Artist builds community, pride through murals

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Hugo Medina helps people connect to their community through his murals. (Madeline Pado/DD)

Downtown Phoenix Voices is an ongoing series of profiles on the many diverse and inspirational voices in the downtown Phoenix community. To read the last installment in the series,
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Hugo Medina gets lost in painting as the world continues around him. Fire trucks speed by, sirens blaring. The light-rail bell dings and people come and question him about his work. His confident, even brushstrokes continue despite the disruptions. Medina, his painting and music create a world of their own as his images start coming together to form something complete.

“I entered my first art contest when I was 5 and I never looked back,” the 39-year-old artist said.

As Medina paints, he listens to music to help form a creative atmosphere. The type of music ranges from classical to jazz depending on the artwork and mood.

“Music, like art, is an inspiration,” Medina said. “A good song gives the feeling of a security blanket, and I try to capture that in my painting.”

To Medina, art plays a much larger role than a form of entertainment.

“The arts are the core of every community. Cave paintings were the very first murals, and artists just kept recording history as it happens,” Medina said.

Born in Bolivia, Medina moved to New York at age 8 and came to Phoenix after he graduated college. Personal experience has been the greatest force in shaping Medina’s activism.

“When I moved to the U.S., we were illegal for about 10 years,” Medina said.

“I haven’t been out of a job since sixth grade,” he added with a smile.

Medina’s background drives him to be an advocate for other young people struggling to make it into successful careers. He said he wants the younger generations to have better opportunities.

“I wasn’t expected to graduate high school, let alone go to college,” Medina said. “Now both me and my sisters have master’s degrees.”

Medina is volunteering to paint a mural for the Dream Act free of charge to help inspire people who were once in the same situation as him.

“Everyone wants a mural for free, they try to exploit the artist,” Medina said. “I have to get paid to be able to continue to volunteer murals for causes I believe in.”

Medina is a strong advocate for creating equal opportunities and involving children in the arts.

“When I was a teacher, I used to take kids to museums, and for a lot of them it would be the first time they had seen art,” Medina said. “With murals, people are forced to be involved in art as they walk by.”

Medina is currently painting a piece of Arizona television history, Wallace and Ladmo, on the outside of First Studio. Co-owner of First Studio and Randy Murray Productions, Theresa Murray, 54, has noticed the mural improving business.

“It gives the building its own recognition in the community,” Murray said. “It’s so much better with the mural there.”

Murray noted that while they did commission Medina for the mural, he volunteers a lot of time to make murals free.

To Medina, the biggest reward is seeing the various ways his art impacts community members. A small girl once went up to him and told him she walked past a mural every morning and that it gave her joy, he said.

Medina wants people to be positively impacted by his murals and to feel a sense of community involvement.

Medina also works as a waiter at Barrio Cafe, off of 16th Street, to make ends meet. There he had the opportunity to co-found Calle 16, which is an arts activism group that works to involve the younger generations in art and support Phoenix, specifically the 16th Street area.

“Phoenix is just an open campus, it’s very young,” Medina said. “Helping it develop is amazing.”

Theresa Murray of First Studio said Medina’s mural on the building has boosted business. (Madeline Pado/DD)

Through Calle 16, Medina has done various projects to support local groups such as a mural for the Phoenix Youth at Risk center and is helping with a new mural for the Youth Development Institute. Publicist and consultant Stacey Champion, 41, has noticed that Medina’s background as a teacher helps him be influential in Phoenix.

“He’s one of the most genuine, goodhearted people I know,” Champion said. “He tends to enjoy getting the community, kids and people who don’t normally consider themselves art people involved.”

Many of Medina’s projects involve community involvement, but all of his projects involve family by having his daughters help with every mural he paints.

“By this point they go ‘oh no, not another one dad,’” Medina said with a laugh.

Medina easily draws others into his work, and his murals become an integral part of the neighborhood they are in.

“It helps people feel a sense of pride and connection,” Champion said.

Right now, Medina is trying to find a balance between volunteering art for causes he is passionate about and getting paid for his work. However, Medina’s long-time dream of being able to support himself as a full-time artist hasn’t been achieved yet.

“I’m hoping by the time I’m 40 I’m able to live comfortably just doing artwork,” Medina said.

Medina enjoys getting the community involved in projects to help Calle 16 and the arts in Phoenix grow.

“The goal is to make Phoenix not just a city that supports the arts but a city that runs through the arts,” Medina said.

Contact the reporter at cacoope6@asu.edu