Joshua Tehee

Creative Fresno kicks off project to map Fresno County’s murals

This mural mosaic, created by photograpaher Steve Skibie, shows some of the murals in Fresno’s downtown and Tower District.
This mural mosaic, created by photograpaher Steve Skibie, shows some of the murals in Fresno’s downtown and Tower District. Special to The Bee

Teresa Flores is looking for murals.

“Hashtag, all the murals,” says Flores, project manager for the Digital Mural Map, an interactive (and mobile friendly) website that will document murals in Fresno County.

The map — a project of Creative Fresno, paid for with a grant from the Fresno Regional Foundation — will feature photographs of the artwork, along with interviews and any information that can be found on the muralists and their work. Documentation will run through December and the site should be up and running by May. A book of selected murals will accompany the site. Copies will be donated to public libraries (and sold to art lovers and Fresnophiles).

“It’s very grass roots,” Flores says, in advance of the project kick-off (and mural party!) Thursday, Aug. 13, at the Fresno Ballroom in the Pacific Southwest Building.

Come prepared to share the mural locations you know.

It will be tough to come up with a definitive list of murals.

There’s the irony to this art form: Murals are larger-than-life, designed to be seen. But when you pass them every day, they can become just another part of the landscape.

There are hundreds of them in the county. Creative Fresno’s preliminary count has 60 or more in Fresno’s downtown and Tower District alone.

Many murals have relatively short life spans, due to deterioration from sun and rain and changing of building owners. And they can be hard to find, unless you know where to look, says Creative Fresno’s board chair Andy Hansen-Smith.

There are murals on city water towers and on the sides of dilapidated buildings, in styles ranging from pop art and graffiti to photo realism. They are done in large scale (Josh Wigger’s Sacramento street mural spans 160-feet) and small, both outside and indoors.

Flores’ favorite mural, for example, is inside Manchester Mall.

Also, it can be difficult to determine what constitutes a “mural,” Hansen-Smith says.

“Art is in the eye of the beholder, sometimes.”

For instance, the large tile mosaics seen on the side of local freeways, are probably not what most would associate as “murals,” Hansen-Smith says. Especially, those familiar with the surreal pop/graffiti art in downtown Fresno. Still, it is artwork applied directly to a permanent surface, and they will be included in the map, he says.

This kind of large-scale documentation is a first for Fresno County. Creative Fresno may be uniquely qualified to lead the charge.

The nonprofit built its brand on murals. Over the last decade, its Mural Project helped define (and rebrand) entire blocks of downtown’s Cultural Arts District. The organization curated, facilitated and financed close to a dozen murals in the area. In September, the organization launched a mobile mural project, which created a series of five portable art pieces. Each was created on-site, at a community event, by those in attendance.

More than 700 people participated in the project.

“It’s a dialog,” Flores says, who acted as facilitator/art instructor for the mobile murals, which will be on display during the kick-off event. “We communicate with each other through images and art.”

Public art creates identity and sense of place. It’s also an example of the creative economy at work. Both appeal Creative Fresno’s mission.

The Digital Mural Map is in one sense a marketing tool. Hansen-Smith envisions travelers using it to create their own “mural” tours, similar to what is done with the Blossom Trail each spring.

But the organization also sees it as tool for change. Exposing public art leads to more demand for public art. That, in turn, means more working artists.

As it is, many of the Valley’s muralists persevere despite reliable funding sources, Flores says.

If there is a takeaway to the project it’s this: Public art — and murals specifically — have worth: “This is something that is okay for people to pay artist for.”

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

A Mural Party

Event preview

  • 7 p.m. Thursday Aug. 13
  • The Fresno Ballroom, Pacific Southwest Building, 1060 Fulton Mall
  • Free and open to the public
  • (559) 464-5734, www.creativefresno.com
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