We made a podcast about Denver murals. Here are 5 things we learned

By Kibwe Cooper and Emily Williams / Colorado Public Radio

Denverites know this city is full of beautiful murals. But what may not be as well-known are the stories behind some of these larger-than-life pieces of art.

Those stories are the subject of “Off the Walls,” a new podcast from Denverite and Colorado Public Radio. Over a series of five episodes, the show will explore the inspiration and creation of different murals in the city.

The podcast is hosted by Kibwe Cooper and Emily Williams, podcast producers for CPR’s Audio Innovations Studio. We’re both pretty new to Denver and were fascinated by the murals we saw all over the city.

In the series, we wanted to explore and learn about Denver through its public art. Along the way, we’ve interviewed artists, culture keepers and community leaders who are passionate about representing their communities and telling their stories. We found that all of the people we spoke to were disruptors – people who created change, made bold statements and stood up for their communities.

In the series, listeners will hear from these disruptors, learn how and why these artists created their murals and be encouraged to go out and see the art themselves.

We’ve learned a lot about Denver and its art while making this show. Here are five big takeaways about the city’s street art scene:

Denver is home to important mural history.

In the 1970s, artist Emanuel Martinez gave colorful life to the local Chicano Movement with his murals, which he created for and with members of his community. He started a community mural movement. Martinez’s earliest murals from that time are no longer around, but his mural “La Alma” has been an important landmark in the historic neighborhood of the same name since Martinez painted it in 1978.

“We just felt the need to show our identity to our community and be proud of it, because we don’t see it in the history books at school and anywhere else,” Martinez said. “So we might as well do it on the murals.”


Murals aren’t permanent. 

Murals can be a transient part of the city, but the loss of a mural can be devastating, especially if the art is important to a community. That was the case with “Huitzilopochtli,” a Sun Valley mural by David Ocelotl Garcia that was painted over, without permission, in 2020. Often, if a mural is painted over, it’s lost, but Garcia set out to bring it back. In the process of restoring the mural, he was able to understand how much it meant to the community – and the magic of seeing this art come back to life.

“It’s amazing that a mural could be reborn,” Garcia said. “You don’t think you hear that a lot. It could be repainted … but a rebirth. That’s a different thing.”

Dancers with Groupo Tlaloc bless a mural by David Ocelotl Garcia on the side of Mana Supply Co.'s Sun Valley storefront. July 28, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

You don’t have to be famous to have a mural painted of you.

Mural portraits aren’t just for celebrities or historical figures. Artist Jodie Herrera knew she had found the right subject for her mural when she stopped into Welton Street Café and met Fathima Dickerson, the woman at the helm of the longtime Five Points restaurant. Over the last year, Fathima has been preparing to reopen the family-run business at a new spot on Welton Street. During this time of transition, the mural has served as a source of inspiration. It reminded her of what she’s creating with Welton Street Café.

“I will say that we’re writing a fairytale,” Dickerson said. “Fairytales have love stories. This is a love story. Welton Street Café is about love, and I can’t wait.”

Welton Street Cafe owner Fathima Dickerson walks through her new location at 29th and Welton Streets. July 22, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Murals can be a statement against sexism.

Some women in Denver’s street art scene had noticed a pattern: Most of the opportunities for muralists were going to men. Those women also knew there was no shortage of talented female artists in the Denver area, so they created a new kind of mural festival, Babe Walls. They put on the first Babe Walls in 2020 and filled the roster with all female and non-binary artists. One of the founding artists of Babe Walls, who goes by the moniker Grow Love, remembers the joy of seeing the vision for Babe Walls become reality.

“It really felt like we had achieved something great, because we were the artists who were kind of used and then thrown out, in a way,” Grow Love said. “… And so the fact that we were like, okay, we don’t want to be a part of that. We don’t want to be treated like that. We’re going to do our own thing. And we actually pulled it off.”

A mural by Grow Love, aka Robyn Frances, Moe Gram and Tribal Murals painted during Babe Walls 2020 in Westminster. Jan. 12, 2020.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Murals should speak out against racism, too.

In June 2020, as Black Lives Matter protests filled Denver’s streets, some of the city’s walls also filled with images and messages of the movement. But a lot of that art was temporary; it’s been painted over or has faded away. Adri Norris, one of the two artists hired to paint a Black Lives Matter street mural in downtown Denver, wanted to send a clear message with that mural, even though it would fade. Norris remembers something she said while the mural was being painted, an invitation to make a statement against racism, using white paint.

“I need everybody who identifies as Black, Indigenous or people of color to come forward,” Norris said. “And I want you to take this white paint, and I want you to use it to indicate for us your experience of dealing with white supremacy in America.’”

DENVER, JUNE 12: Local artists and volunteers paint a large Black Lives Matter mural on Broadway Avenue at Civic Center Park in Denver, June 12, 2020. (Kevin Mohatt, Special to Denverite)

Listen to the show

The first episode of Off the Walls is out now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the CPR website. Subscribe to Denverite’s newsletter to see photos of the murals along with each new episode. The series of five episodes will be released weekly, on Mondays.

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