The mountains in Colorado are not seen as progressive hot spots. Nestled away off the I-70 corridor or beyond passes like Loveland and Berthoud, many of these towns are better recognized as places to enjoy nature and outdoor recreation. But with the recent national upheaval regarding Black Lives Matter, some folks in the mountains are ready to speak their mind to their neighbors.
One such person is Shannon Galpin, a street artist, activist and mom who has lived in the mountains for the last 16 years. After seeing the Washington D.C Black Lives Matter mural come to fruition in June, she decided that she wanted to help make that happen at home, in Frisco. According to Galpin, “this mural installation is a statement of solidarity with Black Lives Matter in an effort to address the systemic racism that exists in mountain communities and throughout the outdoor industry and thereby, throughout the outdoors.”
The mural was finished on July 13. Galpin didn’t paint it herself. She called out to Colorado street artists and community organizations with the task of painting one letter each — a show of solidarity and individuality at the same time. Altogether, 13 professional artists participated, plus a local architect, an interior designer, elementary, high school and college students, teachers, a 70-year-old white woman who marched in the ’60s with Martin Luther King Jr. and the wife and daughter of a local police officer — to name a few.
“This is how you build community. This is social justice in action. People in the streets together creating art that matters. Believing art can create conversation and conversation can change communities,” Galpin said.
The 13 professional artists were mostly from Denver or Frisco and shared either a connection to anti-racism work or to the outdoors. Each one was given the freedom to express themselves or their beliefs within the framework of the outline of the letter they were assigned. Tracy, an anonymous Panamanian painter, painted a topographical map speckled with butterflies named after Black explorers inside the letter “T.” Pat Milbery and So-Gnar Creative painted both of the “L” letters because of his connection to the “Love This City” series of murals in Denver, which portray an equal, inclusive and friendly version of the Mile High City. Milbery also helped Adri Norris in the creation of the BLM mural in Denver. Johnny Draco and Amy of the design duo Realize (the same ones who created the Denver Alphabet at the beginning of this year) painted four birds interwoven with each other, two white and two blackbirds, inside the letter “B.” Other letters included changing aspen trees, Colorado sunsets, abstract patterns and wildflowers.
Galpin explained that the project was meant to destigmatize the words “Black Lives Matter” in a community uncomfortable with broaching that topic while also raising awareness of the racism that exists within the community. She mentioned the “bubble” that many mountain residents live under, assuming that racial injustices exist exclusively in cities on the Front Range.
“Not everyone who lives in our community goes home every night feeling safe because of the color of their skin or the language they speak. Not everyone in our community feels accepted as a member of our community even though they are a full-time resident. Not everyone feels seen… Not everyone has the same experience of ‘Welcome to Frisco’ as white people do. This is not new,” commented Galpin.
With the completion of this enormous street mural in Frisco last week, Galpin hopes that the conversation going forward in the town and other mountain towns in Colorado will be more inclusive of the diverse residents.
“We should strive to be inclusive, diverse and welcoming to all of our community members, close to 35-40% of whom are not white. We are already a community of Black, Hispanic, refugee, immigrant and Native Americans that live here full time,” she commented. In order to make this mural possible, Galpin had to coordinate with Frisco Town Council, the Mayor, the police department and many other organizations and people with varying opinions and beliefs.
“Thanks to the support of the town and our police department for supporting road closures to allow us to safely create a one-of-a-kind BLM mural, [we made one] that reflects our mountain community with a diverse group of Colorado artists that shows our solidarity with the BIPOC community and challenges other [outdoor] communities across the country to do the same,” Galpin said.
The Town Council statement of support read, “We, the Frisco Town Council, together with the Town Manager, leadership team and our Frisco Police Department, support equity for all. We acknowledge that local government is uniquely positioned to call attention to and assist in dismantling the systemic impacts of racism and inequity; therefore, inclusivity is a core value and goal of the Town of Frisco. We are committed to creating a positive, welcoming environment where every member of our community, including our guests, feels supported and at home.”
“Mountain towns are the host of those who [enjoy outdoor recreation] and benefit from the dollars spent, but rarely want to create waves of discussion around social justice. It disrupts the idyllic vibe we are trying to create here,” she said. But after the empowering experience of painting the BLM mural with the community, there is hope that the idyllic vibe is possible for everyone, not just the white majority.
The letters and assigned artists are as follows:
B: Johnny Draco and Amy of Realize – Denver
L: Pat Milbery and So-Gnar Creative – Denver
A: Frisco teachers and elementary students – Frisco
C: Aaron Sutton – Denver
K: Kellie Rogers – Silverthorne
L: Pat Milbery and So-Gnar Creative – Denver
I: Olivia Brown Wolf and friend – Frisco
V: Jaime and Pattie Callahan and family – Frisco
E: Time McCall, Nam Lang and Tom Lang – Frisco
S: Piotr Olimpiusz Kopytek – Frisco
M: Consuelo Redhorse and community – Summit County
A: Patrick Gleason – Frisco
T: Tracy (anonymous Panamanian painter) – Denver
T: Elyse Hope – Frisco
E: Tim McCall, Nam Lang and Tom Lang – Frisco
R: Devon Galpin Clarke – Frisco/Breckenridge
To read more about each artist and the inspiration behind their letter mural, go here.