Paint cans, brushes, biodegradable solvents, and lots of tired, satisfied smiles emerge from Shooks Run, under the bridge near Pikes Peak and Colorado avenues. In their wake, they leave a reclining, foreshortened giant, dreaming beneath a colorful patchwork quilt.
Two weeks later, the supplies and people turn up again, near the funky old Van Briggle building now occupied by Colorado College. The group has grown in size, as has the expectation: to create not one, but two, murals on the walls beneath the Uintah Street bridge, and to make the pillars there look good, too. In five days.
It's a typical challenge for Manitou Springs-based Concrete Couch, which can now count its Summer Community Art and Mural Program (SCAMP) as another successful city-beautification project.
Thanks to the first close partnership between Concrete Couch and Colorado Springs government, by summer's end there will be a total of eight completed projects roughly spanning the mid and south portions of Shooks Run to downtown proper and west along Uintah Street. A bike tour of them is eyed for early fall.
The aim has been to improve places that attract "unwanted forms of expression."
According to Colorado Springs Code Enforcement administrator Ken Lewis, "Taggers and graffiti artists tend to leave community murals alone out of respect for the art." The SCAMP murals aren't exclusively designed to prevent graffiti, but when the city was helping Concrete Couch choose prospective sites, abatement was certainly taken into consideration.
"I used to bike by here. The city was always sending out people to cover up the graffiti," says Lisbet Rattenborg, who's in charge of the dreaming-giant project at the Shooks Run bridge site, and runs SCAMP's daily operations. "We did another mural a few years ago in an area that was always being covered in graffiti, but since that mural went up, it's only been hit a couple of times, and it was easy to fix."
'Green is pop!'
A SCAMP mural is a good thing, then. And a green thing. The group relies on donated and recycled materials; the brushes are donated from various art programs and private sources, and the paint by Habitat for Humanity, its ReStore offshoot, or El Paso County's Household Hazardous Waste Facility.
"This is really all about using existing resources, building community, and forging long-term relationships within the community," says Joel Newmiller, a local artist, musician and biochemist among the half-dozen or so young-adult artists who work as Concrete Couch advisers. He says that using recycled paint and supplies is a trend that speaks to the ever-growing green movement, especially in the art community. According to Newmiller, "Green is pop!"
"The only drawback with using all-recycled materials is, you don't get a lot of choice in the colors you have to work with," says Rattenborg. "For the giant, we didn't have any yellow, for instance."
Local artist and Concrete Couch art teacher K8E Orr, who's done projects with the organization for about four years, laughs a little and smiles. "Primary colors," she says. "If people would like to donate their old house paints, or other paints, we could really use some primary colors ... We're happy to get whatever people don't want, though. Large quantities. Bring it in!"
The group makes do with what it has. Members cut out stencils from cardboard boxes for shapes that will be repetitive in a piece and work closely with volunteers, so that each project has its own personality. Young and old, experienced artists or complete novices, the SCAMP team welcomes all. "We'd really like for people to stay for the whole project," says Rattenborg, "but drop-ins are always welcome. It all helps."
One drop-in was area resident Michael Miranda, who met the volunteers on a morning stroll, and returned the next day to join in: "I think it's a great thing," he says, "and a cool way to spend some time."
As Newmiller alluded to, Concrete Couch considers creating community one of its main goals. Past undertakings have included making murals and benches, but also doing repair work at places like the Business of Art Center, and staging intergenerational music jams and hands-on community-building workshops. For SCAMP projects, Rattenborg says the average turn-out has been around 20 people, ranging upward to about 40. The Uintah project brought in more than 30 volunteers.
Longtime volunteer Lenore Fleck, from Rockrimmon, says the diversity is what makes each project unique: "This one has a lot of teens," she says, referring to the Uintah mural, "but the way these turn out depends a lot on who's there."
"The ideas come from group discussion," says Rattenborg. "We [the art instructors] bring basic suggestions. The volunteers really direct how things will turn out."
For the Uintah project, headed by lead Concrete Couch teacher Naomi Marshall, the volunteers decided to stay with a more traditional outdoor theme, with animal silhouettes, mountains and, well, a lone alien spaceship for the east wall. The basic design was already there for them, thanks to a project abandoned by an earlier group, so they decided to complete it. And, explains Marshall, "we added to it. Both sides [of the bridge structure] are part of the project," including the columns that hold everything up.
There's hope that SCAMP will return next year, but there isn't anything definite on the table yet. So your last chance to participate may be during the week of Aug. 20.
It's a "mystery project"; Concrete Couch folks will say only that it might be a good idea to think about the Downtown Arts Alley area. You could wander around and hope to run into them, but your best bet will probably be calling them directly at 347-1142, or e-mailing Rattenborg at firstname.lastname@example.org.