Street Wise Arts has left its mark on Boulder, curating almost 150 murals around the city since 2015. Through its flagship initiative, the annual Boulder Mural Festival, the organization provides career opportunities for artists while contributing culturally diverse and resonant murals to the community.
This year, the group put on its first Summer Mural Series — a scaled-down version of the Boulder Mural Festival. By operating year-round, the nonprofit aims for greater sustainability and to provide artists more frequent paid opportunities.
“I want to make a difference by changing the feel of the streets in Boulder so that the entire community feels seen, inspired and connected through art,” said Leah Brenner Clack, Street Wise Arts’ executive director. “I believe that a city’s public art is a big part of its identity.”
The Summer Mural Series took place in June and July, when five Boulder and Denver artists wielded their paints and brushes to transform the facades of Pearl Street Mall buildings. Collectively, their work captures the theme of the series: collective healing, community reflection and connection. Artists can now sign up for Street Wise’s roster to be considered for the fall or spring mural series.
Danielle DeRoberts: ‘I just want people to tune into their intuition when they walk by.’
Boulder-based Danielle DeRoberts, known as Onerary, studied painting and printmaking at SUNY New Paltz in New York. Since graduating in 2001, DeRoberts’ meditation practices have played a role in shaping her work.
Her mural — in a 17th Street alleyway between Spruce and Pearl Street — reflects one of her routine meditations focused on fostering “mind-body connection.” This practice, she said, has influenced her relationships and perception of the world around her.
“When you internally face yourself and tune into yourself, you’re then tuning into the bigger collective,” DeRoberts said. “We’re all interconnected as humans.”
Titled “Tune in + RECEIVE,” the mural centers around a hand, symbolizing a higher source, alongside a human face. Framing the mural are pansies and mountains that reflect the natural world as well as past and future — with pansies holding a special meaning as DeRoberts’ late mother’s favorite flower.
She hopes that viewers of the mural are inspired to connect with themselves.
“No one needs to know the concept of exactly what I’m talking about,” DeRoberts said. “I just want people to tune into their intuition when they walk by. It’s their own story.”
Grow Love: ‘It already has a life of its own. It’s already bringing a positive impact.’
At age 8, Robyn Frances, known by the artist name Grow Love, aspired to be a painter. They bought their own set of oil paints four years later. After graduating from the University of Denver with a bachelor of fine arts, Grow Love balanced odd jobs with selling commissioned art. A transformative encounter with large-scale murals at the 2016 Art Basel in Miami encouraged Grow Love to pursue the art form full-time.
Based in Denver, Grow Love mostly paints flowers and has recently drawn inspiration from the composition and symbolism found in Flemish and Danish oil paintings. They recreate these works using their preferred medium: spray paint.
After learning about the summer series’ theme of collective healing, Grow Love said their initial reaction was, “when anything intense happens or somebody passes away, you send flowers.”
So they spray-painted a giant bouquet of native Coloradan plants at 13th Street and Lawry Lane (see main photo above). The white peony symbolizes innocence and purity, while the iris represents wisdom and truth. Tulips are commonly associated with love, and grapes with prosperity and abundance, Grow Love said. The blue ribbons surrounding the floral garland represent hope and peace.
Grow Love said that while installing the mural, they had conversations with people passing by about what the various flowers mean to them.
“It’s so cool to install art publicly,” they said. “It already has a life of its own. It’s already bringing a positive impact, and I hope it continues to do that.”
Latasha Greene: ‘Reminds people who feel othered that they should show up authentically.’
“I have identified as an artist my whole life, and I’ve always been drawn to creative pursuits,” said illustrator and painter Latasha Greene. She graduated with a degree in scientific and medical illustration from Virginia Commonwealth University, while also working as a local muralist’s assistant. After moving to Denver in 2017, she began designing graphics, logos and stickers for outdoor companies that advocate for inclusivity in outdoor activities.
Denverite Greene painted her mural freehand on three utility boxes in an alley between 14th and 15th Streets. In pink on the boxes, it reads, “Take up space.”
“It’s a positive mantra that reminds people who feel ‘othered’ that they should show up authentically in any type of space, anytime, anywhere,” Greene said. “Be yourself always, and just take up space in spaces that you feel smaller in.”
The leaves in the background, a common motif in Greene’s work, symbolize taking up space, with the words nestled among them.
Greene imagines a delayed reaction from people when they walk past her mural. “Maybe they don’t take it all in to begin with,” she said. But when they stand there and read the message and it clicks, they smile, hold their head up and keep walking. It’s a little confidence boost.”
Moe Gram: ‘We collaborated on something that was about being playful.’
Moe Gram graduated from California State University, Bakersfield in 2014 as a studio arts major, before moving to Denver, where she still lives, to become a professional artist.
While completing several murals in California and Colorado, Gram cultivated a distinct abstract style. This, combined with her growing local network, prompted her to launch the Every Human campaign in 2020 — a series of what she calls “empathy walls,” or vibrant abstract murals infused with compassionate calls to action.
They’re “vague phrases meant to encourage people to explore the depth of their empathy,” Gram said.
Her mural on the corner of 17th and Pearl Street revisits her 2021 Boulder Mural Festival empathy wall at the same location.
Jess Liu, owner of Creature Comforts cafe, where Gram’s mural is painted, collaborated with the artist.
Guided by Liu’s input, the color scheme and phrases displayed on the wall, such as “kindness first” and “make smiles,” are “love notes from Creature Comforts,” according to Gram. In June, she brought their joint effort to life using exterior latex paint and spray paint.
“We collaborated on something that was about being playful,” about “having space for people to exist as individual humans, but also as a community,” Gram said.
Will Barker: ‘I think it’s cool to find ways to to mix those old, traditional tropes with contemporary ideas.’
Will Barker played three years of NFL football before deciding the sport was not his true calling, prompting him to reconsider his career path.
“It wasn’t until I got to the league that I started questioning, Is this what I want to be doing?” Barker said. He always had a knack for drawing, and when he quit the NFL in 2012, he started teaching himself to paint with acrylics, watercolors and oil. It wasn’t long before he built up a portfolio of commissions and murals.
Barker has been a full-time artist in Denver since 2020. His mural in Morrison Alley, just West of Broadway, reflects his love for painting Western themes and motifs.
“I think it’s cool to find ways to to mix those old, traditional tropes with contemporary ideas,” Barker said. He explored this fusion through the summer series’ theme of collective healing, painting cowboys of different races and genders playing cards around a table.
Barker didn’t want to cover up too much of the building’s historic brickwork with his mural, since the owner told him it’s from around 1903, the end of the American Western era. So he spray-painted a background of Victorian-style wallpaper, carefully peeled in places to expose the historic layer underneath.
Barker hopes that the bright blue in the wallpaper draws people in to see the diversity in the mural’s card players. “Whether or not that was something you’d see in olden times, it’s something that we want to see today,” he said.