Going to the wall: Chroma Zone Mural & Art Festival transforms CEZ

By Sarah CR Clark

Driving down Prior Avenue, you may have been surprised to see a giant axe-wielding deer and a canoeing loon.

The mural “Frontier Justice” created by Eric J Garcia was painted during the Chroma Zone Mural & Art Festival on the side of E-Z Recycling Inc.’s building.

“We absolutely love our mural,” said Chris Reinhardt, owner of E-Z Recycling, 875 N. Prior Ave. “It ties right into our business with the animals picking up baskets of cans and bottles out of the river to clean it up and recycle. That’s what we do, too.”

The Chroma Zone Mural & Art Festival transformed 12 unremarkable industrial walls into breathtakingly colorful, socially conscious works of art within the Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ) this September. Fifteen local and international artists gathered in the CEZ multi-use neighborhood (the Raymond-University area of St Paul) over the eight-day festival.

Among the artists featured: Minnesotan Chuck U, whose work appears on Indeed Brewing Co.’s cans; Cey Adams (NYC) legendary hip-hop visual artist whose career includes collaborating with the Beastie Boys; and Mariela Ajras (Argentina) whose stunning piece on immigration and motherhood was this festival’s tallest mural, stretching five stories.

The “Frontier Justice” muralist and Minnesota newcomer sees his cartoonish doe and loon as being “a little bit sugar to go with the bitter pill” of the environmental issues he raises. Garcia’s mural includes references to the Line 3 pipeline, oil dependency, and the importance of clean air and water for Minnesota’s ecosystems. Personally influenced by Mexican muralism, Garcia sees his mural as an accessible way to educate viewers.

Chroma Zone was the brainchild of a number of CEZ partners. Also, Catherine Reid Day, CEZ board chair and festival producer, had seen buzz-worthy mural festivals in other U.S. cities. The collaboration of partners envisioned St. Paul’s first mural festival bringing existing artistry from inside the 300 creative businesses of the CEZ outdoors for the world to see. The festival included brewery parties, street fests, artist talks, live painting, bus tours and gallery exhibits. The CEZ produced this year’s festival with the partnership of Forecast Public Art and Burlesque of North America.

The festival exceeded expectations, Reid said. “The artists created murals that are true gems: complex, beautiful and full of storytelling,” she said. “The community came out in droves.” Partial funding for Chroma Zone has been secured for at least two more years.

One of the most popular festival murals is ArtCrop’s Ask Why mural painted by Christina Vang, Teeko Yang and Oskar Ly. These three Hmong women together are ArtCrop and have studio space in the CEZ. Their mural features the words “Ask Why” on a black-and-yellow wall, surrounded by vegetation. Specific elements of their mural glow in the dark, as the artists hope to “spot-light current issues that need illuminating.” Water drops represent oil drops speaking to climate change; flowers represent specific areas affected by gun violence, natural disasters, encroachment on protected land, and the southern border crisis. Symbols for gender fluidity and liberation were included to represent their belief in a female and fluid future. ArtCrop honors Hmong aesthetics in all their work and this mural contains “Xs” which float in the backdrop which represent the cross-stitch found in Hmong paj ntaub (translated directly as flower cloth).

As for the “Ask Why” motif, the artists said, “Ask Why has been a frequent question in all of our personal and work-related conversations, its meaning continues to shift and apply itself to different aspects of our lives.”

Vang, Yang, and Ly hope their mural will inspire people to ask why: Why do you do what you do? Why do you dream the way you do? Why is one thing more important than another? Why and how am I privileged? Why is it important to know who came before me? “We hope that when people come to the CEZ neighborhood and see these murals, they feel welcome.”

To learn more about ArtCrop, please check out: artcrop.co, christinavang.com, oskarlyart.com, teeko.co. To learn more about Eric J Garcia, go to ericjgarcia.com. And to learn more about Chroma Zone check out www.chromazone.net.

Sarah Clark, a resident of St. Anthony Park, is a new freelance writer to the Bugle.

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