Walking down the streets of downtown Laramie, passersby might be delightfully surprised by a colorful large-scale painting of a whimsical forest or a black-and-white rendering of a train engine rounding a curve in Vedauwoo.
The Laramie Mural Project, founded in 2011, has made possible these artistic interpretations in large form on the sides of buildings scattered throughout the downtown area.
These one-of-a-kind projects – a collaboration between the University of Wyoming Art Museum, local Laramie artists and the Laramie Main Street Alliance – have drawn visitors to the community’s downtown area, often overlooked by those who come to Laramie for University of Wyoming events.
“The identity, I think, of Laramie is really shaped by the murals that are present in our downtown,” said Laura McDermit, executive director for the Laramie Public Art Coalition.
More than 20 creative murals – from a giant prairie dog to a bicycle-riding tree to a couple of colorful classic cars – can be found in alleys, on garages and in parking lots throughout Laramie’s downtown.
Laramie Public Art Coalition
The Laramie Mural Project is just one aspect of a movement to beautify the community’s public spaces.
McDermit told Cowboy State Daily the project is part of the Laramie Public Art Coalition, which promotes and facilitates other genres of artistic expression in the downtown area.
“Part of what we do is murals,” she said. “We also do sculptures and any other kind of artwork in public space that is either downtown or throughout Laramie.”
Since 2011, funding for the murals has been provided by organizations such as the Albany County Tourism Board, Guthrie Family Foundation, Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund and Wyoming Arts Council, as well as crowdfunding efforts and local fundraisers.
The Laramie Public Art Coalition facilitates funding and coordinates the creation of the murals and other public art, McDermit said. But it prioritizes paying artists for their work.
“Murals are not cheap,” she said. “Right now, our price per square foot for murals is $15 a square foot, so if you have 1,000 square feet, it's $15,000.”
Over the years, McDermit said they’ve increased what artists are paid for their artwork to come closer to the national average for projects such as these.
“We're still not quite there, but we're pushing it up each year,” she said. “We're trying to do better by the artists.”
But not all of the murals are created by professional artists, McDermit said.
“There are several murals in Laramie that are sort of like paint by numbers, if you will, where an artist designs the design, and then the community can come and paint and finish the mural,” she said.
McDermit said once a location has been selected for a new mural, the coalition will run a public call for artists. But it’s a committee made up of locals that will choose the artist(s) who will create large-scale pieces.
“Community members are at the table to sort of figure out the theme, or the thread, that the artist is going to follow,” she said.
Just last year, for example, McDermit said artists created three murals. One tells the story of the Latinex community in Laramie; one focuses on recreation and tourism; and the other is in a public gathering space called “Laradise Lane,” a nod to the town's unofficial nickname. It’s located in a former empty lot.
“Fabian Hernandez created this really fun mural of Wyoming animals sitting there, which is really cute,” said McDermit. “But each project is unique, and a lot of the murals downtown are just really telling the story of the Laramie area, focused on nature or history or contemporary issues.”
The location for the murals often is determined by who is footing the bill.
“If Laramie Public Art is raising the money, we often ask business owners if we can use their walls,” said McDermit. “If a business owner is commissioning a mural themselves, which happens, then it's obviously going to be their wall.”
Enhancing Laramie’s Culture
McDermit said the coalition hopes to continue to add to the colorful mosaic of creativity in downtown Laramie.
“We hope to try to do a couple per year,” she said, adding that upcoming paintings may not be placed in new locations. They may instead choose to refurbish existing works.
“Some of the murals that were created in 2011 have seen a lot of wear and tear,” said McDermit.
She pointed out that one of the best things about artwork in public spaces is the connections made with members of the community – especially in a town like Laramie, where so much of the identity of the community is wrapped up in the University of Wyoming.
“People really identify with these works,” she said. “People come to love these murals that have really established this sense of place, this sense of community pride and really just tell the story of a community in a different way. It really becomes the soul of a community.”
About The Photos:
Top: Artist Jodie Herrera works on a mural in downtown Laramie.
Gallery: Another Jodie Herrera mural in Laramie; Crossing Sherman Hill is a black-and-white work that's part of the Laramie Murals Project; Laradise Lane is a whimsical area in downtown Laramie named for the nickname of the city, a mashup of "Laramie" and "paradise."
Bottom: This work is titled "We Built the Dream."