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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Murals transform downtown

Volunteers gather to hang panels for the Mobile Mural Project, Oct. 4, 2014, at the corner of Third and Division in downtown Spokane, Wash. Some 17 artists created 87 panels for a display that surrounds an empty lot. (Dan Pelle)
Volunteers gather to hang panels for the Mobile Mural Project, Oct. 4, 2014, at the corner of Third and Division in downtown Spokane, Wash. Some 17 artists created 87 panels for a display that surrounds an empty lot. (Dan Pelle)
For weeks they painted, transforming the landscape under five downtown Spokane railroad bridges. They learned to identify the kinds of loads on the trains above them by the thunder they produced (or so some of them thought). They constantly answered the question: Are you concerned about it being covered with graffiti? They accepted numerous compliments from homeless folks or businesspeople passing every day on their walks to work. Some agreed to take on volunteers who spent hours and weeks helping out. They learned to deal and even appreciate constant interruptions. On Saturday, many of those painters explained their work for the public during a walking tour. The event began at Third Avenue and Division Street where 17 murals were installed Saturday morning, hiding a pit that city leaders have been eager to cover since a hotel project went bust during the Great Recession. “I feel like murals are a way to get artwork out of galleries and to where it’s accessible to the general public,” said Tiffany Patterson, founder of Spokane Urban Mural Artist Collaboration, which painted the bridge at Howard Street. Most of the artists said they don’t mind that their work likely won’t be around in 100 years, and they aren’t so worried about graffiti. Vandals, they say, have largely respected public murals in Spokane. The Mobile Mural Project, on display at Third and Division, as well as the railroad murals, were sponsored in part by Spokane Arts. The bridge murals cost about $20,000 and were selected from about 30 entries by the Spokane Arts Commission and another panel of artists. The commission paid $1,500 or $1,750 per bridge mural – not much considering most of the artists spent three months working on them while holding down other jobs. “Looking at future murals and future projects, we’d like to increase that,” said Shannon Halberstadt, director of Spokane Arts – the organization that took over for the city of Spokane when the city disbanded its art department. At Division, Tom Quinn brought giant marmots, koi from Manito Park, a semi-famous Peaceful Valley nudist and the Spokane Falls to the same bridge he painted 20 years ago. At Howard, members of the SUMAC painted scenes inspired by the city’s chamber-of-commerce theme, “Near Nature, Near Perfect.” Children painted pictures that SUMAC artists transformed onto the mural. (It includes a standing marmot holding a flag.) At Wall Street, Erin Mielcarek and Ellen Picken, who connected via Facebook, created the visual representation for the vibrations of the trains passing overhead. At Cedar Street, Lisa Soranaka and Eric-Alain Parker’s depiction of a lilac tree reminds that nature has its aggressive side, as does humankind. And at Maple Street, two brothers, Todd and Cain Benson, covered the walls with faces of all kinds. None is meant to necessarily resemble anyone specific. They even turned down an offer of $1,000 to paint in someone’s likeness. The faces, old and young, black and white, smiling and sad – even a dog – are like a symphony, Matt Benson said. Just as someone might focus on the sound of a French horn over a flute, a viewer likely will identify with some faces over others. There is a deeper message, perhaps, in the mural, but Matt Benson stresses: “At the end of the day, if it makes you smile, that’s enough.”
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