Sparked by unrest over Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, artists are transforming 16th Street in Phoenix into an open air gallery of murals.
Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of "Arizona Artbeat" takes us to 16th street in Phoenix where, as David Majure reports, artists are painting murals to build community pride.
Hugo Medina: Art has been a part of every revolution, every movement; art floats ideas.
Gennaro Garcia: Art. It's a language, and I think it's the best way to get together our community: with art.
Silvana Salcido Esparza: This is how we can do change of perception. We can do something positive during negative times.
David Majure: In the spring of 2010, Senate Bill 1070 turned Phoenix, Arizona into a reservoir of raw emotion. Anger and resentment over the state's new immigration law spilled into the streets and into the consciousness of the nation.
Silvana Salcido Esparza: No, that's not where I come from. That's not the way we are. Perception is everything, right? So the perception is skewed.
David Majure: Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, the owner of Barrio Cafe in Phoenix, traveled that summer, and just about everywhere she went, people wanted to know what's up with Arizona?
Silvana Salcido Esparza: And the questions to me were very stupid, yet to them they were genuine and concerns, and it really brought home the point that we look like buffoons to the rest of the country. So when I came back, I started to think about myself. You know, looking in the mirror, what am I doing? What can I do differently? And I had just commissioned the mural out back. And I'm looking at this mural, and it hit me: we need to do more. What came to me is you have to do more murals.
>> I want Phoenix to be full of murals. Everywhere; not just Calle Dieciseis but every single corner.
David Majure: Chef Silvana found kindred spirits in Mexican-American artist Gennarro Garcia and Bolivian-born artist Hugo Medina.
Hugo Medina: She talked to me, and Gennaro Garcia about the idea, and we came up with doing Calle Dieciseis. What we want to do is get artists to come out and just paint murals all along 16th street.
David Majure: She posted the idea online, and the response was overwhelming.
Silvana Salcido Esparza: All I did was Facebook; I put it up on Facebook, and the rest is history. People just kind of stood up and said, "Yes, absolutely." People who were desperate to do something to change the skewed perception that people have about Phoenix. What I'm saying is, "Let's take ownership; we have to be accountable for our own actions. You can't fight hate with hate; don't worry about what others are saying. You worry about what you're doing, and how are we making things better, and who doesn't love art?"
Hugo Medina: But this will become mural alley, and we're going to cover this back wall up, and try to get this whole area different artists, different murals. The artists are--most of them--donating their time or doing a mural at cost.
David Majure: Brick by brick and wall by wall, Artists are transforming Sixteenth Street, or Calle Dieciseis, into an open-air gallery of Murals.
Hugo Medina: In doing so, we want to beautify the street because as you'll see, a lot of the buildings have been closed down; you have a lot of tagging that's gone up, so it's really been turning the neighborhood around.
David Majure: In early May Medina led a walking tour of the neighborhood along 16th street between McDowell and Thomas roads.
Hugo Medina: That wall is just calling my name.
Man: So I can get you to come down here and do a mural.
David Majure: The community has a number of existing murals; some have been here for decades; others are relatively new.
Hugo Medina: As you see the different murals you see the different styles, different flavors of the artists.
Woman: This art is terrific. Terrific. Just what we need happening in Phoenix.
Hugo Medina: When I decided to do this mural, I wanted to do an homage to the jimador, who harvests the agave plant to make tequila.
David Majure: The area has a large Mexican population, so Senate Bill 1070 and the economic recession were a double whammy for local business.
Silvana Salcido Esparza: I think it's dropped off about 50%. That's a lot. You see a lot of the little businesses closing down across the street--very good businesses that cannot survive because their client base has left. Whether they were deported or auto deported, they're gone.
David Majure: Chef Silvana is helping businesses reinvent themselves, and the mural project is bringing people together.
Hugo Medina: It's not our project. It's the community's project. It's something that people in Arizona who live here day in and day out are doing for their community.
David Majure: Calle Dieciseis has evolved into a grass-roots organization that seeks to build community by promoting art, culture and cuisine on 16th street in Phoenix. The murals are simply a catalyst.
Silvana Salcido Esparza: What I keep saying is it's community-based. It means it's going to cost us. Sweat equity, dig into our own pockets, bring out our own talent. You can't go out there and say, "Help us" if you're not doing anything, so what we're doing is we're doing it together.
David Majure: That's how this mural came to be. Emblazoned on the side of a sporting goods store with colorful Mexican imagery and a carved plaster relief of the face of Frida Kahlo, the first official mural of Calle Dieciseis.
Gennaro Garcia: I wanted to do something special. This mural has to be like amazing for me. This mural, I wanted it to be like the face of Phoenix. I wanted people to come visit Phoenix and say, "We have to go to the mural; we have to go and take a picture of the mural."
David Majure: Garcia designed the mural, but he didn't paint it alone.
Gennaro Garcia: I have a lot of help. I did more--we did 100-150 people.
David Majure: Other artists pitched in, and plenty of kids from the neighborhood stopped by to leave their mark.
Silvana Salcido Esparza: In five years most of those kids will be in high school and driving. They're going to look over and say, "Hey, I did that. See that little line right there? I did that." It's community. It's a sense of community. It starts with one mural, but it's endless where it can go.
David Majure: Where it goes is anyone's guess. There are very few limitations.
Gennaro Garcia: First of all, we don't want any politics on Calle Dieciseis. But it's there. I mean, let's face it; it's in our face.
Silvana Salcido Esparza: It's not a political movement. It's not a political retaliation; this is not in retaliation to 1070. This is not a Mexicano movement or a Latino movement; this is a Phoenician movement.
Hugo Medida: We don't want to restrict the artists to not paint what they want to. We want to allow them to have their vision of their Calle Dieciseis mural, but we want it to be Cultural, historic and positive.
David Majure: "Bienvenidos a Arizona," welcome to Arizona, is the title of Garcia's mural. Its message: build your own American dream. Garcia says he's already living his.
Gennaro Garcia: Because I was -- I'm an immigrant. I was illegal. I was illegal for the longest time, but now I'm a citizen, and I'm part of this beautiful country. This is my country. If I was still living in any other country in the world, and I cannot give the best life to my family, I will come to America. Every single life. Every single life is a beautiful thing. That's the whole idea of America.
David Majure: And the whole idea of Calle Dieciseis is to spread that American spirit.
Silvana Salcido Esparza: And when we're done with this block, we're going to next block, and we just have to nurture it and feed it and take care of it. Calle Dieciseis is here--most definitely here.
Ted Simons: Calle Dieciseis is in the process of registering as a nonprofit corporation to make it easier to raise revenue for its mission. If you'd like to learn more, visit the website, calle16.org, or look for the group on Facebook.