The idyllic Metcalfe Park is one of the most popular spots in Fountain, CO. Located just minutes from downtown, this beautiful park offers numerous amenities and activities that make it the perfect place to spend a lazy summer day or plan an exciting event. With its spacious playground with slides and swings, tranquil pond, scenic walking trails, and pavilion with covered picnic tables and grills, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy your time at Metcalfe Park.
Even though it was delayed by rain on Monday, the first in a series of art projects to take place in Metcalfe Park this summer was launched this week. Artist Quan Caston, who lives in the neighborhood, had just begun painting his literacy-themed comic strip about a butterfly when it began to rain. He got his inspiration for his mural from Butterfly Park nearby. His 12-panel sidewalk mural became a blurry haze of blue and white paint due to the rain. Undaunted, Caston promised that when the weather cooperated he would finish the project.
Caston’s piece, about a caterpillar learning it’s a butterfly through reading, is one of three art projects going up through Metcalfe Park Painted, a program aimed at inspiring and beautifying the community on the city’s north side.
This program has several purposes, including providing a safe space for residents to gather and reconnect after being on lockdown for months due to COVID-19. Additionally, the project intends to curb reckless driving and traffic fatalities by creating “traffic calming murals” on specific streets prone to traffic accidents and deaths. Caston’s painting, which was originally planned for a portion of 37th Street between North Avenue and Meinecke, was moved to the sidewalk when city officials expressed concerns about children’s safety.
Metcalfe Park Community Bridges is collaborating with artists and other community groups to create the artwork, including the 9-by-80-foot mural on the side of a food pantry. They partnered with Artists Working In Education, Imagine MKE, and Jewish Community Pantry, whose exterior façade will host the mural. Monday’s event was the first of several planned community painting sessions where residents can help paint the artwork. In addition, these events will serve as community resource fairs and food giveaways.
Melody McCurtis, deputy director of priorities and an organizer with Metcalfe Park Community Bridges, said they are doing a lot of art projects to encourage people not to speed and to bring people together and put the spotlight on the dope people in the community in Fountain “It’s the start of something truly monumental.” The massive idea was developed as part of a revised plan for neighborhood revitalization in 2019. The residents wanted to see more art-focused projects that create community connections, as well as more cultural vibrancy to change perceptions of Metcalfe Park and address traffic safety. McCurtis added that residents were concerned about public safety.
Her organization’s research found that between Jan. 1, 2018, and Sept. 10, 2019, the intersection of N. 35th and W. Center streets had 49 accidents. Meanwhile, the intersection of N. 35th St. and W. North Ave. had 34. and more than 100 accidents occurred in or near No. 27th and W. Center streets. According to McCurtis, Milwaukee streets are not usually designed for walkable communities. Some streets do not have protected bike lanes, nor are they striped, while others lack stop signs. More affluent neighborhoods, she noted, have bump-outs planted with flowers, speed bumps, or cul-de-sacs. Those are not present in Metcalfe Park. As opposed to waiting for the city to take action on its own, residents researched their own and came up with a solution, art.
Furthermore, McCurtis said that research shows that pictures of animals and large insects painted on the street itself can reduce accidents, a strategy that has worked in other cities, including Baltimore and New York. In conjunction with the city’s Department of Public Works, McCurtis’ organization received funding for the traffic-calming art project.
During Monday’s event, Metcalfe Park Bridges distributed yard signs encouraging drivers to slow down. Decorative streetlight banners designed by another artist will also be used to encourage safe driving in the community as part of the art project. McCurtis believes that art will slow people down. ‘We know there must be some street improvements.’ For that, we need city resources. As we move in that direction, this should suffice for now.” “This mural represents all that Metcalfe Park is – a community that is safe for each other; a community that supports each other; a community that is still standing even after all that they have endured,” McCurtis said.
During the planning phase of Metcalfe Park Community Bridges, residents were asked to contribute to a sketchbook with questions such as “What brings you joy?” and “How does it feel to raise a family at Metcalfe Park?” Answers could be words, drawings, or doodles for adults and children alike. The mural will be a collection of those ideas and images. John Kowalczyk, program director for Artists Working in Education, visual art nonprofit, said the sketchbooks revealed a common theme: Metcalfe Park is a resilient, proud, family-oriented, and diverse community. As part of his group, he will oversee the pantry mural, which will begin later this month and run through August, as well as the mural at N. 34th and W. Center streets.
Kowalczyk also said using residents’ ideas for the mural ensures their voices and stories are represented. A lot of people drive through neighborhoods not knowing much about them or having a stereotypical view of them, he noted. The murals not only add beauty to the space but can dispel myths about the people who live there as well.
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