La Alma Lincoln Park Branches Out With "Tree Tales" Installation | Westword

Art Branches Out in La Alma Lincoln Park With "Tree Tales"

Already known for its murals, this neighborhood is starting a new chapter with young artists.
Painted flags hang from trees in La Alma Lincoln Park as part of the "Tree Tales" installation.
Painted flags hang from trees in La Alma Lincoln Park as part of the "Tree Tales" installation. Courtesy of Melody Epperson
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While La Alma Lincoln Park is known for murals created over the past several decades — as well as the big First Friday events in galleries and venues along Denver's Art District on Santa Fe — younger artists are getting in on the action, too.

For the past year, Colorado artist Melody Epperson has been working on a visual and sound installation project named "Tree Tales," collaborating with the Arts Street program that's located half a block from La Alma Lincoln Park. As part of the project, eight young artists painted yellow, orange and red flags that now adorn the branches of eight trees in the installation; each one includes a digital recording of a story about the tree recorded by the artist that visitors can find online via QR codes.

The young artists involved in the project were "really embedded into the community," Epperson says, noting that some of them grew up in the neighborhood and even have parents who were involved in Arts Street when they were younger. That program serves ages 14-24.

"They're really connected to that community, and I appreciate how sensitive they are and aware of the different organizations there," she adds. "The project is nice in that it was made by a generation that was very aware of its community."

Epperson wants the installation to remind people of their connections with other people and with nature. Her inspiration for the project stemmed from scientific articles about trees that she read while passing the time during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

"The trees support one another and nurture one another," Epperson says. "I found it a rich metaphor in the fact that nature has managed to navigate really complex problems like fires, and much like us during our pandemic, they're able to stay connected and support and recover."

The idea of decorating trees with flags and stories emerged as Epperson did more research and noticed that trees play educational and spiritual roles in cultures throughout the world. "There's a whole bunch of traditional tales that use trees as the instrument of teaching lessons or providing spiritual guidance or creation stories," she says. "If people will slow down and notice the trees and listen to the stories, then they'll not only gain wisdom from the trees, but they'll recognize our own interdependence with each other and with nature."

Initially she thought about adorning trees within an eighty-mile radius. But as she fine-tuned the concept, she decided to narrow her focus and go with eight artists in the Arts Street program, since she'd worked with the organization before.

The participants chosen to paint the flags came up with their own stories about the trees. A few are retellings of legends, such as the Nordic story of Yggdrasill, the old ash tree that holds together the universe and whose roots extend to the heavens and the underworld. Other stories are completely original, like one about an immigrant from India who ponders the similarities and differences between the banyan trees of her native country and the apple trees in her New Jersey home.

The students recorded their stories at Youth on Record, another nonprofit organization based in the neighborhood. Funding for the project came from Denver's P.S. You Are Here grant program, which funds neighborhood-based arts projects around the city. "Tree Tales," which debuted earlier this month, is expected to stay in place through November.

During her time exploring the area for installation sites, Epperson realized that the park "truly is a hub for the neighborhood," she says.

"It has all the rich history of the Chicano movement," she adds. "It is a beautiful connection or metaphor for what the project is, which is about community and about supporting. It's about regrowth and rejuvenation, and the park has the depth of the meaning." 
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