Around this time last year, some residents of the Whittier neighborhood started receiving copies of an anonymous racist letter. Though it contained only two simple lines, expressing who wasn’t “welcome” in one of Denver’s oldest ’hoods, the community united to fight back against the hateful message. This determination — along with an application for a neighborhood-beautifying P.S. You Are Here grant — led to the creation of the Whittier Alley Loop. The project is a multi-block art installation, one that aims to create more spaces where neighbors can connect while also illustrating the troubled history and bright future of Whittier.
After collecting a $7,000 P.S. grant from Denver Arts & Venues, neighbors launched a $4,831 Kickstarter to fund the rest of their vision: one dollar for each community member. Overseen by neighborhood association president Darrell Watson and a team of residents who are designers, artists and grant-writers, the group has spent the past year working with neighbors to draft the site-specific murals, sculptures and communal public spaces that will comprise the Whittier Alley Loop. “We want to see people have more openness toward each other and more understanding — not that they don’t now, but it is a neighborhood that is changing,” says Whittier resident and project designer Brian Choquette. “There’s been lots of conversation about gentrification; this project was part of a larger picture that the neighborhood association had, which was called the ‘Love Where You Live’ campaign. That idea was to get neighbors to know each other and interact more and be friendly to each other.”
The Loop will be bordered by four alleys, encompassing nine main gathering places along a half-mile path connected by painted lines. Starting at the northeast corner of Madame C.J. Walker Park, the first alley is located on what was once known as the “color line” — a neighborhood demarcation used as recently as the 1950s to enforce segregation between black and white residents. There will also be an outdoor reading area near the Ford-Warren Library, stenciled quotes from community members along the path, and various art installations. One planned piece is a collaborative mural by artists Jamie Molina and Pedro Barrios, who are working with Manual High School students from the youth-empowerment program Project VOYCE.
Collecting input from people across the neighborhood was key to finalizing the plan for the Whittier Alley Loop. “We worked to highlight the terrible history that was part of the neighborhood and show that, obviously, there are still problems in our society today — but we also wanted to show that we could rally around each other and provide a stronger neighborhood through that,” says Choquette.
Though it has already raised a good chunk of its Kickstarter goal, the Whittier Loop Project still has a ways to go. Once it is funded, the dozens of planners, designers, artists and residents involved will get to work on making the neighborhood-beautification blueprint a reality.
For more information, visit the Whittier Alley Loop Kickstarter page.
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