Multi-disciplinary artist Leslie Minnis spent two years trying to find a site and funding for a paint-by-numbers street mural about climate change, "Future Token." In May 2018, the Denver Urban Arts Fund gave her $3,000 to create it.
But even after raising the money, it took another five months for Minnis to find a site. Some business owners liked the idea of having art on their outside walls but turned her idea down, saying that “Future Token,” a mural depicting scenes related to climate change, was too political and might scare customers away.
“What I realized when trying to find a spot for this mural is how much businesses only support art that will help sell their products or brand. Anything too political is off the table, even if they strongly agree with it,” Minnis says. “This is one of the many ways capitalism changes the subject before we’ve even started talking."
Finally, she spoke with artist Mar Williams, owner of Cabal Gallery, who agreed to let Minnis use the outside of that building. “For Mar and Cabal Gallery to do that says a lot.”
The style and method of “Future Token” differs from Minnis’s other work. Past murals include a 120-foot-long, Colorado-themed wall at Valverde Elementary that she created with help from 100 volunteers and the assistance of Arrow Electronics, a Fortune 500 company that supports local art efforts. “That was the first one, years back, and it led to many more school projects,” says Minnis. “My next mural is scheduled for MLK Day at South Elementary School. Arrow is renting seven or so scaffolds, and I’ll have thirty volunteers. I will paint two 62-by-4-foot murals.”
While Minnis says she enjoys working on school murals, she’s been forced to keep her content rather tame. “I would be over the moon to be able to paint content around actual community issues,” she admits.
In “Future Token,” Minnis doesn't hold back: Nothing is more important to the artist than the issue of climate change, she says. She hopes her art brings people together to discuss the problem and find a remedy; that's why she chose to include other people in the project," she explains.
“Everything is so superheated and political right now, and it’s hard to ignore,” she says. “I don’t want to ignore it. This mural is an opportunity for me to say it all, bring attention to the issues.”
On a pleasant day in October, Minnis invited a crew of friends and activists to paint-by-numbers inside of a mural that had already been outlined. “This is me trying to include everyone’s visions,” she says. “Making art in this way, bringing people together around important themes, is something I’d like to bring around the world. I’d like to go to communities, interview them about the issues that concern them, and then create designs that we can paint together.”
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In the meantime, Minnis is looking forward to a busy 2019. “I feel drawn to animation and storytelling. I have some baby projects starting in that realm, and I’m mostly staying open to new opportunities,” she says.
“My career as an artist has had many phases, changes, lessons and growth. Public art, specifically, is new to me, a challenge. I think it’s important to allow yourself to develop as a person and an artist; otherwise, you run the risk of stagnation," explains Minnis. "Many times I’ve been at a crossroads where the medium I am pursuing allows me to kind of settle in, but in that mode, it becomes a market-driven representation of my work. But my tendency is to keep moving.
"For better or worse, I can’t understand the requirements of this kind of standstill, so I follow the next thing that seems interesting and hope everything will congeal at a certain point in the future," she adds. "It’s really a test of compassion to realize that people get stuck all the time for very invisible reasons. And what often seems like ignorance, apathy, hate on the surface holds seeds of potential. It’s almost an impossible task, but it’s important to eke out that potential connection and cultivate thriving communities, moving forward, finding a way to exponentialize our momentum for the sake of the natural world.”