Artist Danny Stephens wraps Poison Creek mural project
Last June, University of Utah senior Danny Stephens recruited 18 students from the Kimball Young Artist Academy (YAA) to work on a public-art installation for his Art in the Community course.
The project: a mural of triangles painted under a bridge on the Poison Creek Trail, a few hundred yards up from the City Park Skate Park. A few weeks ago, Stephens and the students, with help from an international community, completed the work.
"It was first known as ‘A Sacred Community’ because of the sacred geometry we put into the design," Stephens said during an interview with The Park Record. "As the project evolved, we put a hashtag up (#poisoncreekmural) for social media and that caught on. People started posting pictures on Instagram whenever they came by and helped paint. So, the title is also known as the ‘Poison Creek Mural.’"
Approximately 1,000 people, including Stephens’ fellow artist Miguel Galaz, helped design and spray-paint the mural, according to Stephens.
"When we started at the beginning of the summer, we recruited people who attended Park Silly Sunday Market, but many more people stopped by while they were on their walks to help," he said. "We had a mixture of people who would paint one or two triangles, and then we had other kids who were on vacation help. While their parents were doing their own thing, the kids, who were from Austin, Texas, hung out for the two days they were in town and helped us the entire time."
Throughout the summer, other vacationers helped with the painting as well.
"We also had some people from Chile and Columbia and Southeast Asia give us a hand," Stephens said. "It became way more than the small community project we started."
Stephens and the kids worked on the project twice a week for four months.
"We didn’t plan on the project taking as many work days as it did," he said. "We wanted to try to knock it out in a few weeks, but we realized our initial plan was going to take longer than we thought.
"There were times when we never thought it would be done, and towards the end it became a financial stretch to complete it," he said. "We relied on donations from people who passed by to get the paint to work the next day."
The University of Utah gave $800 to $900 to the project and the Home Depot donated the outdoor primer and provided discounts on the spray paints. Uprock, a clothing, skateboard and urban-art paint store in Salt Lake City, also gave discounts on spray paint, Stephens said.
"The rest came from our pockets and other donations," he said. "If I was to nickel and dime the project, the cost would come out close to $2,000. So, this was a community-funded project as well and it was cool to see the involvement and the empowerment of those from the community who helped us."
The project required 13 gallons of primer and more than 200 cans of spray paint.
"We threw away cans every few minutes," Stephens said. "It was funny because we started off using high-quality paint and by the end were grabbing any kind of paint just to finish the mural."
Stephens, Galaz and the YAA students used stencils to create the triangles that cover the area.
"In the areas where the stencils didn’t fit, we free-handed it with cardboard and relied on the lines to crisp up the edges," Stephens said.
The big challenge was painting the tunnel’s ceiling.
"Because of liability, the [YAA] couldn’t help us with the ceiling, so a couple of my class partners and myself did it ourselves," Stephens said. "We climbed a six-foot ladder and had to move it every couple of triangles to finish the ceiling, and that was the last thing we did."
Although the triangle theme of the mural stayed the same, the project did evolve throughout the summer.
"The design came out different than we had originally planned," Stephens said. "As we went along, the people and kids who helped paint actually helped design the sections as to what color should go where. It was a real organic process when it came to the color schemes and outlines."
"That’s cool, because we have kids who come back to show their parents which triangles they painted," he said. "They run up and point and it’s cool to see that they are proud of their part in this."
One of the biggest challenges was dodging the bicyclists and skateboarders who raced down the trail.
"That was a very touchy thing," Stephens remembered with a shake of his head. "We had signs up, but people would still come flying through the tunnel."
Still, the artist is pleased with the result.
"It was definitely a full-time job for the past four months and I’m happy for it to be done, and I’m especially proud that it’s here in Park City," Stephens said. "I’ve lived her for the past four years and this place has meant a lot to me."
Stephens is leaving in December to work in the community art scene in Portland, Oregon, and attend graduate school.
"I’m glad to leave the mural here," he said. "I want to thank the people who took time to donate their times and money to make this happen, especially Home Depot and the professors at the University of Utah, who offered guidance and advice."
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