Santa Fe Youth Mural Project: SpaceBall—A Pitch To The Stars

Santa Fe Youth Mural Project: SpaceBall—A Pitch To The Stars
marty kleva
April 6, 2008
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Movie — Santa Fe Youth Mural Project: SpaceBall—A Pitch To The Stars
View the entire set of photographs in the Gallery section.

In the high desert country of New Mexico, nestled against the backdrop of Mt. Baldy and the Sangre de Christo Mountains, lays the city of Santa Fe. At an elevation of 7,000 feet, here brilliant blue skies and artistry are de jour against the unusual effects of the Southwestern sun lighting the landscape of pinon pines, cactus, and aspen trees.

The name Santa Fe means “City of Holy Faith” and Santa Feans extend that faith to embrace a heartfelt love of beauty that encompasses artistic expression, group diversity, and the Earth’s wisdom, and where the art gallery mailboxes on Canyon Road are artfully painted.

This place is home to the area of many Native Pueblo tribes who, since before New Mexico was first known as a territory, have integrated the culture and religion of the Spanish Conquistadores as well as the occupying forces of the United States. Today it accepts the mixture of Hispanic, Native American, Mexican, and Anglo descent with a grace seldom found elsewhere. Santa Fe is a city that allows an expression of diversity where each culture has learned how to respect the other. It is not called “The City Different” without reason.

Here one finds lovely gardens, pueblo-style architecture, and the low profile adobe homes for which Santa Fe is renown. The earth-tone adobe is used as a foil for splashes of outrageous colors — turquoise, lavender, pinks, and tangerine that reflect the hues of our legendary Southwestern sunsets.

In town, around the traditional Spanish Plaza is the Atomic Grill, a reminder that Los Alamos is only a crow’s flight across the valley to the northwest in the Jemez Mountains.

During Indian Market Celebration you can spot a Harley on the plaza, children garbed in their native Pueblo-style dress, a “tourista” marketplace replete with bleached out cattle skulls, the traditional red and green chile ristras, and off a side street find the Loretto Chapel with the famed one-piece wooden spiral staircase.

One block from the Plaza is the Basilica of St. Francis; its first Bishop, Lamy, famed as the subject of Willa Cather’s novel “Death Comes To The Archbishop.” These are some examples of the integration of Native Spirituality and the Christianity of the area's Spanish heritage.

New Mexico is famous for its chile crop and here the main cuisine question is not would you like your meal with or without, but “Would you like that red or green?”

On a Spring day in April 2007, from a perch high above the city we can look down and find a group of artists who are meeting for the first time. The artists Luke Aiello, Peter Costas, Clark le Compte, Alana Sandovol, and Sarah Velez are led by professional mural artist Jenn Costas. The team is just forming to create and carry out a public mural project for the City of Santa Fe Arts Commission underwritten by a local organization Warehouse 21 through the direction of Ana Gallegos y Reinhardt. The project’s goal is to reclaim the buildings at Franklin Miles Ball Park from tags and graffiti that have accumulated over time and from those who believe that a blank wall is the equivalent of a bare canvas and an invitation to indulge in their idea of art.

Started in the mid-90’s by the Mayor’s Youth Art Council, the plan is to incorporate young artists to create and carry out such mural projects to prevent visual destruction of the city’s infrastructure. The thinking behind this is that those graffiti artists who are statistically younger will respect the artwork of their contemporaries; a premise that seems to hold true the majority of the time.

Managing director Jenn and the group of artists make a preliminary visit to the Park to survey the condition of the buildings and assess things like the wall surfaces, the number of buildings and walls to include, and the overall visual relationship of the structures to which they will be adding the mural. The main challenge of this site is to integrate numerous outbuildings with the central ball-field and adjoining dugouts.

After a whirlwind of brainstorming creativity that brings their ideas together, the artists agree to meet again, and with Jenn’s unflagging guidance she moves the group through the creative process. She skillfully calls upon the unique skills and background of each artist, utilizing them to the full potential of their talents. Here, Peter Costas also a ball player is used as a model for the athletic movement of a pitcher inspiring the other artists to sketch images to be used later for the mural.

