In one of Colorado’s most diverse neighborhoods, a mural festival aims to showcase its many identities

Buildings along a stretch of East Colfax have been blossoming with bright colors and vivid designs over the past week(?), as teams of artists participate in the fourth annual Colfax Canvas mural event.

Many areas across Colorado host street art and mural events, but executive producer Aaron Vega says the selection and application process for this one has a unique focus on capturing the full nature of the neighborhoods around Aurora’s East Colfax Art District

“Because this is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the state, and in the country, we want to make sure that the neighborhood’s diversity is represented,” said Vega. 

“The other part is we’re collaborative, so we do fewer walls with more artists. So every mural… ends up being a neat collaboration between all these different viewpoints in art, which represents the neighborhood.”
The Colfax Canvas Festival culminates with a community block party Saturday, September 16,  from 12 to 5 p.m on Aurora’s Fletcher Plaza.

Colfax Canvas Mural Festival Aurora Public Art 230913Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Artists have to navigate aerial lifts along the sidewalk as they paint walls sometimes two or three floors above street level leading up to the 2023 Colfax Canvas Mural Festival, Sept. 13, 2023.

“They put together the team and chose the spot for us. And it couldn’t be a more perfect team or a more perfect spot, “ said Aurora-based artist Tessa Fuqua, one of four artists who worked on murals for Mango House, a former JC Penney building which is now home to several refugee-focused non-profits and a food court featuring international cuisine. 

Each team of artists also collaborated with each property’s owners, with the goal of creating an authentic reflection of the people who live in the area. For Fuqua’s group, that meant talking with Mango House’s Dr. PJ Parma about the design for the murals.

“He wanted (a) kid family-friendly look to the Mango House because a lot of refugees come and they have families and they come in this entrance and this is what they’ll see when they enter,” said Fuqua. On the other side, Fuqua’s team painted messages of peace and welcome, intertwined with drawings of doves.

Fuqua’s collaborator, Miami-based artist James Brutus, said the team developed the design over three months. 

“It was a lot of, put it in, take it out and revising our sketches and it worked out really well,” said Brutus, “And soon as we got our sketches down together, we slowly drew the design and we’re on our way.” 

Colfax Canvas Mural Festival Aurora Public Art 230913Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
On a lift, artists Tessa Fuqua, right, of Aurora, and James Brutus, of Miami, work on the second-floor walls of Mango House in Aurora as part of the 2023 Colfax Canvas Mural Festival, Sept. 13, 2023.

For his part, Mango House’s Parmar sees this project is about more than just the beautification of Colfax.

“We have a lot of blank space on the outside, A lot of space to make statements,” said Parmar. “Partly to make it beautiful for the neighborhood and partly people can get inspired. We got a lot of Colfax Street front that could hopefully lead to some inspiration as people drive by.”

Parmar hopes the festival, and the new murals on Mango House, will highlight its main mission — healthcare for refugees. “Supporting the restaurants is great, but that should just be the start of inspiration towards thinking about others.”

Vega said when it comes to supporting Colfax Canvas, everybody seems aligned,, from the city management all the way through to the artists, and the building owners. And it’s a chance to build support for the arts in a community that may not have the luxury of experiencing them very often.

“A lot of our immigrant folks, right, they moved here to give their kids a better life. They’re working three, four jobs. They’re not thinking about an art festival or an art district,” said Vega. “So I think it’s just taken time, but slow and steady wins the race.”

Colfax Canvas Mural Festival Aurora Public Art 230914Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Donut, anyone? The Colfax Canvas Mural Festival returns to Aurora Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, with new art on new walls and a block party from noon to 5 p.m. in Fletcher Plaza – on Colfax. This mural is by Hiero Veiga in 2022.

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