Basalt kids leave an impression on their town |

Basalt kids leave an impression on their town

About 65 Basalt-area kids probably won’t realize it this weekend, but they will be building community – one square foot at a time.

Kids of all ages have been recruited to help create a mural that’s going to be part of Basalt for years to come. The mural will be painted on a freshly white-washed bathroom building adjacent to the Basalt pool at Arbaney Park.

Kids and a handful of adults will work on it throughout the Basalt River Days Festival, this Saturday and Sunday.

The mural will feature a landscape scene with such landmarks as Basalt Mountain and Seven Castles. The kids will add animals from the river ecology so vital to the town.

Kids of all ages have already prepared drawings of animals such as dragonflies, ducks, fish and even lizards that they want to add. They toiled under the guidance of Basalt Middle School art teacher Rae McCarthy.

Professional artists Renick Stevenson and Bates began the painstakingly slow process of tracing each kid’s animal drawing into a one-foot-by-one-foot square Thursday. When the kids pop into the festival this weekend, they will find their specially designated animal square and paint it.

An undetermined number of the hundreds of squares will be available for painting by the public-at-large, kids and adults.

The mural is more than an art project. It’s designed to help create a sense of community among kids and adults, said Stevenson, a former Roaring Fork Valley resident who worked at Pitkin County Jail before participating in a number of unique artists-in-residence programs.

Stevenson has used art in numerous creative ways – from helping crack cocaine addicts find a release from their problems to bringing inner city kids in Battle Creek, Mich., together for a community project.

Murals are somewhat of a specialty he has used since 1973. They are a subtle but effective way, he said, to build bonds between community members. He’s used them before not only to draw kids into the activity, but to build planning skills among civic leaders.

“This is just a vehicle to give them information so I don’t have to lecture them,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson, who is ending a two-year program as artist-in-residence with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, was contacted about the Basalt mural six weeks ago by Bates, a nationally recognized oil painter and photo realist, and her husband, Basalt Councilman Steve Solomon.

Bates and Solomon became familiar with Stevenson’s work when they were his landlords a few years back. They felt a mural was the exact type of project Basalt needs – the type that promotes healthy social fabric at a time when changes threaten to alter the town.

Many Basalt residents feel more of a connection to their jobs in Aspen and Snowmass Village than the community they live in, Solomon noted. This is one of countless projects that could be promoted to build their identification with their town.

“It’s not so much that we’re going to paint a building,” said Solomon. “One hundred people will never look at this park the same way.”

The mural project is kind of a coming-out project for the Roaring Fork Club’s artists-in-residence program. It’s also a first major thrust by the fledgling Basalt Arts Council.

The mural project’s goal of building community is one really shared with the River Days Festival as a whole.

The festival features arts and crafts vendors, games and live entertainment. It celebrates the importance of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers to the town’s economy, environment and identity.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy will host an interactive booth where kids and adults can play with and learn from a riverbed model.

There are lots of events with the small-town flavor, from a pie-baking contest to a kiss-a-trout fund raiser. Many of the activities are also planned specifically for kids, such as the popular sumo wrestling costumes and the Velcro wall.

Basalt’s Arbaney Park is the hub of virtually all activities during the two-day festival.

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