Art is work
Youth ArtWorks Mural
For many of the 14- to 19-year-olds, the eight-week mural project is their first paid job. As they listen to bands like Weezer and The Postal Service blaring out of professional artist Ray Valdez’s pickup truck, the teens, in old T-shirts and paint-smeared pants, bring their vision to fruition. Unless they apply and are selected as part of the Youth ArtWorks project next summer, most of these students will never get paid for this kind of artistic labor again. Although, you never know; there’s a lot of potential in this group.
“This job has ruined us all,” says Rachel Costales, 15, a student at Rainshadow Community Charter High School. “We think jobs are going to be easy now.”
The first step was to pick a group of teens. Fifty students from various Washoe County Schools applied to be part of the Youth ArtWorks project. Valdez, the lead artist for the mural project on Riverside Drive next to McKinley Arts and Culture Center, picked a diverse group of 10 students who he thought had what it took to work and paint from 8 a.m. to noon, five days a week for two months. His group didn’t disappoint.
“This group has stuck together,” Valdez says. “They have taken a lot of pride in this project, turning this bad spot into something beautiful.”
Bad, it was. The ramp that takes Keystone up and over the Truckee River was formerly gray cement with large blocks of weathered white paint covering up past incarnations of graffiti. The most arduous part of creating the mural was pressure-washing the cement surfaces in order to prep them for paint. The creative process has been the rewarding part, although the students did have the difficult task of presenting their plan to the Reno Arts Council for approval, which meant providing valid reasons for why they wanted to incorporate 15-year-old Gorge Rodriguez’s graffiti art and 19-year-old Ryan Hunter’s partial human skull painting into the design.
“We were given this huge wall and no theme,” says Patsy Shepard, 15, a student at Coral Academy of Science Charter School where Valdez teaches. “So we sat outside for three days and talked about it. We incorporated the piano because the Reno Philharmonic is right there [inside McKinley].”
The piano is the central element that runs along both walls of the mural. The portion directly underneath the ramp is cave-themed. The piano keys in this part are starting to erode and break apart in the midst of stalactite and stalagmite. Along the side of the ramp, where there are mountains, moss and an ocean, the piano keys run straight and orderly along the bottom third of the mural. On this side, a larger-than-life chessboard depicts a showdown between a knight and a rook.
Each artist has his/her own frame in which to bring an individual touch to the mural. The element that ties both walls of the mural together is a face that wraps around the corner where the two walls meet. On the half facing McKinley, the face is conventional, social. In the cave half, the face is a skull, although Hunter—whose idea it was to place the face on the corner so that the connection between the two walls would not be so abrupt—rejects the stigmatization of skulls and their association with death in American culture.
“It’s unique, not traditional," Valdez says. "They’ve received a lot of positive feedback … from friends who’ve come by and from traffic along the river."