I-70 Talk Is Getting Ugly, But New Murals Beautify the Neighborhood

Interstate 70 roars through Globeville, and with an October 31 deadline for public comment, discussion over its expansion is roaring as well. Houses on either side may be torn down as part of the project, and murals under the viaduct at 46th Avenue and Lincoln -- paid for by the city and painted this summer -- might go as well, worries Giovanni Sanchez, a nineteen-year-old artist who's enamored with his neighborhood, its culture and its struggles.

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Sanchez is one of seventeen young artists who collaborated with master artists Carlos Fresquez and Jolt, who brought decades of experience to this project organized by PlatteForum, a nonprofit working to support contemporary artists and under-served youth in Denver.

Fresquez worked with youth to brainstorm imagery that reflected their experiences and values. His mural depicts sports iconography, a skull and a key bursting out of a treasure chest.

Jolt knew what he wanted the group to paint: His piece features Globeville residents proudly looking forward, surrounded by factories, grass and other symbols of the neighborhood's struggles for environmental justice.

Sanchez likes some things about the paintings and politely smiles about the parts he's less pleased with; he recognizes that any collaboration involves give and take. "In the beginning, it's stressful. There are so many ideas in any one artist. Putting seventeen artists together is hard," he says.

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For some of the young artists, this was the first time they had the chance to create public art. Sanchez's work already graces several Denver buildings, but he learned something else from this project. "I already knew how to paint," he says. "This taught me how to work in a group. It's not just about you as an artist; it's about the community's thoughts. They're the ones who are going to be looking at it."

Read on for more about the I-70 murals.

When Sanchez began painting at twelve, there were no art classes at his school and city-funded murals were the last thing on his mind. "Other neighborhoods have gangs. We have graffiti. All the older people I know do graffiti," he says. As his skills grew, he joined up with neighborhood-based organizations. He painted his first legally sanctioned mural, at the Globeville Recreation Center, with the street art advocacy organization Your Name in Graffiti.

The Denver Urban Arts Fund, which sponsored the PlatteForum murals, describes itself as "a graffiti prevention and youth development program which facilitates the creation of new murals in perpetually vandalized areas throughout the City and County of Denver." And the city's behind the project.

But Sanchez feels ambivalent about the city's attitude toward graffiti. "I feel like they spend too much money covering up graffiti. They don't like what they can't control," he says, noting that the Denver Urban Arts Fund projects are a better use of city resources than painting over street art.

"Since we painted these murals, nobody messes with them. If there is a blank wall, they're more likely to get messed with," he notes. That's why he wishes graffiti art was legal: Most of his earliest pieces have been covered up by the city. "If people didn't start out vandalizing," he adds, "we wouldn't have nice murals."

And the nice murals should remain at 46th and Lincoln, no matter what form the I-70 project takes: Amy Ford of the Colorado Department of Transportation says construction will stop at Brighton Boulevard and not impact the murals.

Find me on Twitter: @kyle_a_harris

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