DENVER — May 4, 2022 — On the eve of Cinco de Mayo, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the historic Chicano/a/x Community Murals of Colorado across the state to its 2022 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The Chicano/a/x community murals illuminate an often untold, overlooked, or erased history in cities where Hispanos, Chicanos, and Mexican Americans were key to their development. Although the exact number is unknown, it is believed that more than 40 historic Chicano/a/x community murals exist across the state of Colorado, including the Denver region, Greeley, Pueblo, and San Luis.
Chicano/a/x Murals of Colorado Project (CMCP) nominated these heritage murals to the “11 Most” list, due to increasing threats including rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in communities across Colorado and a lack of legal protections that put murals at high risk of destruction and erasure. Colorado’s harsh climate can also cause deterioration and fading that threatens murals. As muralists of the Chicano movement age or pass away, there is limited time to restore original murals, and some have already been lost or painted over.
As a part of its efforts to preserve these murals, CMCP sought support from local partners at History Colorado’s State Historic Preservation Office, non-profit Historic Denver, and the City and County of Denver’s Landmark Preservation staff. To make its case to be on the 11 Most list, CMCP highlighted a representative sample of five Chicano/a/x community murals they are seeking to protect and preserve, in addition to many others..
The Chicano/a/x Community Murals of Colorado represent the Hispano history and culture of the Chicano/a/x people of Colorado. They were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s, which used art as a means to educate young people and citizens-at-large about the significant contributions of Hispanos, Chicanos, Mexican Americans, and Latinos to American society. The Chicano Movement seeks to address civil rights, land rights, labor rights, educational equity and equal representation, and artist-activists have helped to create murals in Latinx neighborhoods to inspire pride and strengthen community.
The murals are not just works of art, they are designed to publicly share important stories about Chicano/a/x, Mexican American, Latinx and Colorado history and are an integral part of the Chicano/a/x cultural identity. The murals provide a sense of place and legitimize the Chicano/a/x presence in the community, linking past, present, and future.
“The Chicano/a/x community believes that erasure of these murals is more than a loss of artwork, it is an erasure of cultural identity and a signal that Chicano/a/x heritage ‘does not matter.’ In many instances, the murals were created by the community, for the community—literally illustrating the significance of these neighborhoods,” says Lucha Martinez de Luna, the Director of CMCP. She continues, “The murals represent the memory of a people. They say “I am here” and validate voices who are facing ever fewer cultural support systems.”
“These murals are enduring artistic expressions of cultural identity and are powerful representations of history, creativity, and pride,” says National Trust Chief Preservation Officer Katherine Malone-France. “These murals should be recognized as significant contributions to our American cultural landscape that help ensure that our country’s full story is told.”
“We celebrate the grassroots efforts of the Chicano/a/x Murals of Colorado Project for their long service in preserving the historic and artistic contributions of these murals and muralists to Colorado communities,” remarked State Historic Preservation Officer/History Colorado Executive Director Dawn DiPrince. “We encourage others to come alongside their important work and support these essential and urgent preservation efforts.”
"We know the power of an 11 Most listing to raise awareness and catalyze action for places important to our shared heritage,” says Annie Levinsky, Executive Director of Historic Denver. “We are honored to work alongside CMCP and partners to find solutions that support and sustain Chicano/a/x murals in our city and beyond."
“These murals help tell the stories of our Latino, Chicano, and Mexican-American history, and have an important place in our communities. The City and County of Denver is a proud partner in helping CMCP preserve this legacy, which includes helping develop preservation tools for the murals, establishing cultural districts like in the La Alma Lincoln Park neighborhood, and working with our communities to protect meaningful places where murals like these exist,” said Laura E. Aldrete, executive director of Denver Community Planning and Development’s Landmark Preservation team.
It is hoped the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places nomination will create awareness about why these legacy murals are significant and in turn propel efforts to survey, designate, protect, and preserve these important historical visual texts. While numerous murals have already been lost, new technology promises to help restore these cherished works of art that have been painted over.
These five murals submitted by CMCP as a representative sample of Chicano/a/x community murals are:
In San Luis, “San Luis-Sierras y Colores,” by Carlos Sandoval, painted in 1986, commemorates the oldest town in Colorado, San Luis de la Culebra, founded in the 1840s by Hispano settlers when the area was still part of Mexico.
In Pueblo’s Plaza Verde Park, a 1978 mural by Leo Lucero, symbolizes the spirit of the Indigenous people and the land before colonialism.
In Denver, on 8th Avenue between Federal and Decatur, 2008’s “Huitzilopochtli,” by David Ocelotl Garcia uses symbolism to represent spiritual philosophies specific to the healing of the mind, body and soul.
In Denver at 2700 Larimer St., a 2020 mural by Alicia Cardenas symbolizes taking down statutes and representations of the history “we thought we knew,” to empower those harmed by it.
Finally, in Denver at 1325 W. 11th Ave (La Alma Recreation Center), Emanuel Martinez’s 1978 “La Alma,” commemorates the birthplace of the Chicano Mural Movement in Colorado that began in the La Alma Lincoln Park neighborhood. Specifically, the mural celebrates the legacy of indigenous and mestizo descendants over the past and present, and seeks to inspire youth to create a promising future.
This is the first time the National Trust has included murals on the 11 Most Endangered list, and it reflects the growing commitment of the Preservation Movement to include places that reflect the diversity of the nation. Previous Colorado designees to the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list include Mesa Verde National Park, Denver’s Larimer Square, the Valley Floor of Telluride and the towns of Central City and Black Hawk. Concludes Malone-France, “By focusing greater awareness on these community landmarks, we can encourage their protection and preservation for generations to learn from and celebrate.”
About the Chicano/a/x Murals of Colorado Project
The Chicano/a/x Murals of Colorado Project was created by a consortium of scholars, artists, and community members upon witnessing the erasure and destruction of many historic murals and their stories. CMCP’s mission is to survey, protect, preserve, and promote these important visual texts. @chicanomuralsproject www.chicanomuralsofcolorado.com
About History Colorado
History Colorado is a division of the Colorado Department of Higher Education and a 501(c)3 non-profit that has served more than 75,000 students and 500,000 people in Colorado each year. It is a 142-year-old institution that operates Colorado’s oldest museum, ten additional museums and historic sites, a free public research center, the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, and the History Colorado State Historical Fund. History Colorado’s mission is to create a better future for Colorado by inspiring wonder in our past. We serve as the state’s memory, preserving and sharing the places, stories, and material culture of Colorado through educational programs, grants, collecting and outreach.
About The National Trust for Historic Preservation
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places. Visit www.savingplaces.org for more information.
About Historic Denver
As Denver’s leading community-driven voice for historic places, Historic Denver, Inc. works every day to protect and promote Denver’s historic places in support of our diverse, dynamic and distinctive city. What began with the Molly Brown House Museum in late 1970 has expanded into a citywide historic preservation movement. Through advocacy, restoration work, and partnerships Historic Denver has secured a future for beloved Denver places and spaces, from the Paramount Theater to Union Station, the Dr. Justina Ford House to La Alma Lincoln Park, the Baker neighborhood to the Lower Downtown Historic District. More at www.historicdenver.org.
About Denver Landmark Preservation
The City and County of Denver’s Landmark Preservation team is part of the Community Planning and Development (CPD) department. CPD is responsible for visionary city planning and ensuring safe, responsible, sustainable building. Landmark preservation is an important function of CPD to foster the protection, enhancement, and perpetuation of buildings and places that have historical, architectural, geographic, or cultural significance. Visit DenverGov.org/CPD and follow CPD on Twitter @DenverCPD and Instagram at @Denver_Landmark.