Youth Mural Program

In Silver City, the murals are more
than just decoration


Those looking for art in Silver City will find it long before they set foot in a single gallery—on the sides of buildings, on the risers of their high sidewalks, on long-blocked-in windows. These jewels are courtesy of a youth mural program that has been in existence for just seven years.

The Mimbres Region Arts Council’s Youth Mural Program teaches students about the history and culture of their community through the arts while connecting them to their peers, local artists and community members. Engaged in beautifying their environs, they learn public art can enrich and enhance the quality of life in their community. Locals can no longer picture the town without these adornments, and tourists are in awe of the caliber of work that comes from the student artists.

While looking for a youth program to address the needs of Grant County at-risk youth, MRAC executive director Faye McCalmont and Diana Ingalls Leyba, co-owner of Leyba & Ingalls Arts, conceived the Youth Mural Program, which partners area youth with artists to produce high-quality public art. The first murals partnered juvenile probation and parole teens in the Children, Youth and Families Program with local professional artists. The program was so successful that MRAC expanded it into the schools, working with first through 12th graders and classroom teachers. For the last four years, assisting artists, paid teen interns and a lead artist have mentored children ages 6 to 12 to produce a mural during a two-week summer camp.

The culture and history of the area is rich and diverse. Students explore the past through research and histories, translating the information into images. Recently, Cobre High School students interviewed Tommy Foy, who survived the Bataan Death March during World War II. His story and other survivor stories are incorporated into a mural in Bataan Memorial Park in Fort Bayard. Other murals explore the Mimbres culture, the Apaches, Buffalo Soldiers and other early settlers. More recent events are also portrayed, such as the 1951 Empire Zinc Mine strike on which the movie Salt of the Earth was based. Oral histories of elders illuminate the dramatic changes in the area. One woman spoke about growing up on Brewer Hill, living in a two-room house with eleven siblings, and having to haul water. When asked what her favorite modern convenience was, she replied “screen doors,” making quite an impression on the Harrison Schmitt fifth graders who worked on the tile mural at Pinos Altos and Broadway in Silver City.

A detail of the mural at the Silver City Food Co-op

Each mural is directed by a lead artist and an assistant artist who are paired by the program coordinator based on their expertise in relevant art forms, their large-format work, their unique style and their experience in working with diverse populations and children ages 6 to 18. Projects are based loosely on a six to eight week schedule. Some projects are collaborations between schoolteachers and students during classroom hours; others take place at the mural site after school or on weekends or at workshop spaces at Leyba & Ingalls Arts, Hands on Market or community centers.

For each mural, students interview area residents, community elders and historians to incorporate their history, culture and aesthetic concepts into a relevant theme. Depending on the media used, students will learn a variety of skills, including how to form, etch, glaze and fire clay into tile, sketch and paint, and work with a rough sketch projected onto a mural surface at night. Incorporating good design elements and color theory, students work cooperatively with their peers and local artists to design a mural. They then present their concept to the site owner and the Silver City Design Review Committee, learning important life skills. Mentoring artists push students past their self-imposed limitations and encourage them toward the end result using quality products and application techniques. A public dedication celebration following completion allows the students to experience the gratitude of the community and public recognition of their efforts.

The use of mural cloth opens up accessibility of mural making in the classroom. Images can be refined to completion with acrylic paint on mural cloth without concern for weather issues or the logistics of getting a class out on location. Once painted, mural cloth is easily applied to its destination surface using a soft gel acrylic.

Funding for the program is provided through grants, donations and site fees. Local businesses Prudential Silver City Properties and Chino Federal Credit Union sponsor the program. One among many active partners is Syzygy Tileworks, who has donated clay, glaze and expertise since the beginning of the program. Community volunteers lend a hand with installation when needed. The program has collaborated with the Town of Silver City and the City of Bayard, the Silver City Public Library, The Big Read and the Gila River Festival on projects. The program has reached all the area high schools and continues to expand into the elementary schools. Expanding outside Grant County into Catron County, 2010’s mural projects will include working with youth in Glenwood as well as doing a summer program in Gila for its public library, a summer camp in Silver City at the skate park, a tile mural at The Hub, and phase two at Ybarra Park in Silver City.

With many talented area artists from which to draw, a wide range of influences and techniques are evident. From the realism of the Empire Zinc Mine strike mural to the bursts of color and abstracted form in the Silver City Food Co-op mural, students are offered an array of expressive two-dimensional approaches. Mural tile that weaves through downtown on Broadway on the steps and high sidewalks complements Silver City’s rich tile heritage. Projects are embellished further with ceramic and glass mosaics that either stand alone or accompany painted areas such as Market Street’s multicultural heritage windows and the public library’s “Bless Me, Ultima” mural.

Murals can be seen on the MRAC website, Mural program lead artists Kathryn Allen (ceramic artist), Carlene Roters (painter) and Cecilia Stanford (nationally known mosaic artist) can be found at the Blue Dome Gallery. Marilyn Gendron’s paintings are on view at Azurite Gallery. Artist Karen Carr of Karen Carr Studios has work in publications and locations across the United States, Japan and Europe ( M. Fred Barraza displays his works at JW Art Gallery. Kate Brown shows work in her studio at the Mimbres Hot Springs Ranch and What’s A Pot Shop in Silver City. Diana Ingalls Leyba (painter) and Zoe Wolfe (ceramic sculptor) show work at Leyba & Ingalls Arts. Beth Menczer (clay artist) is at Seedboat Gallery.

The mural program engages, connects and weaves together generations and cultures past and present, uniting all into a community.

Thanks to Diana Ingalls Leyba, co-owner of Leyba & Ingalls Arts in Silver City, NM

Originally appeared in The Collector’s Guide - Volume 24

Related Pages

Youth Arts Programs for Teens article

The Multiple Faces of (Big) Wall Art article

Collector’s Resources


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