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“We want to lead”: Frisco uses art to reckon with the high country’s lack of diversity

Frisco is the first known mountain community to host a Black Lives Matter mural as many cities, including Denver and Washington, D.C., have done

Fifteen artists from across Colorado and New Mexico worked on Tuesday, July 14, 2020, to create what is believed to be the first Black Lives Matter mural in a mountain town on Main Street in Frisco. Each artist worked on a letter, creating a mural within a mural. (Hugh Carey, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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FRISCO — At 9,097 feet above sea level, 15 artists used 16 letters to send a message and start a conversation about racism and diversity in Colorado’s mountain towns.

“BLACK LIVES MATTER,” painted by artists on the pavement on Main Street in Frisco in 20-foot letters between Madison and First avenues, presents an impossible-to-ignore challenge to end the silence around systemic racism in mountain communities.

Frisco based artist Piotr Kopytek fills the letter S in the Black Lives Matter mural in Frisco . The idea of recruiting multiple artists was to reflect the diversity of experience in the outdoors. (Hugh Carey, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“The outdoor industry is discussing racism and diversity problems. But the mountain communities are too scared to talk about it,” Shannon Galpin, a Frisco resident and international social justice activist perhaps best known for her work for women’s rights in Afghanistan, said in an interview. “Frisco is standing up to say: We want to lead. We want to have discussions. We’re willing to be held accountable. Who is with us?”

Several outdoor industry groups earlier this year came together with a unified statement to foster diversity, equity and inclusivity in the industry. The commitment by Camber Outdoors, the Outdoor Industry Association and Snowsports Industries America promised to build workplaces and cultures that help people of all races, genders and sexual identities thrive.

MORE: It’s not just Colorado’s mountains: Outdoor industry brands, climbing routes also targeted for name changes

While lacking specifics, the united statement marked progress for an industry that has struggled to attract and retain people of color. Last month, the Outdoor Industry Association issued a statement admitting “a responsibility to do more.SIA this week announced the launch of a four-part town hall series of conversations on inclusion. U.S. Ski and Snowboard on Wednesday drew hundreds of attendees to its online panel “Discussing Racial Diversity in Snowsports.

But these types of conversations are only beginning in towns like Frisco, Galpin said.

Muralist Aaron Sutton (@visualgoodies), who also contributed to the Black Love Mural festival in Denver’s Civic Center park, paints on Frisco’s Main Street on Tuesday. (Hugh Carey, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Galpin organized the creation of the enormous mural, each letter filled in by an artist offering their interpretation of what it’s like to live in the Colorado mountains, with the support of the Frisco Town Board and mayor. It was a risky move for the leaders, she acknowledged in her artist statement, because sparking discussion around social justice also “disrupts the idyllic vibe” the town tries to create for visitors.

But it is a critical conversation, she wrote, because Frisco also is a community that includes Black, Hispanic, refugee, immigrant and Native American full-time residents. Galpin hopes the mural serves as a mission statement for change in the community.

“Not everyone who lives in our community goes home every night feeling safe in our community because of the color of their skin or the language they speak,” she wrote. “Not everyone in our community feels accepted … Not everyone in our community feels seen because of their skin color, their sexual preference, their immigration status, or their accent. Not everyone in this community has the same experience of ‘Welcome to Frisco’ as white people do. This is not new.”  

The murals within the mural, created by artists from across Colorado and New Mexico involved in both anti-racism work and the outdoors, reflect a diversity of experience while showing solidarity with the broader Black Lives Matter movement.

Amy Johnson, left, passes a cold drink to Realize (@wehaverealize) as the Denver-based artists work on the mural on Frisco’s Main Street. (Hugh Carey, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“It makes this about the individuality of the people who live and play in the mountains,” Galpin said. 

Frisco is the first known mountain community to host a BLM mural as many cities, including Denver and Washington, D.C., have done. The painted mural will remain in place on Main Street at least through one winter, depending on snow and weather conditions.

“We are using art to show solidarity and using art to promote conversations,” Galpin said.

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