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Nine Durango artists come together for mural at city’s wastewater plant

Group working with national nonprofit that drives creativity, positive change in communities
A sculpture by Alex Bond called “Whispers in Water” is planned to be installed at the Santa Rita Water Reclamation Facility in addition to a mural and another art piece. Durango Economic Opportunity Manager Tommy Crosby said the piece incorporates an old buoy from Lake Powell by painting it a reflective, metallic color representing a droplet of water. (Courtesy of city of Durango)

When a landscaping project came in under budget by $100,000 at the Santa Rita Water Reclamation Facility in Durango, the city saw an opportunity for local artists to lend their talents to a slightly broader makeover of the site.

In partnership with The Walls Project, a nonprofit that uses art and creativity to drive positive change in communities, the city recruited nine artists to design and create a mural that is more than 1,500 square feet in size.

This mock-up of a proposed mural at the Santa Rita Water Reclamation Facility in Durango was designed by nine artists recruited by the city of Durango and the nonprofit The Walls Project. (Courtesy of city of Durango)

The group aims to publicly unveil the mural June 1 and 2 during Animas River Days, which is traditionally hosted at Santa Rita Park and the reclamation facility, although the date and time of the unveiling has yet to be determined, said Tom Donley, The Walls Project chief financial officer.

The artists selected for the mural are: Silas Armstrong, Cindy Atchison, Chelsie Begoody, Laurie Cullum, Mariah Kaminsky, Parker Ledford, Jordanne Pelkey, Maddie Sanders and Hannah Wilson.

Durango Economic Opportunity Manager Tommy Crosby said a call to artists for the mural project asked artists to consider implementing several themes into their applications, including the Animas River, the water cycle, water and wastewater treatment processes, native plant species and Durango history.

In addition to the mural, two more art pieces will be installed at the water reclamation site. One is a sculpture by Alex Bond called “Whispers in Water.” Crosby said the piece incorporates an old buoy from Lake Powell by painting it a reflective, metallic color representing a droplet of water.

The other piece is a sculpture by Jeff Wise depicting a kayaker riding the waves, “a nod to the whitewater culture that crescendos at Santa Rita,” he said.

“We are lucky to have such a concentration of talented, skilled, mixed-form artists in Durango and to have the opportunity to showcase their work. What a treat,” Crosby said.

Donley said the nonprofit’s mission is to tear down societal walls that stop people from living healthy, safe and prosperous lives. In its 12 years of operation, it has installed more than 160 public art pieces, including 10-story murals placed in cities around the country.

The Walls Project is perhaps best known for its MLK Days of Giving and Juneteenth Celebration events in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Dallas, where thousands of volunteers turn out to reactivate community spaces, he said.

The organization hires artists in communities to come up with creative solutions to issues driving poverty and often works across disciplines such as information technology, workforce development, urban agriculture, arboriculture, environmental stewardship and coalition building.

In Baton Rouge, The Walls Project was given 5 acres of public golf course land to turn into a free, no-fence community garden. Donley said the garden is located in Baton Rouge’s largest food desert.

“We plant, we grow and we harvest with the local residents,” he said. “And then we also provide workshops. So those residents can take seeds and plants back to their home and either install gardens at home or learn different techniques to use fresh and healthy food.”

Donley said the collaboration with the city and nine artists in Durango is a little unusual for a public mural project because artists are often competing with each other, vying for projects and “hustling to make it work.”

But in this case, the artists are eager to work together, which is “a great testament to all of their personalities and to their strengths as artists and local residents,” he said.

For over two days, in the top section of Ska Brewing Co., the artists and members of The Walls Project worked through mural ideas on paper.

“What’s going to be really special about this mural is that it will be a uniform design. However, it will allow for each individual artist to highlight their strengths and to highlight their style within the broader mural itself,” Donley said. “It’s going to be a really, really interesting piece of public art that is just going to be completely vibrant and beautiful at the end.”

The city has issued a separate call to artists in seeking designs for installations to be installed along three sections of the Animas River Trail that are or will be undergoing updates over the next couple of years.

Crosby said the city has a project budget of $35,050 and the submission deadline for artists is March 31.


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