“What Should Go Here?” is a community-wide beautification project working to convert vacant lots into temporary spaces the community can enjoy before the lot is developed.
Local artists Colton Brock, Lalo Cota, Angel Diaz, Gennero Garcia, Thomas Breeze Marcus, Pablo Lunas and curator Hugo Medina designed a mural to fill the blank spaces on the back wall of the empty lot.
“We passed around a piece of paper,” said Medina. “Each artist would add something to it and pass it to the next and that gave us our base.”
Utrecht Art Supplies in Tempe and Arizona Art Supply donated the paint for the project, while volunteers brought water bottles, apples, granola bars and cucumbers to share.
“I can’t think of a better way to spend a beautiful Saturday,” said Adrian Fontes, a volunteer who brought his daughter along for the festivities.
With around 30 volunteers on the first day, the mural made significant progress within a few hours. Children and parents alike picked up brushes to help fill in the muralists’ design.
“It’s coming along so fast, which will give us more time to add details and layers,” Medina said. “The more people that turn out the more it evolves.”
The mural’s central theme is imagination, with an emphasis on Arizona’s culture and influence.
The beginning of the mural, designed by Cota, features a man with open hands and a light bulb surrounded by intricate designs coming out of the top of his head. The man’s eyes are closed but a third eye in the middle of his forehead, symbolizing the “inner eye,” is wide open.
“He’s welcoming imagination,” Cota said.
The mural then moves on to a desert skyline with one of Arizona’s desert sunsets in the background. The desert skyline slowly transforms into the silhouette of a city, followed by a section of the mural that features Garcia’s “princess of the butterflies” surrounded by giant vibrant flowers with clear Mexican influences.
“Compared to the other aspects of the mural this one is really childish,” said Garcia. “I use a lot of bright colors and the flowers symbolize life.”
Garcia said he always enjoys being able to be himself and do something different from his usual work.
“This is only my third time using spray paint,” Garcia said. “It’s fun!”
The next installment of the mural was Diaz’s rendition of the Aztec feathered serpent deity, Quetzalcoatl.
“Usually if I get the chance to do something in the community I try to add culture instead of just graffiti letters,” Diaz said.
Together with Medina, Dorina Bustamante put the project together based on a shared love for bringing the community together through art, especially for children.
“If we want people to get out of their cars, we have to give them something to do,” Bustamante said. “Something besides just eating and drinking.”
The other artists were eager to get involved early on, sharing the excitement for community projects and the opportunity to collaborate with others.
“I like having other people working on my stuff because they do things I normally wouldn’t,” Cota said. “I like working with the kids because one will try to paint perfectly within the lines and then another will come along and just ruin their progress.”
All across the lot children declared to their parents and various artists that they are going to be artists too when they grow up.
“My daughter and I play this game when we drive around Phoenix: The first one to point out a mural gets a point and whoever has the most points by the end of the ride wins,” volunteer Jennifer Watkins said. “I was so excited when I found out we could actually get involved with one.”
Medina said to expect other projects to come in and out of the lot, including a project in which artists turn old shoes into flowerpots.
“I think this can help give Phoenix a new image. We always hear that Phoenix is bland, boring, or beige,” said Thomas Breeze Marcus, a local artist. “But we have a group of dedicated people coming out and making that change.”
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