Art

Street Wise Mural Fest Brings Art and Activism to Laid-Back Boulder

New murals are going up all over Boulder for the Street Wise Mural Festival.
New murals are going up all over Boulder for the Street Wise Mural Festival. Edica Pacha and Uc Sepia
Mural fans agree that Denver’s Crush Walls mural festival has become a major hit over the past decade, in its own think-big way. But when Boulder mural maven Leah Brenner Clack decided to create a mural fest for her own laid-back town, she decided to spread it out over time to accommodate Boulder’s slow-living vibe instead of cramming everything into a concentrated experience.

Clack has been matching artists and walls since 2015, when she founded her And Art Space consultancy, feeling her way into the Boulder public-art arena with a goal of amplifying artists’ voices and changing the world, one mural at a time. It’s her passion.

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Artist Sandra Fettingis at work on Boulder's Arapahoe Mural Project.
Ladd Forde
“Since I started, I've had an interest in doing more work that had a social practice element to it,” she explains. “The original idea came from an exhibition proposal for the Boulder Public Library’s Canyon Gallery, with the idea of bringing street art inside the gallery, and using that for social activism programming. I decided it would be a cool concept to also take the art outside the gallery.”

She made that concept a reality, tapping 25 artists to exhibit both indoors and out, and the painting process for her mural festival, dubbed Street Wise, got under way in late September. But the fest won’t end in a flash: A string of events continuing through the end of November include a community block party celebrating the fresh murals, a hands-on street-art workshop with Denver urban artist The Matador, and an indoor gallery exhibition to top it all off.

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Boulder high school students work with artist Patrick Maxcy on a mural depicting endangered species.
Street Wise
Her proposals caught on quickly, Clack says. “Everyone loves public art. It was easy getting people on board; it was something that the community really wanted,” she explains, adding that she worked with local businesses to determine which artists would do which walls.

“It was my intent to make this a community event — it’s not just about the art — and the artists chosen come from diverse backgrounds and underrepresented groups: women, LGBTQ and people of color,” she continues. “I also wanted to make this a two-month event, just to keep it going — so it’s not a wham-bam event, but instead interacts on different levels.”

Another idea in the works involves creating pop-up installations in empty commercial storefronts, matched with artists lacking exhibit spaces — yet another approach that fits in Clack's overall theme of social activism. “We want to see artists tackle hard issues by reflecting on the negative aspects that we need to overcome in positive and engaging ways,” she says.

Next on her wish list: performative activations in which artists in different disciplines interact in response to the mural artwork. Street Wise — and future iterations thereof — is a road without end, with more to come.

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Patrick Maxcy works on his "Protect" mural at Art on the Streets in Boulder.
Shana Fortier
Be prepared to interact at a hands-on energy level at Street Wise, beginning with the Street Wise Mural Block Party on Saturday, October 5, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Boulder Chamber, 2440 Pearl Street, Boulder, where you’ll meet the artists, learn more about activist art, and enjoy live art and performances by Musa Starseed, J.L. Kane and hip-hop dancers from Tricks & Blows. Bus to Show will be hosting shuttle tours of the completed murals at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Admission is free; RSVP at eventbrite.com.

The Matador will lead a “Creating Fast & Fine Street Art” workshop on Thursday, November 7, at a location to be announced. Admission is $30 and includes all materials and instruction; register and learn more at eventbrite.com.

Street Wise, the exhibition, opens Monday, October 14, followed by a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, October 18, in the Canyon Gallery at the Boulder Public Library, 1001 Arapahoe Avenue in Boulder. The show runs through December 1.

Stay tuned for further programming at the Street Wise website
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