Jul 052011
Authors: Jason Pohl

Next time you are strolling downtown near the intersection of Mason Street and Laporte Avenue, look closely and you just might find an unusually colorful addition to a usually forgotten place.

Reaching 15 feet high and spanning 61 feet across, an empty wall on the intersection’s Civic Center parking garage has transformed into a community mural — something made possible by volunteers and internationally recognized muralist and illustrator Rafael Lopez.

“I want people to experience positivity,” Lopez said during a phone interview with the Collegian from his studio in Mexico.

The mural, which consists of 15 colors, is a combination of symbols, like reaching hands and an overarching sun, aimed at bringing people together by showing “brotherhood, community and focus.”

“I didn’t name the mural,” Lopez said. “People can take what they want from it. I just want people to feel good.”

The idea of this community mural took life more than a year ago at the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference when a representative from the Poudre River Public Library District saw the transformation Lopez had lead in parts of downtown San Diego in addition to his successful children’s book illustrations.

His work included painting “bright, beautiful and bold” murals in the gang- and drug-impacted areas of the city. The intention was to deter the illegal activities happening nearby and, after 12 mural projects, Lopez said it wasn’t until the Fort Collins project when he realized what he could accomplish with these paintings.

“Everything fell into place,” Lopez said. “I finally figured out how to give back, encourage volunteering and bring the community together.”

On June 17, shifts of eight people each hour worked on the painting that had been outlined in the days leading up to the event. The mural outlining was an enormous “paint-by-numbers” process that even young kids could be a part of.

“The turnout was much higher than I expected and their enthusiasm was amazing,” Lopez said.

The downtown project required planning, which involved the library as well as the city. Numerous groups contributed funds for the project, and paints were donated from ACE Hardware.

“We are always looking for ways to give art to the city,” said Ellen Martin, visual arts administrator with the Lincoln Center and the art in public places board –– the board in charge of art on several electrical boxes throughout Fort Collins.

The library coordinated with the city to find a suitable location where the entire community could appreciate the painting and come together.

Lopez was initially hesitant and said he normally worked on paintings at schools. He said he wanted kids to feel like a part of something they would protect for the future.

“I was worried about getting enough of the community involved,” he said.
Volunteers showed up in a big way, though, and more than 100 participated — including the mayor and several local artists.

“We are always looking for ways to partner with the community,” said Paula Watson-Lakamp, the communications manager with the Poudre Library.

Rafael Lopez is recognized as an award winning illustrator and is known for his symbolism and Latino cultural influence. He designed an official poster for the Obama/Biden campaign in 2008 and has also illustrated stamps for the U.S. Postal Service.

He is currently working on his sixth children’s book at his studio in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

“Above all,” Lopez said, “I have learned that there is just good in people.”

Staff writer Jason Pohl can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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