Wall mural painted by at-risk kids shot down
August 9, 2002
A plain brick wall in the middle of Aspen’s commercial core is going to stay that way despite one group’s efforts to liven up the facade with a community mural.
Art Now, a Basalt-based nonprofit, received a $5,000 grant in June from the Aspen Valley Community Foundation’s Spring Board to paint a mural on the cinder-block wall on the corner of Hunter Street and Hyman Avenue. But while several business owners and Aspen City Councilman Tim Semrau are in favor of the mural, the owner of the gravel parking lot that abuts the wall refuses to grant his permission for the project.
“I’m devastated – we’ve been turned down by the owner of the lot, and he’s the only person standing in my way,” said Rae MacCarthy Lampe, founder of Art Now.
The group has painted murals on the Basalt Family Resource Center and the Woody Creek Tavern, using local at-risk youth to complete the projects.
In June, the Spring Board agreed to fund half of the $10,000 project. MacCarthy Lampe said she has sketches of the proposed mural for the cinder-block wall: a scene including aspen trees that represents the four seasons.
But two weeks before the project could begin, it stopped in its tracks. The owner of the parking lot, who lives in California, told organizers through lot manager Don Lemos that he does not want the nonprofit to make him liable for any accidents by using his property for the painting. The lot owner could not be identified by sources reached for this story; Lemos did not return calls for comment.
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The owner of the building that includes the wall, on the other hand, enthusiastically supports the project.
“This epitomizes what Aspen is turning into – the rich who live out of town buying up everything and making decisions on all that stuff,” MacCarthy Lampe said. “There is a group of people in this small town trying to make it funky and fun again.”
Semrau said he was interested in arranging for cars on that side of the lot to used reserved parking spaces on the street during the project, but the project has dead-ended because of the lot owner’s decision.
“It’s unfortunate because it was a nice artistic touch that would certainly help the view across that plot,” Semrau said.
The idea for the mural initially came from Richard Chelec, owner of Blue Maize, a restaurant across Hunter Street from the parking lot.
“We call this block ‘the ghetto of Aspen’ because of how much the rest of this town gets fixed up, like the new bathrooms [near Wagner Park],” Chelec said. “I was even going to help raise money to finish up financing for the mural project. Why wouldn’t you want this project if you own that lot? It wouldn’t stop you from building something there.”
Jean Ingham, who has owned the building at 521 E. Hyman Ave. since 1977, said he doesn’t think the owner of the parking lot plans on developing the lot, because it would be too expensive.
Ingham lives in New Mexico but makes a couple of trips to Aspen each year. He said he strongly supports a mural and wrote MacCarthy Lampe a letter encouraging the project. But he added that the owner of the parking lot has concerns about being sued if something happens to the plot or the vehicles on the property.
“It’s a big, flat, ugly surface, and I’ve thought of painting it but I can really see the liability problems,” Ingham said. “It’s unfortunate, because it’s a big blank space where a mural would look great.”
MacCarthy Lampe said she thinks the mural is the perfect way to bring some vitality to that corner in Aspen, and she even considered using some sort of harnessing system for her kids to paint the mural without scaffolding, but decided the liability was too great.
“I’m looking for another wall in town. The problem is, that’s the best wall ever. It’s seriously ugly – it’s not even white. It’s two colors of cinder blocks at a huge point in downtown Aspen,” she said.
Semrau said the mural would have to be approved by historic preservation officials, but he said Amy Guthrie, Aspen’s historic preservation officer, told him it would probably not be a problem, since it would not detrimentally affect the building.
Spring Board chairwoman Amiee White said while she wasn’t aware that the project had stalled, the board will work with MacCarthy Lampe to see if the $5,000 in funding can be used on another mural in town.
“We intended the project to involve a group of kids who wanted to express themselves while doing something for the community,” White said. “We’re behind [Art Now] 100 percent. The work they do with kids for the community is really unique, and it’s something that should be supported by locals and business owners alike.”
[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com]