Following weeks of meeting, planning and drawing sketches, the artists arrive at the tongue-in-cheek theme “SpaceBall—A Pitch To The Stars”, and in June they begin to put the paint to the walls of what is now in their view called Spaceball Stadium.

Jenn has gathered all the tools of the artist on the move; assorted brushes, buckets of colorful paint, handiwipes, sunscreen, and a full tank of drinking water — all arranged on the tailgate of her vehicle, while the team has rearranged their work and school schedules to accommodate the project’s fulfillment.

Soon the artists discover the many different obstacles to outdoor painting, where beneath the hot Mew Mexican sun in June paint dries very quickly, almost instantaneously even at nine in the morning. Although there is plenty of water to drink and food to fuel their energy, working without shade has its toll on the artists.

It is not long before the painting schedule changes from starting at eight or nine AM to beginning at six AM. This change is further complicated by the necessity to assure the safety of the artists, and now Jenn must reschedule teams of both male and female to be present at such an early hour, even if the guys are there catching a few z’s in the car.

Soon each artist finds their niche in the project and applies his/her unique style and methods to the murals. Some artists are quiet and methodical, some flamboyant in their expression, and some find they like to work in teams while others prefer to work alone.

With the team members each logging in over 400 man-hours of painting, the project progresses through June into July. This does not include the times they have met to plan and brainstorm. The schedule moves overtime into August when finally the work is done and can be viewed as a cohesive unit meant to humorously convey a baseball game between earthlings and a visiting team of aliens from another planetary civilization.

The vibrant murals appear on the dugouts, the refreshment stand, an equipment shed, and even on an electrical box that sits practically in the middle of all the rest. The colorful murals depict a witty alien play-by-play announcer and worker at the refreshment window with a combination of earth/alien fans lined up outside to buy tickets and snacks. One mural shows a tall skinny fluorescent green alien up to bat, and others actively leading off and sliding into bases. There is a futuristic Earth team pitcher, catcher, in fielders and outfielders, all in dynamic positions of throwing, catching, and diving for the ball.

Inspired by New Mexico’s love-hate relationship with prairie dogs, the artists insert an entirely new perspective by incorporating these little controversial critters in a unique system of snagging outfield balls. The artists paint an underground subway system full of retrieved baseballs making their way back to the home team infield via the assistance of prairie dogs wearing clear bubble-like space helmets. Very ingenious indeed!

The home team dugout is an awesome space ship while the other dugout, consigned to the visiting aliens, is seemingly in the outer limits of the park and is a stand alone mural of the one word “SpaceBall” in all its otherworldly explosion of letters going off in every direction.

Months later into the Fall, the project has met with the approval of the players, fans and local community alike, and has the official recognition of the City when the Mayor hands out “way-to-go” awards to the mural team for their artistic accomplishment of covering the nucleus of walls at the ballpark complex.

The tagging that had continued at the beginning of the project has since stopped — the ultimate goal of the mural projects across the city. This project has brought fresh dynamic dimensions to Franklin Miles Park and adds to the excitement of the players who play ball here.

GemFireAir wishes to thank Jenn Costas and her team for their kind agreement for the author to follow & photo-document this project from its inception to completion. Over 1000 photos were shot and a generous sampling of them can be viewed in the Gallery Section.

Also available is a 10-minute photo-video composition — a first for GemFireAir. Much credit and thanks goes to my friend Robert Hutwohl, MAC tech, not only for his suggestion to use KeyNote software, but also for his extensive assistance in response to my cries for help! Without his expertise and patience this project would likely never have gotten off the ground, much less completed.

I hope you will give it a go and view it — would also love any feedback.

May the beauty of expression make an indelible impression
on the heart of the world.


~ mek

All rights reserved — copywrite of marty kleva & GemFireAir.
Material may be freely distributed with proper credits given. Not to be used otherwise.

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