A Sense of Vibrancy: The Laramie Mural Project - Wyoming Magazine

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A Sense of Vibrancy: The Laramie Mural Project

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A Sense of Vibrancy: The Laramie Mural Project

By: Alison Geary

How downtown Laramie, WY turned blank walls into a REFLECTION of cultural assets.

 

 

 

“Many Hands,” located on the backside of Coal Creek Tap.

When I make my way back to the University of Wyoming at the end of a short summer spent laboring under two jobs, I’m met with the northern, dusty, ghost town side of Laramie, Wyoming. “Oh look! Dairy Queen!” was the most exciting thought I had, along with, “Better fill up with gas at Safeway.”

This dull, dreary outlook on the town that is home to the state’s only four-year university is a quicksand trap that a majority of students are sucked into. That is, until you step into the downtown area of Laramie. There, in the “Most Hipster Neighborhood in Wyoming,” you can find a wall of rainbows, an archeologist uncovering a dinosaur skeleton, and a tree named Walter riding a bicycle.

“We talked about becoming the cultural capital of Wyoming…and then we said, ‘Let’s not just say it, let’s actually work towards it,’” Executive director of Laramie Main Street Alliance Trey Sherwood said. And thus, the Laramie Mural Project was born.

The Laramie Mural Project is a collaboration between the Laramie Main Street Alliance and the University of Wyoming Art Museum. In the summer of 2011, Susan Moldenhauer, the director of the UW art museum, approached local artists and Laramie main street with leftover grant money and posed the question of, “What do you want to see done with visual art in this community?” They looked at resources available, realized there was a wealth of unused wall space, and the murals were an idea. So, with the grant money and private donations, calls were issued for mural design submissions. From the beginning, Sherwood clearly stated, “The artist must have complete creative freedom, which means the business owners have to trust that the design will be successful and look good. The murals are always about a celebration of community.” The mural project has become a resounding success for the Laramie downtown area, and was recognized as the most innovative project of 2016 at the National Main Street Conference. The murals are also listed on Trip Advisor, people are encouraged to review the murals so that they come up as a Laramie attraction.

The goal of the mural project is to make downtown Laramie feel vibrant and make it a place where people want to visit multiple times to hang out with friends, shop, or open a business. “For me, the mural project is a way to hit a bigger goal, about constantly creating a sense of vibrancy. This is a place to be. Downtown is the heart of the community,” Sherwood says. “The murals should reflect the things we love about Laramie.” It’s interesting to know that there is not a specific design requirement for the murals to meet in order to be chosen. Instead, the artists are asked to think about the effect of the mural while they are designing it—putting the focus on the mural being a reflection of what is loved about the community or its cultural assets, whether that is a tie to UW, or an emotional connection to hiking, fishing, or landscapes.

“Grainery Grove,” located on the backside of Big Dipper Ice Cream

While a pedestrian can easily see most of the murals by carrying out his/her day to day business, the best way to truly understand the murals is by viewing them on a walking tour. Jessica Flock, a co-owner of the Pedal House Bike Shop downtown, is the go-to-guide for said tours. Flock became involved with the Laramie Mural Project because she knew Trey Sherwood after working with her on the downtown bike rack committee, and from arranging a possible mural on the side of the Pedal House. Flock used to be a teacher, so she knew based on involvement with education that the murals had significant cultural value and needed to be showcased with a tour. “My favorite part of the mural tour is how excited and surprised people are. They realize how great of artists we have in Laramie,” Flock says. “My favorite part of being a guide is every time I go on a mural tour, I see new things too…and I love seeing the difference between 3rd graders looking at art and adults—what appeals to them, and stands out to them.” When asked about the training of guides and the development of the information being shared on the tour, Sherwood said, “Jessica is the one who does the research. The artist writes down the thought process and purpose behind each piece, and Jessica reads those and uses them to create her dialogue.” The tours provide significant insight to the artistic creative process, and people of all ages are interested in the information shared. There are set schedules for tours during the summer, and are also available by private appointment.

“We Built the Dream,” located on the side of Napa Auto Parts.

In the end, the mural project is all about creating connections through transparency and accessibility—the murals are meant to be shared by everyone in the community. Sherwood says, “One of my favorite parts of the mural project is not the visual end resolve, but is the good collaborations and partnerships created from working together.” For the future, Sherwood hopes to transition the mural project into a larger public art tour including different types of public arts, which is also outlined as a goal in the Laramie public art plan. Contact information for the Mural Project can be found at laramiemuralproject.org, or Trey Sherwood can be reached at downtownlaramie@gmail.com or 307-760-3355. Until then, grab some friends, go downtown, and enjoy the, “Most Hipster Neighborhood in Wyoming.”

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