U art prof and students work with children to create mural downtown

By By Michael McFall

By Michael McFall

A new mural in downtown Salt Lake City, which depicts artists and railroad tracks, is a representation of, by and for the neighborhood it enlivens.

U students and their professor worked with local youth to create a mural that celebrates the local art community. The mural, called Urban Masquerade, is on a non-descript building on 500 West, across from the Rio Grande Depot at 300 South.

The design for the mural was a collaboration between Kim Martinez, a U assistant art professor, and students in the Art in the Community class that she taught last spring. The class ended in May, but some students continued to stay and work on the mural project into the summer.

Along with Martinez, nine art-teaching students and six painting/drawing students worked on the mural for the two weeks, adding the finishing touches last month.

Before they started working on the mural, students researched the history of the community around the historic Rio Grande Train Station to include the community in the project.

After visiting libraries and interviewing residents, they decided on a theme revolving around the community’s history with art and transportation. They sketched their own designs for the mural and Martinez included their input in the ultimate layout.

The neighborhood around Rio Grande was once derelict and disenfranchised-home to several shelters and few businesses. Artists moved into the neighborhood, and not long after, they started applying their artistic palettes to the buildings and environment. Commerce returned, and the community grew within just a few years.

Since then, art galleries, museums and centers have sprung up, including the Utah Arts Council.

The mural depicts different kinds of artists, ranging from ballerinas to welders to violinists-all celebrating and participating in their craft.

Each figure is also wearing a colorful animal mask.

Though the figures were painted by U students, the masks were designed by local community children from Youth City, a program that offers activities for youth in Salt Lake City . Through the program, eight teenagers signed up to help paint the mural for the whole two weeks of the project.

Martinez asked the teens to imagine their inner animal and represent it as best they could in the painting.

The masks symbolize the spirituality of art and the sacred connection an artist has with the world, said Becca Sager, a senior in art-teaching.

The nine art-teaching students from the U acted as mentors to the Youth City teens by teaching them techniques such as proportioning and methods of paint-mixing.

It was an invaluable experience for them to put their teaching skills to use, Sager said.

“Hopefully more…students will get involved in community art projects,” she said.

The Youth City teens also painted the train tracks that flow under the figures’ feet like a river. The masked artists and the tracks branch out left and right from a symbol of the Rio Grande train hub.

The mural, besides celebrating the neighborhood’s reputation as an art hotspot, is also meant to acknowledge and celebrate the community’s diversity as a result of being a transportation center, said Whitney Clissold, a senior in art-teaching who contributed to the mural.

Clissold, who is a member of Big Brothers and Big Sisters in her free time, brought her “little brother” to the project so he could learn more about art and have fun participating in it. He personally painted the blue mask on the violinist, she said.

The project was also based on a specific mural style that Martinez taught her students in class .

Martinez applied a glazing and perspective mural technique that she learned from Judy Baca, a fellow muralist in Southern California.

The technique, developed by Mexican muralist David Siqueiros in the 1930s, bends the horizon of the painting so that a passerby’s view is constantly shifting in an arc across the mural. Baca was once a student of Siqueiros, and shared that knowledge with Martinez.

Passing on what she learned to her students and seeing them do the same with the community makes her very proud, Martinez said. Especially when it comes to public art.

“It’s very important for me that art is in the world so that people in their everyday lives can be exposed to it…and give their community a voice,” she said.

This is the 10th mural Martinez has worked on in Salt Lake City.

Putting art on the walls and buildings in a neighborhood is special because we live in a visually-stimulated culture, where the stimulation often comes from commerce and commercials from companies, she said. With public art, such as murals, communities can provide their own input into what visually dominates their world, she said.

The mural was made possible by a grant from National Endowment of the Arts through the local Utah Arts Council. Martinez worked on getting permission to paint the mural for almost a year.

One thing she always wanted to do with a grant, which she was finally able to do with Urban Masquerade, was to get members of the community involved in an art project so that they could spread what they learn to other members of their community.

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Lucas Isley

Community youth were asked to pick the animal that best respondents them, then they designed a mask from that animal. The welder is wearing a mask that was inspired by a snake.

Lucas Isley

Opening night coincided with the local gallery stroll around 50 people came to the event. The youth that worked on the project brought their parents so they could see the result of their hard work.

Lucas Isley

This is the 10th Salt Lake City mural that Kim Martinez has helped create. For this mural Martines used glazing and perspective technique that was developed by David Siqueiros, a 1930’s Mexican muralist.

Lucas Isley

U assistant art professor, Kim Martinez, supervises the painting of the Urban Masquerade. The painting took two weeks to complete and was done by U students and community youth.