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The RISE Youth Advisory Council at the Manitou Fine Arts center for a tile-making workshop.

The Southeast community is already working on projects for the city’s largest neighborhood park renovation in preparation for a groundbreaking at Panorama Park at 12:30 p.m. on May 8 at Panorama Park. The 13.5 acre park adjacent to Panorama Middle School is undergoing major changes to provide outdoor spaces for Southeast Colorado Springs. 

“This project is estimated at a $7 million investment between the city and the Trust for Public Land for construction,” said Connie Schmeisser, a landscape architect with the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department. “This is a really important project milestone for the community, and for the city, and for all the people that support this project. It’s taken us about three years to get to this point. We not only want to say ‘Thank you’ for making this possible, we want to take a moment to recognize all the hard work to this point in taking this next step toward making this vision a reality.”

The Panorama Park project is made possible with grants from Great Outdoors Colorado, The Colorado Health Foundation, the Colorado Springs Health Foundation and Transforming Safety Colorado. The Trust for Public Land, Southeast Colorado Springs RISE Coalition and El Paso County Public Health are providing leadership for this park’s renovation. Construction starts after the groundbreaking and will continue until July of 2022.

Work on Panorama Park’s community art installation, two murals that are each 5 feet wide and 20 feet tall, has already begun. The murals, which will be composed of more than 7,000 ceramic tiles, have been designed and approved, and the work of creating those thousands of tiles has already begun. The Pikes Peak Library District is partnering with RISE and artist Jeresneyka Rose to get the tiles made. Creative Librarian Jennifer Kremyar and Children’s Librarian Jordan Romero recently hosted a workshop for RISE’s Youth Advisory Council at the Manitou Arts Center to walk them through the labor-intensive tile creation process.

“The library makerspace at Sand Creek is involved in making some public art for the Panorama Park redevelopment,” said Kremyar. “The Youth Advisory Council has been really involved in the redevelopment of Panorama Park, and we wanted to do an art-focused event that would tie in with the tile mural. They had the artist’s panel; they got to tour the Manitou Arts Center, and we’re going to walk them through the process that we use to prep the clay for the mural and create the actual tiles that are eventually going to be a part of the mosaic.”

Joyce Salazar, the community outreach coordinator of the RISE coalition, was also present to help work the clay. 

“The RISE Youth Advisory Council are helping to understand how this design is going to come into reality,” she said. “They’ve been involved every step of the way with the artwork around the skateable youth area, and now they’ll know more about every step that is involved in the ceramic tile project by being involved in the hands-on aspect, also being involved with community engagement.”

Kremyar and Romero led the Youth Advisory Council through the steps required to produce the clay tiles. The first step is to mix color with the clay, which is done in advance by Kremyar and Romero. The mosaics will utilize tiles in six different colors. 

“We are prepping the clay, partly at the library makerspace, partly at the Manitou Arts Center,” said Kremyar. “They have some industrial-sized clay equipment that we don’t have.”

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Once decorated, the tiles are glazed and fired at Sand Creek Library’s kiln.

Once the color has been mixed into the clay it has to be “wedged,” or kneaded like bread dough to remove any air bubbles that could cause problems during the firing process. After the clay is rolled out into large sheets, and from there it is cut into 2-inch squares. The squares will be decorated by community members at workshops organized by Rose, and then glazed and fired in the Sand Creek Library’s kiln.  

The tile decorating workshops are still in the early phases, but interested community members can sign up for available times at calendly.com/panoramaparktileart

“We’re really going to vamp up in the summer, so that’s why we’re starting now,” said Rose. “We’re also planning to have pop-ups, to have staff and crew to go to events so the community can make tiles at other events, not only at the library. The plan is to do workshops several times a month. That will be loaded on the calendly link every week or so. We’ll add more dates throughout the summer.”

The goal is to have all 7,200 tiles completed by mid-2022. What seems like an enormous logistical undertaking is part of a historic project for Southeast Colorado Springs. 

“It’s the largest renovation of a neighborhood park in the city’s history,” said Salazar. “We’re breaking ground during the sesquicentennial, the 150th birthday of the city, and also helping them understand that this is connected to a broader opportunity that we had with the city to apply for a National Endowment of the Arts grant. Southeast Colorado Springs is becoming known for the culture and diversity within our city, which is the purpose of RISE. So really helping them connect the dots to the bigger picture of throwing clay. This is not just throwing clay, you’re making history. And trying to help them understand their importance and that they’re valued, not only in the present time but in the future.”