#WhatUnitesUs Mural Encourages Unity

A new mural recently installed in Denver’s River North Art District (RiNo), and titled #WhatUnitesUs, is designed to encourage people to reflect on our similarities, instead of our differences.

Art, Coffee and Brewpubs in a Unique Denver District

Denver.org bills the RiNo district as an “interesting blend of urban charm and unique industrial revival.” Jazz bars, restaurants, brewpubs, art galleries, working studios, visual artists, designers, furniture makers, winemakers, coffee roasters, and other creative businesses now occupy the warehouses and factories of yesterday.  It is an exciting place known for dynamic innovation in lifestyle and work environments that include Industry Denver’s 50,000-square-foot Phase I project in the old Denargo Market, a shared workspace concept that allows for co-working with the option of closing the door when you want to.  Tenants, including Cloud Elements, UberDenver, FiveFiffty, Valerian, BWBacon and Roximity, fill the space that was one-hundred percent leased from day one.

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Image via Confluence Denver

The craft brewing industry thrives in this neighborhood, and there are more than 50 galleries and studios that open their doors until 9 pm on the first Friday of every month.  Art is the theme of this district, overflowing from gallery walls to the streets.  Murals are a common sight, and some of them change weekly.


Using Art to Connect neighborhoods and Encourage Dialogue

Kelsey Montague is an internationally renowned mural artist who previously gained notoriety for murals like #WhatLiftsYou, a mural project encouraging people to take photos to share online of themselves in front of a pair of muraled wings.  It was created to give people the opportunity to share what inspires them.  The first mural she painted was on the wall of Laughing Man Foundation Coffee in Manhattan in July of 2014.  People lined up to take photos in front of it after Taylor Swift snapped one of herself and posted it online.

The wings of #WhatUnitesUs, incorporating things like balloons and dragonflies, are intended to be “worn.” The mural is part of an interactive dialogue about unity and the shared human experience through art.  This campaign of unity will be expanded in the coming months by members of the RiNo Art District community in an effort to engage the diverse communities of Denver in conversation, programs and projects intended to include, connect and support neighborhoods throughout Denver.

“Our country and city are feeling the stress of dividing forces now more than ever,” says Jaimie Licko, president of the RiNo Art District. “RiNo is currently benefitting from strong economic growth, and we feel it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that the diverse communities that surround us are not isolated from that but instead are part of it.”

Tracy Weil, co-founder and creative director of the RiNo Art District said, “We are so excited to welcome her (Montague) back to her hometown to create such an impactful piece. We are committed to utilizing our platform as an art district to advocate for social impact through art.”

Montague poses with #WhatUnitesUs in RiNo on the corner of 26th and Larimer Streets.

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Image via Confluence Denver

Kelsey Montague at work on her new mural in RiNo, at 26th and Larimer streets.

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Image via Westword

Montague said of her work, “The wings definitely have an angelic theme for me, but they are also designed to be whatever the community makes of them.  I’ve had so many people e-mail me that they made them feel strong or inspired or connected spiritually or happy, and that is what I want. I want my work to really mean something to people and to be interpreted according to their life circumstances.”

The mural is sponsored by the RiNo Art District and the owners and tenants of 2601 Larimer Street. Owners are Ari Stutz and Brad Fentress. Tenants include Il Posto, Sushi Rama, First Draft, Shea Boutique, Haven, Kit and Ace and Samana Float.


Kelsey Montague’s Murals Are Part of a Larger Picture

Murals reflect and inspire political movements, social and economic change, and community involvement.  Perhaps the largest mural project was the Chicano/a Mural movement in Los Angeles, with more than 20 two-story high murals at the Estrada Courts public housing complex, with other street-urban art throughout the city.  These murals reflected socio-political themes and incorporated ethnic and racial pride.

Renowned Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, a member of the Communist Party, participated in the founding in 1922 of the Revolutionary Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors.  His murals focused on society and his country’s 1910 revolution.

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Image via Wikipedia

Today many murals still seem to reflect Rivera’s call for art to be a voice of witness while pushing to make art accessible.  Murals are public.  They belong to everyone, and they have sprung up all over the world, revitalizing areas in decay, creating unity and common ground for communities, and encouraging people to slow down and take note of their surroundings. Murals encourage social justice and propose revolutionary ideas, prompting people to think and discuss their thoughts.

Many cities and towns are currently using murals to promote change, including the Central Arts District and 600 Arts Block in Saint Petersburg, Florida, where the nonprofit public art project SHINE encourages a unifying collaboration between community members and artists.  September 2016 marked the second annual SHINE Saint Petersburg Mural Festival, which resulted in more than a dozen new murals in the city, bringing together a mix of local and visiting muralists for a timed mural competition at the Museum of Fine Arts.  The SHINE festival culminated in a street festival with live music, food, and art.

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Image via ivoh

In May of 2015 the downtown Dallas, Texas library responded to requests from library users to beautify the walls with the installation of a 540-square-foot mural featuring bold colors, with the intention of inspiring the community to connect.  Jasmine Africawala, the Dallas public library’s community engagement administrator stated, “Art is something everyone can enjoy together and connect with. It’s also a great conversation starter, as everyone has their own interpretation.”  Twice a month the library hosts a Coffee and Conversation program, which encourages gatherings with the homeless intended to encourage collaboration and conversation.  She said that the homeless tended to be segregated from others in the library and the mural and program were instigated to change that.

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Image via Dallas News

Throughout the world, current mural projects promote peace and unity.  The “Kibera Peace Walls” youth mural project was conceived to use public art to encourage unity and cooperation between ethnic and political groups prior to the 2013 presidential election.  In Baghdad, Iraq 100 students painted graffiti along the oppressive grey concrete walls of their campus.  When they saw how their efforts transformed the space, they decided to go a step further, and in 2015 they began painting along the main roads of the city, and so began “Imprint of Hope.” Bombed-out facades were transformed with bright colors.  The group soon grew to 370 volunteers, including students, carpenters, ironsmiths, artists and doctors.  They paint orphanages, nurseries, city walls and public buildings with murals intended to encourage peace, denounce violence, raise awareness about public issues, and encourage community involvement.

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Image via BBC News

Montague’s inspiring mural #WhatUnitesUs represents the progressive, inclusive, vibrant voice rising within the RiNo Art District.  But it is also one small part of a much larger movement with deep roots in not just that district, but throughout the world.

Do you have a favorite mural?  Post a photo of it with your comments below.

By | 2017-02-22T10:30:01+00:00 February 7th, 2017|

About the Author:

Margaret Jackson is an award-winning journalist who spent nearly 25 years in the newspaper industry, including seven years as a business reporter for the Denver Post. While at the Post, Jackson covered both residential and commercial real estate and cultivated strong relationships throughout metro Denver’s business community. She’s worked at publications including the Fort Collins Coloradoan, St. Louis Business Journal and Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat. Her awards include best reporting from the Colorado Press Association and business and investigative/enterprise reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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