A Sierra Arts program lets teens express themselves and benefit the community, too
Linden Street doesn’t usually draw many sightseers. It’s a street marked by plain buildings—mostly small businesses and motels—vacant lots and chain-link fences. Recently, however, a group of 14 Washoe High School students created a point of beauty amid this urban drabness.
Several weeks ago, the Washoe High campus at 70 Linden Street was decorated in graffiti. Today, its north wall plays host to a colorful mural that was made possible by building owner Cam Solari and by Arts Alternatives, a Sierra Arts Foundation program that provides art education to at-risk kids. Arts Alternative director Ray Valdez, a Sierra Arts’ Artist-in-Residence, supervised the students involved in the project.
“It’s exciting to work with these kids,” Valdez said. “When I do a project like this, I step back and help them where they need guidance to create what they want to create.”
What they have created is a mural comprised of five scenes. Each scene appears as if it is being viewed through an arched doorway, giving the mural what Valdez calls a European look. The central panel, which is about 8 feet high and 6 feet wide, depicts a Mediterranean-style seaside village. The village’s tall, narrow buildings are built on rocks, and the bright green sea creeps right up to the village.
The other archways, however, reveal images that are far less quaint and not nearly so peaceful as the seaside village. Three of the five scenes portray young women in varying states of movement. In one, a woman with bright red skin and an ecstatic—or perhaps angry—expression is tossing her hair. Black lines in the woman’s neck indicate the movement of her muscles, and black lines through her hair convey movement there as well. It’s as if her passion, or rage, is coming out in electric currents through her bright yellow mane.
The leftmost painting is the boldest, in terms of its color, subject and composition. Through this fifth archway we see Christ on the cross, but from the back. It’s a bit hard to discern Christ’s body, though; what one notices first are the bright colors—Jesus’ blue robe, the red blood dripping from his side and the white beams of light that shine past the cross at several points. The painting’s bold appearance is largely due to its medium: While the students worked with acrylics on the other archways, this scene was painted with spray cans. The medium lends an appealing rawness to the artwork, but it also serves to remind onlookers of the wall’s not-so-reputable past.
Valdez said that some, including Solari, were worried that the mural would soon be obliterated by tags.
“Cam was concerned it would get destroyed,” Valdez said. “I explained to him that these projects get right to the gut of [the tagging problem].”
While Reno may not be marked with graffiti as comprehensively as certain areas of, say, Los Angeles, it is not exempt from tagging. Valdez said that projects like the mural encourage teens to find a more socially acceptable means of expression, one that the community can see and appreciate. This community acceptance, Valdez said, will in turn motivate the teens to further creativity and success.
Valdez is confident that the mural will stand unharmed there on Linden Street, serving to remind the community, as well as the young artists themselves, that art turns up in unexpected places.