Students take art to the streets

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— As Autumn Johnson and Lizzie Stoll painted the final touches on a slab of sidewalk in downtown Steamboat Springs, they described what their picture meant.

A blue tree with brightly colored leaves split their square "canvas" in half. Two women faced each other, separated by the tree.

The women were painted in reverse: One had yellow hair and a blue dress, and the other had blue hair and a yellow dress.

To Stoll, the meaning is straightforward: "No matter how far away or how different you are, there still are connections."

The girls, sophomores at Steamboat Springs High School, were painting in the spirit of Diego Rivera.

About 200 students from the high school, Steamboat Springs Middle School and Colorado Mountain College made sidewalk paintings based on Rivera's sketches. Rivera is a well-known Mexican artist. His sketches will be featured in Friday's Mexican Independence Day celebration.

The students prepared by learning about Rivera and sketching what they would paint. On Wednesday, high school students sketched their designs onto the sidewalk with chalk and painted them with crushed pastels mixed with water.

"It ties it into (Rivera's) own philosophy, which is art for the people," high school art teacher Chula Walker-Griffith said.

Art for the public is art that's not kept inside galleries or saddled by price tags that make it inaccessible to most people.

"Instead, we are out in the public, so that anyone, whatever they're doing -- catching a bus, taking a walk -- can see," Walker-Griffith said.

Art teachers from each school, along with 20 local artists, helped students as they worked on the paintings. The murals are scattered along sidewalks from Third Street to the Depot Art Center.

Students learned the difficulties of working outside and on the ground: colors sometimes ran together, the sidewalk canvas often was uneven, and designs that seemed simple on paper had to be modified because they were more complex than first thought.

Students working Wednesday afternoon said they tried to incorporate bright colors, simple shapes and symmetry in their paintings, techniques for which Rivera was known.

Stephen Bell, a junior at the high school, described what he had learned about Rivera -- how Rivera painted on wet plaster on walls of buildings so that when the plaster dried, the mural looked like part of the wall.

"He liked to give it to the community," Bell said. "He thought art was a thing people should have."

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