A Work in Progress
Changes are happening under the highway overpass of US-395 and Wedekind Road and people are starting to notice.
What used to be an underpass caught in a cycle of being tagged with graffiti painted over by abatement teams is now turning into a large new canvas.
After coordinating five new public murals in the Reno area over the past couple of years, Kyle Chandler-Isacksen, the executive director of “Be the Change Project,” an urban homestead and learning space, is teaming up with local mural painter Asa Kennedy for this latest project.
“We’ve had our eyes on this one for years,” Chandler-Isacksen said. “Asa and I met about a year and a half ago and talked about the possibility of doing [a mural here] and raising some money. We heard about the “Art Belongs Here” grant project that’s run through the city by their Arts and Culture Commission.”
After receiving a grant, they started work on the project in late August, while also starting a GoFundMe fundraiser page.
A Metaphorical and Literal Gateway
“It is an underpass, so we saw that as a kind of underworld-a physical gateway between Reno and Sparks, people’s homes, businesses, and schools,” Chandler-Isacksen said, explaining the theme. “It’s also in a diverse neighborhood with a lot of Latinos that live here, so we thought the idea of a Día de los Muertos theme would be very appropriate. It can serve as both a metaphorical gateway that the ‘Day of the Dead’ is, but then can also serve as a literal gateway because of what the physical structure is, itself.”
He says the community has had a lot of input in what will be depicted on the mural.
“We worked with the students for a couple of days and got their ideas [for the mural],” he said of visiting the nearby Rita Cannan Elementary School to hear from its students there. “Coincidentally, they had ‘Day of the Dead’ themed artwork up that day, so Asa has been incorporating what he’s been hearing from the community onto the walls.”
The community involvement has gone beyond just the ideas, however.
“We had a bunch of kids from Hug High School out here yesterday, impromptu, just helping paint the mural,” Chandler-Isacksen said. “Asa just showed them what to do and they were out here for about 45 minutes. We look forward to seeing more of that. The location is a perfect place to get a lot of people involved and I think we’re going to have a really good time with it,” he said.
Hoping to Include More Intimate Elements
The mural, which aims to be completed by November first during Día de los Muertos, will have panels consisting of dance, music, celebration, and iconic graphic imagery representing the holiday. It will be filled with bright and lively colors, such as the prevalence of marigold, as a way of bringing the culture of the neighborhood to life.
Additionally, Asa is inviting community members to incorporate a more personal element to the mural.
“The centerpiece is going to be an ofrenda, which is an offering altar. This is going to be an open space where anyone willing to participate can contribute something to the altar piece.”
This added element, Asa believes, will bring a more personal connection between the community and the mural; one where it can really tell the community’s story.
“It is asking people to be vulnerable in a way, to put their losses in the public. But it’s also inviting them to be a part of a greater meaning of the project. It’s their altar, so if anyone wants to come down and paint they can, or I can help them paint their personal passing on the altar.”
Positivity Vibes and Opening Dialogue
Many pedestrians, bikers, and drivers have been signaling their approval as they pass by.
“I feel like it brings an image that no matter how ugly a thing is, in the future you can always make it pretty or change a person’s life. It used to be a dirty underbridge, and now it’s a mural that we can actually be proud of going to school,” Hugo Lucatro, a student at Hug High said.
Daniel Barnes, another student at Hug High, thinks the mural can be the start of something even greater. “It can motivate people to do what they like, because I guarantee a lot of people like to paint,” he said. “It’d be awesome for people to do that and see a lot more murals in Reno.”
“Given the current climate around anti-immigration, we see this mural as a celebratory effort of diverse peoples who all contribute to the mosaic of what it means to be an American,” Chandler-Isacken said. “So if we can shift that conversation and that thinking in our city and our neighborhood, then that feels really good.”
“Art opens dialogue,” Asa Kennedy said. “It’s something people can start talking about and it doesn’t just stop here at this location. People at the grocery story, a restaurant, their kid’s sports games, anywhere within the community [the mural] can be a source of dialogue. It is something that can open communication between people that might not have communicated before.”