The weathered, graffiti-strewn rear wall of Frank’s Market underwent a transformation last Saturday. Around 200 children, teenagers, and adults painted between black outlines on the bare white wall that morning, using vibrant magentas, yellows, and other hues to bring the image of the North Side High School’s Mariachi Espuelas de Plata to life. The mural, organized by local artist Arnoldo Hurtado, is part of an ongoing revitalization effort along nearby NW 27th Street (“Searching for Heroes,” July 25).
On hand to support the community-led event were the public-private partnership Blue Zones Project, which provided free fruit and health-related pamphlets; staffers from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, who donated free admission tickets; Tarrant County Juvenile Services, who brought several volunteer teenagers fulfilling community service requirements; and artists Gabriella Gonzalez and Ramon Gutierrez.
Local artist Guillermo Tapia, founder of the artist collective ArtLuck, also came to pitch in.
“This is a really good way to bring everyone together, so people take more pride in their environment,” he said.
Hurtado, he added, is “trying to bridge gaps through the common purpose” of improving the quality of life in his community.
The success of the event has inspired Tapia to organize a similar event in the Riverside area where he lives.
As we chatted, Hurtado used a megaphone to keep the novice painters on track.
“People painting on the wall, thank you for joining us,” he said. “There are areas that we are not supposed to paint. The belts, for example. You need to step away to look. If you have a kid who wants to paint, join them in the painting. We don’t want kids painting random things. It’s looking really good so far.”
An excited and slightly out of breath Hurtado described the bustling morning as “great.” He added that he believed they would paint the entire mural today. “It’s moving faster than I thought,” he said. “People are wanting to participate.”
The image, which spans most of the 110-foot wall, is both imposing and uplifting. Around a dozen mariachi musicians gaze upward, as if frozen in the midst of a jubilant performance.
One 11th-grade member of the North Side High School mariachi band, Ezmerelda, said that she was “really impressed” to learn that her ensemble was the subject material. She chose violin on a whim in middle school, she said, not knowing that it would lead to inclusion in one of the most prominent mariachi high school groups in North Texas. Her bespectacled visage is dutifully captured on the mural, second from the left.
“My family came earlier and took pictures,” she said. “They were really impressed. We don’t think of ourselves as role models. When they told us that, we thought, ‘That’s impressive that people think that.’ ”
Several teenagers were fulfilling community service requirements through Tarrant County Juvenile Services. Community Service Officer Lydia Villamil said the mural project offers her youths a chance to “re-engage with the community.”
Villamil said her department began straying from “degrading” service work like picking up trash 15 years ago. By finding creative projects that are rewarding, she said, kids are more likely to find meaning in the work and not repeat the criminal offenses that landed them under her purview in the first place. She credits the new approach with lowering the number of teenagers who re-enter her program.
“When community [members] paint murals, the murals are less likely to get graffitied,” she said. “It saves the city money because they don’t have to repeatedly fix it.”
Hurtado said he uses art as his “social practice.” The idea of employing murals and installation artworks to engage with the community first came to him several years ago, when he lived in Cambodia as a Peace Corps worker. After becoming involved with a local art gallery, Make Maek, Hurtado noticed that locals weren’t setting foot inside the private business. Hurtado came up with the idea of creating clouds that he made from commonplace baskets before stringing them over the streets outside.
“That was when I realized this was the direction I wanted to go,” he said.
After returning to the North Side, Hurtado continued the practice of using art to engage with the community through informal shows he called Minority Report. Held on his front porch, the events were a gathering place for local artists and creatives to meet, collaborate, and discuss art.
The mural will take around six weeks to complete, he said. Hurtado also said he is OK with putting on hold his own art, which he describes as surrealistic.
“I’m such a curious person,” he said. “I’m always finding” new creative outlets. “Sometimes, I’ll go back to [old] projects. I’m always searching for new ones as well, anything that will challenge and excite me. Then, I’ll incorporate all of my learning into the next project.”