the end of the year, a countdown being tracked on the site displaying days and hours looking forward to the next event.
Watching from a wall on Louisville’s Via Artista street, “Downside Up” by Frank Garza pictures three women in various right side up and upside down poses. Who are the people that fill the murals decorating these passage ways? A piece of art contains limitless stories, a new story beginning each time a person pauses to consider a painting; the artist’s view shadowed by the viewer’s own. With the onset of summer, our communities open again their doors and find time to linger with the faces and interpretations that reflect our community’s stories. These reflections build bridges, bring about understanding and show us the inner workings constantly turning all around us.
The Downside Up mural began its journey to fruition in 2016 when Garza received what he said is referred to as an RFQ (Request for qualifications) from the public art coordinator of Greely. Garza says it’s common for art coordinators to work among other coordinators sharing contacts so as to maximize the pool of applicants for each project. Smart. Having not recently been to the town of Louisville before becoming one of two finalists that would claim the two spots for the mural opportunities, Garza made a trip to the town to get a feel for the community and the space he would be filling with his art; “…and it was such a wonderful and refreshing experience. This was the very first time in my career that I was allowed to really be creative… and what I mean by that, is usually there are strict guidelines or parameters to follow … or a ‘theme’ that a committee is specifically looking for. But, the selected artists were trusted to conceptualize a composition based on what we felt would compliment the locations and the city vibe.”
With that freedom, Garza began using the influences of life around him to construct his own view for the mural. The women in the painting are inspired by an old friend, Laura New Myers, whom the two models on the left of the painting are in likeness of, and Garza’s daughter whom he says has been “a figure in my public art since she was 6 years old”. The familiarity of these subjects is apparent when looking at the mural. Especially Lily, Garza’s daughter, pictured upside down with the Day of the Dead paint on her face, whose form is filled with emotion and feeling, eyes looking out from the wall with an expression that isn’t exactly definable. New Myers, as described by Garza is “an artist, theatrical traveling model” and these attributes are well represented through Garza’s interpretation. About his theme, Garza says, “It’s a window into the life, or more specifically the moment of the life of an unusual artist. She is a theatrical figure painting larger life portraits of her muses. But her upside-down muses are in painted disguises – as is the artist herself. It is obvious something has happened to cause the artist to freeze and drop her brush and palette. What happened to her prior to this moment and what will happen next. The audience will need to use their unique imagination to fill in the blanks and complete the story.”
More than being decorative, these public art installations give artists an opportunity to express their views and also create outlets for the wandering mind, where there may or may not be much space to wander in otherwise concrete and uninspiring walls. Garza feels the impotence of public art spans many useful functions “…art could create a sense of ownership, identity, healing, wonder, inspiration, or a project could even aim to put a smile on faces. But at the same time, art can be used as a tool to connect with people and it can also be very therapeutic. Now if there is community participation and youth involvement, well, this is a formula for a successful collaborative experience and hopefully positive and personal memories would always be attached to that particular piece.” Like a family that thrives while participating in activities and finding ways to spend time together, a community is a family of its own. A community, too, will thrive on the projects that bring people together. “Comparisons of happiness among countries suggest that culture and history shared by people in a given society matter for self-reported life satisfaction,” (ourworldindata.org).
Growth in public art continues to be seen as with Longmont’s Art in Public Places, calling for community involvement. As of now the towns art website is a branch from the City of Longmont web page. One current project, that many have probably seen the result of while driving around Longmont, is called “Shock Art”. “Shock Art is a community project that relies on the opinions of the public as well as the creativity of the local artists to enhance the ‘otherwise blah’ switchgear boxes around the city!”
Some of these communities have opportunities for tours and offer information on viewing murals. Maps for self-guided tours of Boulder murals can be found on the Boulder Arts webpage under the neighborhood mural program tab. Both cycling and driving routes are available. The due date to be considered for the 2019 Mural Artist Roster has passed which begins the watch for fresh contributions in our public art collection. Denver Public Art also offers walking and bike tours, dates of which are posted to their Public Art tours page. Private tours are offered dependent on staff availability.