Mural Projects Continue to Gain Momentum in LC
With the latest mural project nearing completion on the old Value Village retaining walls we wanted to share a recent article from our contributing reporter Janis Clark about the Lake City Mural Project. A huge thank you to the Value Village property owners, SR Investments, City North Apartments and Build Lake City Together (BLCT) for funding this project. Thanks of course to Mark Mendez who helped secure the walls and to BLCT for handling all the logistics and outreach. The wonderful artists are Michiko Tanaka, Juan Angel Roman and Cecelia DeLeon.
Below are a few pictures of the walls and keep reading for Janis’ article on the mural project.
The Murals are the Message
By Janis Monaco Clark
Art is a simple way to bring people together from many different backgrounds and transcends our differences. Art is a kind of universal language.
In the 1960s, philosopher Marshall McLuhan wrote that the “medium is the message,” but here in Lake City, community activist Mark Mendez will tell you that “murals are the message.”
My husband and I moved to our Lake City neighborhood from Montana in January 2019, knowing nothing of the area other than we could afford the rent and there was easy access to bus routes for commuting downtown to work. Driving to our apartment for the first time (we had rented sight unseen), we were surprised and delighted to see so many beautiful murals. People care about this place, I thought to myself.
I inquired about the murals and found out that Mark Mendez had organized the Lake City Youth mural project in 2016 with local youth and artists to empower youth with leadership and art skills. “I never thought that I would be leading a community mural project,” Mark said. “I still cannot write or draw very well, but as my father tells me, I’m a community artist.”
Chris Leverson (Build Lake City Together) found the first mural site in Elliot Bay Brewery’s alley way and the mural project was underway, thanks to support from Elliott Bay’s, Brent Norton. Mark asked his old friend from high school, artist Andy Miller, if he would be willing to help work with the teen leadership group to install a mural.
Andy and Mark met with teens every week over a two-month period, brainstorming ideas for the mural. “I had them illustrate their images and discuss the concept and theme as a group,” Andy explained. Everybody’s suggestions were important, reflecting their individual concerns and interests. When there were enough usable images, Andy designed a workable mural and created an outline to be filled with dynamic colors, and the first mural was born.
There are now more than 30 murals in Lake City painted by several different artists with over 100 youth covering barren concrete walls with vibrant art, deterring graffiti, and beautifying the neighborhood.
Youth are involved in every facet of the mural planning process: scouting a wall, applying for permits, communicating to businesses and organizations, ordering supplies, and conceptualizing and executing the mural. The art projects empower local youth by showing them they can make a positive difference. Engaging with the arts teaches young people different ways of thinking and encourages new creative ways to solve problems.
A lifetime resident of Lake City, Mark has an inherent love of his community and seems to know and like everybody, high-fiving a group of little kids who ran up to greet him on the street while we walked around. Mark took a couple of hours out of his busy day to take me on a mural tour, describing each work in detail with visible pride.
Today, while many parts of Seattle have gentrified, Lake City is riding a new wave of cultural and ethnic diversity. Mark said when he was growing up in Lake City, he was the only Puerto Rican kid in the neighborhood. Forty-three percent of residents today are people of color and over twenty languages are spoken. This diversity is reflected in the city’s public art by artists who represent many different backgrounds, ethnicities and beliefs.
Local students demonstrated this diversity and the importance of inclusion when they painted the word “home” in twenty-four languages and “Unity” on the Food Bank breezeway where clients gather on food distribution days.
Local artists representing their own unique cultures have painted multiple murals on Lake City’s urban walls. Kendra Azarai draws inspiration from her Persian heritage. One of her works is a graceful mural on Lake City Way depicting the beauty of women and Mother Nature. Katherine Arquette Turpen, Duwamish-Muckleshoot artist, has painted an electrical junction box on a busy corner. Stephanie Morales painted another junction box to celebrate the seasonal solstices and equinoxes with another planned displaying the phases of the moon.
Lynn DeBeal painted a whimsical and wonderful fish aquarium mural on the back of the Lake City Fish store with Stephanie Morales painting the higher portions that Lynn, who uses a wheelchair, couldn’t reach and Dylan Keene painted the store front. Artists in Lake City have had a chance to shine and show the art they want to create.
Seattle’s oceans, orcas and salmon are represented in Esteban Camacho Steffenson’s huge mural, “Bending into the Sweet Deep Blue,” funded by a grant from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The mural reminds us to take care of our oceans and lakes, bringing attention to the complex environmental challenges we need to work on together. Residents of the senior living apartment across the parking lot now have the pleasure of looking at a magnificent outdoor painting, lit up at night, instead of a boring blank wall.
Looking ahead, Mark and several community partners are working to form relationships with developers to encourage them to support Lake City’s culture by including murals and public art in future projects and some developers have funded community murals on their buildings. For example, an agreement with the owners of Value Village resulted in a mural project in their parking lot.
When family and friends come to visit me in the city, I will take them on a “mural walk” and show off my Lake City community. “The murals have brought people together in ways I could not have predicted,” Mark said. “I’ve learned so much good that can happen from just a little bit of paint!”
For a list of Lake City murals and artists https://enjoylakecity.org/murals/.
Janis Monaco Clark
(The Lake City murals have been funded through various sources but largely through Lake City Future First, Build Lake City Together, the Raynier Foundation, the Seattle Office of Economic Development and the businesses themselves.)