It’s a way to celebrate visual arts, small businesses, food, music, and one of metro Denver’s most under-appreciated neighborhoods. The Fourth Annual Colfax Canvas Mural Festival will be held on Sept. 16 from 12pm-5pm in the heart of Aurora’s Arts District along Colfax Avenue. Aaron Vega says he created the festival to celebrate the rich diversity of Northwest Aurora. “Colfax Canvas is a community-building experience designed to uplift the neighborhood,” says Vega. “There’s a lot to be proud of in our neighborhood, but people who don’t live or work here maybe don’t know about it.”
Over the past three years, artists have painted 29 murals on the walls of businesses as part of the project. This year, 10 artists working in teams will add four more murals. The teams of artists work with local businesses to create murals that are meaningful to both parties. “You see something very dynamic in the way that interaction happens,” says Vega. “We really want collaboration while creating a lovely vibe.”
Previous murals have featured brightly colored Latin American imagery, musicians, graffiti art, the Denver skyline framed by purple mountains, and a large portrait of a Peruvian immigrant. The art represents a vast array of styles and the artists come from very diverse backgrounds. Vega says that this variety in creative styles reflects the incredible diversity of historic Aurora. “It’s one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country.”
This year Aurora artist Tessa Fuqua is partnering with three other artists to paint two murals on Mango House at Colfax and Galena. The refugee center features a medical and dental clinic, grocery store, and refugee-run restaurants offering cuisine from Syria, Burma, Ethiopia, Nepal, and more.
Fuqua, the daughter of two Filipino immigrants, says her team has sketched out murals that will include colorful botanical designs and words that convey equality, justice, and a celebration of life. She hopes the murals will provide a welcoming message for everyone, but especially the refugees. “I always like my art to make people think, but also smile.” Fuqua has participated in the Denver Chalk Art Festival for 10 years, where she loves the interaction of creating art and meeting the public.
Although painting the Colfax murals will involve less public interaction during the installation, she’s enjoyed the interaction with the rest of her team as they’ve mapped out plans for the enormous murals. “Each of the four of us have very different styles, but it’s been a great experience to create together,” says Fuqua. “I haven’t collaborated with a team before, so I’ve really learned a lot through this process.”
There are also logistical challenges—figuring out how much paint will be needed, renting lifts so the artists can safely reach high to paint on the upper sections of the walls, and marking out a grid pattern so the designs can be transferred from sketch pads onto walls that are up to 32 feet long.
The artists will begin painting the large murals beginning Labor Day Weekend and finish (weather permitting) just before the festival—hopefully adding their signatures that day. The festival itself will feature a family-friendly block party with ethnic food from the neighborhood, a beer garden serving drinks from five nearby breweries, live music with cultural dancing, a jumpy castle, a Harry Potter quidditch field, and artist vendor booths. There will also be activities for families in the nearby Martin Luther King Library. “We want to make sure that there are enough free events so people don’t feel like they have to buy something. We want the festival to be very accessible for all,” says Vega.
One of the free events is a scavenger hunt that will encourage people to follow a map to the various murals where they will receive “stamps” in a passport-style booklet. Visitors can then enter a raffle to win prizes.
Vega hopes that people from all over Denver will attend the Colfax Canvas Mural Festival to see an arts district that doesn’t have the name recognition of RINO or the Santa Fe Arts District, but is increasingly vibrant nonetheless. Attendees can take an RTD Colfax bus, park in one of the many free parking lots in the area, or ride their bikes while utilizing new bike racks recently added by the City of Aurora.
Vega’s bigger goal is to encourage people to come back to the neighborhood after the festival is over to frequent the small businesses, restaurants, and, of course, spend more time appreciating the murals. The Colfax Canvas website features an audio tour of the mural sites so that visitors can learn about the art and artists.
For more information, visit www.ColfaxCanvas.com or follow @ColfaxCanvas on Instagram.
Front Porch photos by Christie Gosch