A brisk but sunny Friday afternoon found student artists and mentors rolling the foundation paint for a mural in the alley behind Brown’s Shoe Fit Co. The mural is one of the works in the Studio Project Spring Internship, a partnership between Longmont’s Firehouse Art Center and the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, or BMoCA, that helps aspiring art students learn all aspects of the professional art world.
The mural, a brilliant band of pastel colors behind several pairs of vibrant wings, was developed by the student interns along with Denver street artist Austin Zucchini-Fowler. Zucchini-Fowler has been putting up what he calls “Walls of Gratitude” throughout the Denver metropolitan area with the support of the community.
Zucchini-Fowler, who was an athletics coach in the Denver public school system, said he is happy to again be working with teens, though this is his first time instructing them in mural work.
“These high school students were feeling trapped, so the project helps them get out of the house and feel collaborative,” Zucchini-Fowler said.
Work began Friday, with the students using rollers to lay the colorful swaths of paint for the background. Once the background went up, students used markers to draw in the outline of the wings with the help of a projector as a guide. The rest of the mural was completed Sunday afternoon.
The Firehouse reached out to the Longmont Downtown Development Association, LDDA, for help finding a location. After looking at a few potential spots accessible to the public, Brown’s Shoe Fit Co. proved to be the perfect fit.
Jason Weitzl, owner of Brown’s Shoe Fit Co., was happy to host the mural. “
I thought it was a neat project when they approached, and that back wall makes a great canvas. It’s a cool thing for the community and I hope it can lead to more murals like that,” he said.
Prior to the mural project, none of the student artists had worked on a project of this scale or in the medium. Lucy Murdock, 16, attends Boulder High School, where she was encouraged by one of her art teachers to apply for the internship by one of her art teachers.
“I think it’s so cool that it’s here and downtown and accessible to the public, especially during COVID. I’d never choose to work in this medium, or have an opportunity to put art on public walls without this program,” she said.
The work on Sunday was documented by Firehouse staff as a series of timelapse videos, which can be viewed through the Firehouse Art Center’s social media outlets, including its Instagram page.
While demonstrating spray paint techniques, Zucchini-Fowler encouraged students to embrace aspects of the medium and not to be afraid of mistakes.
“Don’t worry about ruining it, there really is no ruining it. Only these opportunities for adjustments, learning, and creativity,” he said.
While learning new techniques and planning large scale projects were part of the internship, students also had the opportunity to learn some of the business and social sides of the art world as well.
While working on the early stages with Elaine Waterman, executive director of the Firehouse Art Center, the teens discussed wanting to make art that reflected the struggles of social unrest as well as the pandemic. The teens expressed frustrations on how public health issues such as mask-wearing had become politicized, so Waterman encouraged the teens to research local artists doing pandemic-related art. That led them to Zucchini-Fowler’s murals around Denver.
The teens talked with the group about the feelings of a loss of control and having no say over events in the world, as they lost milestones like prom or their first year of high school to the pandemic.
“The students were interested in making a positive message that stemmed from these feelings of loss and disenfranchisement,” Waterman said.
Lilia Alizadeh is a 16-year-old student at Silver Creek High School. Her mother, Homa Nekoorad, is a local artist and graphic designer, and both her parents are immigrants.
“Recent events in the news had been so negative, I wanted to get involved and make something positive for my community,” she said.
Another component of the Studio Project internship was a series of self-portraits done by the students. Done using Zucchini-Fowler’s unique pointillism style, the portraits will be turned into postcards and sold in a bundle.
Part of the learning process for the interns was finding a print shop, acquiring financial sponsorship and identifying a charity postcard sales could benefit. The students chose the Colorado Artist Relief Fund, which provides grants to artists experiencing economic distress due to COVID to assist with housing, utilities and other needs.
“The students were keying into this need for creative arts in a way that supports not just projects, but provides funding for artists’ basic needs,” Waterman said.
The completed can be seen in the alley behind Brown’s Shoe Fit Co., on the west side of Main Street between Third and Fourth avenues.