Art Start

It's hard to remember that the Capitol Hill People's Fair, which has grown so huge and cumbersome over the last 31 years, is actually a fair for the people. But this year's event returns to its populist roots in a small way by shining a spotlight on one of peopledom's more disenfranchised groups: kids on the fringe, the ones whose lives often feel more like a battle for acceptance than a boundless opportunity laid out on a silver platter. The Side Street Mural Project, a new event for the fair, will pit several teams of youthful inner-city artists -- representing the Spot, Emily Griffith Opportunity School, Manual High School, the Denver Youth Opportunity Program, Urban Peak and Excelsior Youth Center -- in a competition to produce the best eight-by-eleven-foot depiction of unity and diversity. The teams will work on the murals all day Saturday at areas scattered throughout the fairgrounds; judging is on Sunday.

The idea for the project came to fair spokeswoman Jodi Long while she was culling entries for the event's annual poster contest. She came across Manual art student Jesús Hinojosa's entry, depicting the fair's signature "Star Dude" logo lifting the State Capitol against a backdrop of vibrant graffiti-style lettering. "It was young and vibrant and exciting," Long says, and it inspired her to create a showcase for kids like Hinojosa.

Hinojosa came to Denver from Chihuahua, Mexico, with his family only a year ago. He says simply that he loves art and that his artistic ideas flow straight from his imagination as he draws. But Manual art instructor Aaron Alarid, who guided Hinojosa through the poster-contest process, notes the seventeen-year-old's sophisticated sensibility and feel for modern street art. "He has an extraordinary portfolio," Alarid says. "I could see him becoming a muralist or commercial artist, or even a fine artist."

Francisco Guiterrez, who's competing for the Rude Park DYOP, shares Hinojosa's immigrant background, though he's been here longer. While he's always liked to draw, Guiterrez says he first got serious about art in the tenth grade; now, with the help of a teacher, he's attending the Rocky Mountain School of Art on a scholarship. Plus, at age eighteen, he's already an old hand at mural painting: He just completed a wall at Community College of Denver's east campus and is hot to get to work at the People's Fair, where he's planning to paint "a guy that has four heads of different colors -- black, Hispanic, Asian and white -- to represent diversity."

Guiterrez became involved in the mural project through team leader Steve Hartbauer, a program supervisor for the Rude youth program who also runs Splash Gallery, where works by Guiterrez and other young artists such as teammate Satia Wimbish are sometimes displayed. Wimbish chooses to be secretive about her contribution to Rude's mural, but hints that it will be abstract and will include aluminum foil. "It's really music that inspires me," she says. "I take the feelings I get off music and draw to that."

Marie Mann, an English teacher at Emily Griffith, will lead two students -- Marshall Romero and Lionel Holyelkface -- at the fair. "So many kids are advanced artistically and maybe tend to overcompensate in that area to make up for the areas in which they don't do so well," Mann says. "Sometimes it's hard to pull them back into the books, but it's also nice to allow them to shine. This is their opportunity to dazzle."

As Hartbauer observes, "These are the kind of kids who would work regardless. They're always sketching and drawing, and they're excited about this because it's an opportunity to do it in front of people." Guiterrez, for one, hopes to take that ball and roll it a long way: "It's a chance to show off my skills rather than hide them. Next time they see another painting of mine, maybe they'll remember my style."