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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Excelsior Youth Center students build art skills, sense of community with murals in Garland alley

Three students of Excelsior Youth Center got a live lesson in mural art last Saturday on the rear wall of a Garland Avenue business.

Sponsored by the Garland Business District, the new student murals are now part of 20-some murals decorating the alley immediately south of Garland Avenue between Post and Monroe streets.

The effort, which brought in three Spokane artists to help the students, was funded through a grant from the Spokane Arts organization. Garland Printing is the host building.

Planning for the project dates back more than a year, said Bonnie Stewart of the North Hill Neighborhood Council. “It is coming together,” she said.

Julie Shepard-Hall, president of the business district, said that even though the project involved just three students, it is an important addition from both educational and community perspectives. She has been spearheading the work and said there is space for three more murals in the future.

“I wanted them (the student artists) to feel like they have a place that is theirs. I want this to be their wall,” she said. “They are creative and talented.”

Excelsior houses some of Washington’s most vulnerable children and young adults, often ones that no other facility will accept because of their behavioral issues.

Makayla Rutz developed a design that is built around the word “survivor.”

The color pink dominates her mural. “The top is going to say, ‘Don’t quit,’ ” she said.

Austin Mildebrandt created a dark-toned mural using the main words of “believe in yourself” and a hand with its little finger and thumb pointing up. He said he wants the mural to help with issues such as depression and loneliness.

“The message is you are rising up from what’s pulling you down,” he said.

Alex Parlange developed a mural using a colorful chicken as its main feature. He said the humor in the mural is helpful for anyone trying to recover. He said he has raised chickens at home and likes to hang out with them.

Artist Jeramee Sauls was showing Parlange a brush technique to help him get precise lines. “I think you can do it. I have faith in you,” Sauls said.

The other artists helping the students were noted spray-paint muralist Daniel Lopez and another artist who prefers to go by the name of “Newk.”

Newk said the mural project will help the students develop their skills, but also show that outdoor art can make a positive contribution.

The murals featured a combination of spray paint and brush strokes.

“When they are finished they will have a great sense of accomplishment,” Lopez said.

Lopez, who works on commission for some projects, has also donated his work to what is known at “mural alley” in the Garland District. The outdoor alley art has the greatest concentration of murals with notable images of Salvador Dali and Marilyn Monroe. An owl looks as if it is flying straight at you.

Murals are found throughout the business district where property owners and businesses have been supporting the decorative looks. Numerous artists have contributed works over the years, some by commission, some by volunteer effort and others by a combination of commission and volunteerism.

On Saturday, a rally of motorcycle enthusiasts visited the Garland district and soaked in the art.

Sauls is planning a mural of a Native American on a rear wall of the Discovery thrift shop and dance studio building.

In addition, the North Hill Neighborhood and Garland Business District is working on fundraising to paint a mural on a huge retaining wall along the Post Street Hill just north of Gordon Avenue. The mural features a springlike scene of a snow-covered Mount Spokane with native plants in the foreground. Lopez is the designer.

The North Hill Neighborhood COPS organization has committed $500 toward the $4,500 project. Grant applications are pending with Spokane Arts and the Associated Garden Clubs. A fundraising effort will be undertaken during this summer’s Garland Street Fair, Shepard-Hall said.

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