aRT Pops Up in Surprising Spots

 Photo: Tyler Logan

Photo: Tyler Logan

Over the past couple of years, colorful murals by local artists have turned concrete walls into vibrant canvases at several formerly bleak underpasses along the Colorado Riverfront Trail. Most recently, the aRT (Art on the Riverfront Trail) mural projects have extended to Fruita and Grand Junction’s Main Street, bringing vibrant art to unexpected places.

Underneath the Fifth Street Bridge, near the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens, several murals illustrate Grand Valley characteristics. One of the paintings depicts dinosaurs rafting the river, pedaling a mountain bike, and eating a Palisade peach. Another one is of a farmworker working in a field with the Book Cliffs in the background. A third mural is reminiscent of the colorful folk art of El Salvador, with symbolism reflecting Grand Junction and its Salvadoran sister city, El Espino.

Additional murals can be found under a bridge in the Riverside neighborhood and at an underpass a short distance from the Redlands’ boat launch.

Onyx Cly-Peek, one of the seven artists who donated time and materials for the launch of the aRT program, tells of digging a ladder into the river bottom to reach the top of the wall for her Riverside mural. She painted someone she loves — her dog, who is pictured wearing a life jacket and sunglasses while floating on an inner tube in the Colorado River. “When the water gets high, he’ll look like he’ll be in the water,” she says.

Lori Gregor, recreation coordinator for the Grand Junction Commission on Arts and Culture, came up with the idea of a mural program two years ago while seeking additional canvases for an annual art competition called Mural Jam. “I had an idea — what about the overpasses on the Riverfront Trail? The canvases are already there,” she recalls.

A call went out to artists, and in October 2016, during Grand Junction’s Downtown Art Festival, seven artists began simultaneously painting their murals under the bridges. “We rolled out this program with no funding,” Gregor says. “These artists wanted to give back to the community that they live in.”

Above one of the murals, a painted message directs visitors to “Go to all the bridges! Check behind every wall!” There, local graffiti artists were granted permission to practice their craft. “Some of those would-be graffiti artists now have the opportunity to sit with their art and develop it into beautiful murals,” Gregor says. “This [program] has become a resource for local muralists.”

Plus, the artwork is drawing more users to the trail. Nyssa Capps, who painted the whimsical dinosaur mural underneath the Fifth Street Bridge, says parents have told her that their kids are eager to ride their bikes to “go see the dinosaurs.”

The aRT program — a collaboration of more than 10 local organizations and government entities — is expanding. “Car Park aRT” was created during the 2017 Downtown Art Festival in Grand Junction, with seven artists painting murals on the downtown parking garage in the alleyway between Rood Avenue and Main Street.

Another mural project, dubbed “Electric aRT,” will take place in October during this year’s art festival, when artists will paint signal boxes on Main Street at the intersections of Fourth and Fifth Streets.

Two additional murals were unveiled in Fruita during the August 9 dedication of the Kokopelli Trail. “The community is embracing the public art. It adds quality to the landscape and encourages people to be out in it,” Gregor says. “We want murals throughout the Grand Valley.”

Sharon SullivanArts+Culture