Art and Activism Combine at the Second Annual Street Wise Mural Festival in Boulder

Art by Lindee Zimmer on Boulder Creative Collective. Photo by Cori Anderson

Last year, Boulder might have gained more murals in one week than it had in many years. That was due entirely to the efforts of the first annual Street Wise Mural Festival and its founder, Leah Brenner Clack. And this coming week from September 7 to 13, the famous university town will be painted up again.

What distinguishes Street Wise as a mural festival, aside from the otherwise lack of murals in Boulder, is its ethos. The purpose of the festival is to amplify the voices of artists who are driven by social activism and to use murals as a tool for connection. Clack explained that “creating a safe, diverse and culturally aware mural festival in Boulder is a source of hope, pride and strength. I’m very proud at the scope of partnerships, sponsors and overall community support for this year’s festival, it’s gone beyond what I could have hoped for.”

READ: Street Wise in Boulder Is Practicing Social Justice Through Street Art

One of the words that is closely connected with Street Wise is “ARTivism” — a mash up of art and activism. Last year, one of the festival’s most impactful moments was a partnership with the Dairy Arts Center. A mural painted by East Coast artist LMNOPI (depicting the Arapaho Shoshone artist, actor and activist Sarah Ortegon) attracted people from all over Boulder, who came to pay their respects to the cause behind the mural — missing and murdered Indigenous women. The experience led Mayor Suzanne Jones to request Clack’s presence at a city council meeting in order to speak about the power of street art in Boulder.

Mural by LMNOPI on Dairy Arts Center.

As a lead-up to this year’s festival, Dairy Arts Center once again offered one of its walls for an impactful mural. This time, Denver’s Thomas “Detour” Evans and Los Angeles’ Hiero Veiga partnered to paint a tribute of Sandra Bland as part of their larger Spray Their Name project — an effort to spread awareness about “oppressed, neglected and silenced individuals.” The project was started in the weeks following the murder of George Floyd, when Detour and Veiga painted a portrait of him on East Colfax in Denver. It has expanded since to include portraits of Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson and Isabella Thallas.

The rest of the murals for this year’s festival will be painted next week. Like other mural festivals, it’s possible to stop by and witness the creation of these massive works of art. There will be printed maps (and this online one), limited capacity e-bike mural tours and self-guided tours through the website to make sure that viewers see all the murals. And there are more than last year — twice as many, in fact.

“Going into our second year, our mission is still the same but we’ve more than doubled the number of walls and artists involved over last year,” Clack said. She also explained that last year, the artists were invited to participate but this year the festival opened the call for applications. Clack said she received more than 260 submissions from all over the world.

That’s a good sign for the longevity of this new festival. Altogether, 38 artists will spend the week in Boulder creating street art by painting, wheatpasting and even adding fabric installations throughout town. All of the new pieces of art will add to the existing murals from last year.

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A few artists will come back for their second year, like UC Sepia and Edica Pacha. Pacha recently pasted some of her double-exposed artistic photographic prints in an alleyway off Santa Fe Drive in order to call attention to the powerful social justice work of Denver-based group Womxn From the Mountain.

Other artists included this year might be familiar to Denver street art fans — like Casey Kawaguchi, Chris Haven, Jolt, Koko Bayer, Ashley Joon, Pharaoh One, Olive Moya, Gregg Deal, AJ Davis, A.L Grime and Patrick Kane McGregor.

One Denver-based activist-artist who will participate at Street Wise — Adri Norris — made her mark on the scene quickly this year when she orchestrated the community painting of “Black Lives Matter” in front of the Capitol building in Denver. Norris went on to collaborate with Koko Bayer and Myah Mazcara in the first annual Babe Walls in August. Shannon Galpin, another activist-artist who organized a different Black Lives Matter mural — this one in Frisco — is another addition to the artist list. In Galpin’s rendition, each letter was painted by a different artist or group from the local community.

Street Wise also attracted a few internationally-known street artists this year — like Marka27 and Hoxxoh. Both have painted murals in some of the most-visited street art locations, like Wynwood Walls and Beyond Walls Lynn, as well as for CRUSH. Marka27 — an East Coast-based Mexican artist — calls his style “Neo Indigenous” as he pulls inspiration from his Indigenous roots and from the pop culture he lives in every day.

Aside from the creation of art in the streets, Street Wise will also provide some supplemental activities, like a virtual artist panel on Wednesday, September 9 and an introduction to spray painting for womxn and teens with Grow Love on Saturday, September 12.

“Street Wise Boulder is more than just a mural festival, it’s a way for people to connect, think and talk about social issues, culture, diversity, equity and so much more through the power of this extraordinary visual language,” Clack explained. “Art is one of humanity’s greatest gifts.”

Street Wise 2020 will happen September 7 through 13 at various locations throughout Boulder. The murals will remain in Boulder for at least one year after that. 

The full list of the participating artists is Aaron VG Sutton, Adri Norris, AJ Davis, A.L. Grime, Ashley Joon, Brandon Opalka, Cal Duran, Casey Kawaguchi, Chris Haven, Dan Toro, Danielle DeRoberts, Thomas “Detour” Evans, Hiero Veiga, Edica Pacha, Gabriel Sanchez, Grace Gutierrez, Gregg Deal, Giovannie JUSTinSpire, Hoxxoh, Jessica Moon Bernstein, Jodie Herrera, Johnny Draco, Jolt, Jwlc Mendoza, Kailey Geary, Katy Casper, Koko Bayer, Latasha Dunston, Lio Bumbakini, Marka27, Mario Jose Olvera, Olive Moya, Patrick Kane McGregor, Pharaoh One, Robert Martin, Shannon Galpin, Su/q, UC Sepia and WORKSHOP 8. 

All photos by Cori Anderson, unless otherwise noted.

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