Arts Month highlights Southeast’s growing creative culture

By Eric Friedberg

The Southeast Express

At 10 a.m. on a sunny Wednesday, 9-year-olds Kalaya Weems and Joshua Obi gleefully slathered bright blue paint on the sidewalk. Volunteer Chelsea Rotondo kept a watchful eye on the scene, as the Monterey Elementary School fourth graders worked their artistic magic.

Across the street, Andrea Portillo and Jeresneyka “Rizzo” Rose, duplicated their efforts; while at the other end of the block, Council of Neighbors and Organizations Southeast Community Coordinator Julie Ramirez kept watch over a trio of young street artists.

On that warm morning, the goal was to cover a trio of storm drains in vibrant blue; but by the end of the day the finished pieces included waves, symbols, the Colorado state logo and a columbine flower. They had messages in both Spanish and English, reminding viewers to “Be kind to 719,” or “No pongas basura si amas cultura” (don’t litter if you love culture), and that all rain water “Drains to Sand Creek.”

Environmentally conscious vandalism? Hardly.

This multi-organizational effort was part of a beautification partnership between the Council of Neighbors and Organizations and the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (COPPeR) to create public art with a message.

Rizzo, a Southeast resident and multi-media artist designed the pieces, after Monterey Elementary won the COPPeR Neighborhood Art Project award. The honor, given during Arts Month, was designed to inspire neighborhoods to rally for an art project.

“I personally moved here because of the art scene, knowing what awesome things happen over here everyday.” — Rebekah Hire, Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region assistant.

While the initial works covered three drains directly in front of or across the street from Monterey Elementary, Rizzo and co. have plans to extend the water-wise message beyond the 2300 block of Monterey Road.

“This has been the coolest, most challenging and rewarding project of my life,” Rizzo wrote on her Facebook

page. “This is only just the beginning. … stay tuned.”

October is Arts Month, a collective recognition of art and culture in North America. Spikes in tourism, business growth and overall community cohesiveness arise from the month-long celebration of art and culture in Southeast and beyond.

Places like the recording studio at Sand Creek Library, murals throughout the Knob Hill neighborhood and community art installations at Concrete Couch drive community pride and engagement.

“I personally moved here because of the art scene, knowing what awesome things happen over here everyday,” said Rebekah Hire, COPPeR assistant.

Before 2017, while driving past the Knob Hill Urban Arts District between Union Boulevard and Circle Drive, you wouldn’t have seen murals painted upon its buildings. That’s because they weren’t there

Paes 164, a local artist in Southeast, has led the street-art scene in the district by recruiting businesses to provide mural space. Those secured, he then brought in local and national artists to paint away and make the district more appealing to outsiders.

“They do have a very organic feel to their district — multiple tattoo studios, The Black Sheep [concert venue], it encapsulates the street art feel very well,” said Hire.

“The importance of public art cannot be overstated. Not only does it enrich our communities culturally and socially, but it also has a positive economic impact by re-energizing older neighborhoods,” said Holly Abes, project coordinator for the Market at Spring Creek, a shopping center located at 1640 S. Circle Drive that embraced public art as part of its redevelopment.

Establishments on Abes’ property include a Subway, Dollar Tree, EZ Pawn, and State Farm insurance agency. It’s not just the storefronts that are bringing people in, but the whimsical animal sculptures ordered from New Mexico and the detailed murals painted throughout the shopping center by local artists Erin Gillespie and SCOTCH!

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Back at Monterrey Elementary, artist Rizzo stopped to reflect for a moment about how Southeast has changed since she was a budding artist in the area.

“Growing up … there was no art anywhere, and when I say ‘art,’ I mean murals, art events, pop-ups,” she said. “ I feel it’s important culturally for us to know that we’re not just a suburban town where you can come to retire. There are really some cool people that can help beautify and showcase Colorado Springs like this.”

Southeast Express Editor Regan Foster contributed to this report