Access To The Arts is a Revolutionary Tool In Demanding and Safeguarding Social Justice

A half century ago, on Aug 27, 1967, local residents, poets, painters, photographers and gang members gathered to dedicate the “Wall of Respect,” a mural painted on the side of a dilapidated tavern on the southeast corner of 43rd Street and Langley Avenue in Chicago’s impoverished Grand Boulevard neighborhood.

Image: Courtesy of Chicago Tribune (2017). “Wall of Respect,” a 20-by-60-foot mural painted on a tavern, honored more than 50 African-American heroes, including Ray Charles, W.E.B. Du Bois, Dick Gregory, Charlie Parker, Bill Russell, Nina Simone and Malcolm X. (Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty)

 

It is a revolutionary act of art and politics that reverberates throughout the nation. It sparks community-based outdoor mural movements that provide thousands of neighborhoods of virtually every ethnicity and economic level with a language and format to assert their pride and distinctiveness. (Source: Chicago Tribune,2017).

“The project is designed to help give black people a more distinct sense of identity, as well as beautify the neighborhood,” mural artist William Walker told the Tribune shortly after the dedication. At its start, the “Wall of Respect” was an unprecedented assertion of black identity and an important yet often overlooked moment in U.S. cultural history. (Source: Chicago Tribune, 2017).

 

“To Spread Happiness”

The “Wall of Respect” mural in Chicago inspired Dr. Kymberly N. Pinder, former Dean of College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico and renowned muralist Nanibah “Nani” Chacon.

Image: Dr. Kymberly N. Pinder, Former Dean of College of Fine Arts at UNM (Center); Photo Credit: Bryan Spurlock, Albuquerque Business First/ Image: Nanibah “Nani” Chacon (Navajo and Chicana, Left)); Photo Credit: Women of Color Initiatives, Michigan State University/ Image: Nate Nez (Right); Photo Credit: Wescover.com

 

Dr. Pinder said murals in communities experienced far less crime and maintenance of murals became a community responsibility, resulting in solidarity. She also noted that some murals have become sites of activism and social justice such as Chicano Park in San Diego and the Wall of Respect in Chicago during the 1960s.

Nate Nez and his peers not only learned about the history of murals in Dr. Pinder’s course, but also about the necessary steps involved in producing and commissioning them. Nate’s group mural design “To Spread Happiness” was selected to be painted on the east façade of AHCH. The design acknowledged the cultural connection to the area with its vibrant hues, the hummingbirds, and of course the abstract reflection of Sandia Mountains. Read more: abqhch.org/power-public-art/

The course curriculum encouraged students to develop a mural project from sketch to a professional presentation for AHCH. A committee was selected to preview the concepts and provide constructive feedback to the groups. Dr. Pinder encouraged each group to convey their vision to the AHCH Mural Committee. A prerequisite of researching the mission and vision of AHCH was a requirement. Some groups used blueprints to tell their stories and a few used video and photos. Each group included a narrative about how their design would enhance not only the neighborhood, but to also enhance the quality of life of people experiencing homelessness and others who receive care and services at AHCH. There were seven groups who presented their mural concepts to AHCH.

The mural project was made possible with partnerships with  Albuquerque Public Art, New Mexico Arts, Working Classroom , UNM Mural Project and the AHCH ArtStreet Program. This collaboration served multiple aims of art education, art managements, arts in communities and art in community spaces for traditionally underserved audiences/locations so that all people benefit from the arts. The educational and heavy art student component combined with a scope that is larger than what could be accomplished as a university project, is made more plausible and artistically excellent with the added partnership of a professional artist who will oversee and ensure the mural development and implementation through completion.

 

Image: AHCH mural at First Street and Mountain Road in downtown Albuquerque. Photo Credit:

 

Take a journey into the heart of Albuquerque’s murals. Los Muros de Burque says Albuquerque murals bring people together. Throughout the city, you’ll see diverse culture expressed not just through the color of skin, but through the color on the walls.

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