From murals to performances, local makers use art as advocacy

By Stewart Ricker

Special to the Southeast Express

Editor’s note: This autumn, the Southeast Express partnered with a second-year publishing class at Pikes Peak Community College to examine may facets of voting and politics. This story continues our special coverage, and looks at the impact local creatives and the arts can have on political opinion.

Jasmine Dillavou has been busy making art, and a statement, in Colorado Springs.

On Oct. 4, she staged a political art piece downtown called “Pageant Answers,” in which she performed as Miss America, “yelling on a soapbox about Puerto Rican nationalism.”

She was also recently involved in an installation show with artists JD Sell and Su Kaiden Cho, where they discussed how it feels to be adrift, whether that be personally, socially or politically. And now Dillavou, a performance and visual artist, is preparing for a March 2020 solo exhibition at Black Cube Nomadic Museum in Denver, as well as a paper-casting show at Kreuser Gallery, slated for July of next year.

“Art has a way of showing the truth,” she said, “of helping guide viewers to a better understanding, especially on political issues. If I can help support our local clinics, support artists and educate folks on the importance of … justice, then why wouldn’t I?”

Dillavou is not alone. From concert performers to graffiti artists, creatives have begun to use their talents to their full potential in order to incite change within their communities and beyond.

Alissa Smith, associate editor of Express sister paper the Colorado Springs Independent, is one of an increasing number of individuals who has been paying special attention to the arts and music scene in Colorado Springs. She references several artists and performers who have been using their power to make a difference, such as the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College; the Manitou Springs Creative District; poet Nico Wilkinson; multi-media artist Floyd Tunson; and reggae-infused hip-hop artists The Reminders.

The Knobhill Urban Arts District, the members of which Smith referred to as “art vigilantes,” is leading a charge for public art. The organization made a name for itself by creating unique and inspiring graffiti art, much of which is politically based.

In June, members painted a city crosswalk into a rainbow for Pride Month. Citing safety standards, the city washed the paint from the intersection the next day; however, it agreed to install a temporary rainbow crosswalk just south of the district, at Tejon Street and Colorado Avenue, for July’s Pride Fest.

And district members remain committed to inspiring with their art, whenever and wherever they can. Some of the district’s recent efforts include a mural with a pro-academics theme that coincided with an art supplies drive benefitting Will Rogers Elementary School in Southeast, as well as a mural titled “Lost and Found,” designed by artist Mario Sanchez for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

“The neighborhood loves the positive attention the art has brought,” the organization wrote Oct. 15 on its Facebook page. “The businesses love the new energy the art has brought. And the city loves the new urban arts district we have established.

“We’ve taken a small strip of the city that everyone referenced … as one of the [most] dangerous and shady places to be and turned it into a place that families and friends from all over come to enjoy every day!”

Related copy:  ‘Only just the beginning’

Nico Wilkinson has also been using their talents to make a difference in the community. For the last two years, Wilkinson has collaborated with Dillavou on a reproductive rights art exhibit at The Gallery Below in downtown Colorado Springs.

Smith said, “not only are they pretty political in their poetry, but they also work with Planned Parenthood. They are the advocacy organizer.”

“Nico is an incredible advocate and artist in our community,” said Dillavou. “They not only do amazing things for PPRM [Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains], but [they] create beautiful ‘zines, run a queer community house, curate art shows and more.”

Local reggae/hip-hop duo The Reminders promote thought and encourage community-building with their songwriting. They have performed various fundraisers in the Springs and placed an emphasis on revitalizing Southeast.

“Having advocates that are so vocal and so good at what they do at the same time is brilliant,” Smith said.