July 10—Public art is not a cultural necessity. It is, however, a staple of humanity – one that manifested itself 50,000 years ago in the form of cave paintings that depict the lives and experiences of our distant ancestors.
Crude renditions of early humans and the animals they hunted to extinction sat amid other limited creative images of a simpler, yet comparatively more arduous time on planet Earth.
The alleys and local businesses are obviously not covered by this kind of paintings. They are clad in colors representative of Cheyenne and the experiences of its residents. Interpretations of the buffalo, magpie, or general geography of vast Wyoming and cowboys who once roamed in the sun on arid plains are the modern artist’s way of documenting a local culture.
Seven years ago, this was not the reality of the capital. Then some murals appeared, like the bison and company guarding the back parking lot behind the Paramount Cafe, and things started to change.
It wouldn’t have changed so drastically had it not been for the development of Paint Slingers.
“My goal with Paint Slingers was to change the town of Cheyenne’s idea of street art and graffiti and let them know that it’s not a negative thing,” said Eddie Fernandez, the founder. “It’s actually a really positive thing. It brings vibrancy and culture to the streets.”
There was a time when Paint Slingers were an alternative form of entertainment that was mostly used to supplement the 4-Ever West Tattoo Festival.
In these early days, Fernandez would bring a makeshift wall for him and other regional graffiti artists to spray paint in groups. There was a live DJ. The walk-in tattoo experience remained the main attraction of the weekend.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the tattoo portion of both events to be canceled due to social distancing requirements. This allowed the public art event to spoof the Tattoo Festival as the premier event of the weekend.
With no body art, attendees could stroll downtown and watch the beautification of many vacant spaces.
That’s not to say Paint Slingers stole the show.
In fact, all the events that took place around the weekend make the new Culture Expo something that honors the current alternative culture that occupies the city in the midst of a month of traditional Old West celebration.
In addition to Paint Slingers and the 4-Ever West Tattoo Fest, there will also be Cheyenne Makers and Creatives’ annual Steamroller Print Making Expo, a glassblowing art exhibit, a BMX stunt rally, and a contest. chalk art, among other events planned around town.
Paint Slingers and 4-Ever West still hold the top spots in CultureX. For the most part, events will continue unmodified.
New this year for Paint Slingers will be a block-party style event to be held atop the municipal parking lot at Carey Avenue and 17th Street. Although illegal graffiti is a minor problem downtown compared to other major cities, the top of the parking lot is one of the most decorated places in this city.
In an effort not just to avoid further tagging, but to bring a unique display of color to the often vacant upper level, a collection of graffiti artists will spend Saturday breathing new life into vandalized walls as a DJ and food vendors cover the open-air fourth floor.
This was made possible by the City of Cheyenne’s new involvement in CultureX.
This is beneficial for several reasons. One of the most observable will be in the form of live musical performances.
The committee selected performances by electronic dance music group Mystery Skulls and a Fridays Extended show featuring rappers Twista, Petey Pablo and Sammy G.
The city has a bigger budget, which means bigger acts planned for the weekend. The municipality also assumed responsibility for garbage collection, street closures and other similar works.
“We haven’t taken on the entire load, but we’re helping everyone with our experience,” said Jason Sanchez, assistant manager of Cheyenne Community Recreation and Events. “Our teams were able to create a good, fun and safe event. The partnership, the collaboration between the public and the private sector, is really good.”
City’s involvement has taken the weight off Trinidad Serrano’s shoulders. He no longer has to coordinate any additional musical acts or vendors involved with the 4-Ever West Tattoo Festival.
There is nothing new at the tattoo festival this year. In the past, Serrano, owner of the TRIBE Zoo Tattoo shop, would normally try to get things ready for the busiest week of the year.
At the time of a phone call with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, he was on a camping trip.
Among the perks of having a tattoo festival in downtown Cheyenne, the most overlooked is that all 40 artists, spread across 10 states, were personally invited by Serrano. It guarantees the quality of all artists.
“I’ve been tattooing for 22 years and I travel a lot, so over decades of travel I’ve made some contacts,” he said. “I have friends who tour, and I had a whole planned list of who I would like to invite. The first year, I contacted and invited these artists, and, you know, most of them they were able to enter.
About 80% of the artists presented in the festival come back from past years. Serrano has made it a point to increase the number of female tattoo artists this year, with the goal of making participants feel more comfortable, depending on where their tattoo is placed.
A complete list of artists is available online at 4everwestfest.com.
For those who don’t wish to get a tattoo, there is plenty to see. Many tattoo artists will also sell their artwork, such as paintings on canvas or jewelry. Admission to the event is $10 per day or $20 for a four-day pass.
There will be contests. They include the seventh annual pin-up contest, an arm wrestling contest, a mustache and beard contest, and tattoo contests between artists and their subjects.
Steamroller Printing Manufacturing
Just down the street from their new location on 15th Street, Makers and Creatives will be hosting their third annual Steamroller Print Making event.
Spectators can gather as artists carve different designs into thin sheets of wood, then lay them on 3ft by 3ft sheets of paper and literally flatten them dramatically with a steamroller. Essentially, the process is a rudimentary version of a printing press.
In total, four local artists will produce nearly 200 prints by the end of the event. It takes four to six volunteers per shift to ensure that each print is created correctly.
“There are many different types of prints, but this particular type is basically engraved on linoleum or wood,” said Desiree Brothe, founder of Makers and Creatives. “It’s a very old style of printing. It dates back to medieval times. Japanese artists were also very well known for their block prints.”
While she’s not running the event for Makers and Creatives, Brothe oversees just about everything else for CultureX, and there’s clearly a lot to manage. The city’s intervention helped with the workload, but the real relief is seeing CultureX gaining city and community support as one of the most funded events of the year.
Defenders of the urban periphery
Perhaps the biggest introduction to the festival this year is due, in part, to Brothe’s involvement with Urban Edge Advocates. The group aims to “create spaces and gatherings that naturally foster meaningful social interaction and deepen community connections to downtown and the West Edge neighborhood.”
In conjunction with CultureX, Urban Edge Advocates is organizing a poignant project with local high schools.
Teachers and students from Cheyenne East, South, Central and Triumph High will all help paint four crosswalks around the downtown area.
They are located at the intersections of O’Neil Avenue and 20th Street, 19th Street and 17th Street, and Thomes Avenue and 19th Street, and will be completed by 6 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s not just about art and embellishment. There’s this safety benefit of using art for practical purposes, which I think kids don’t always see,” said Sara Wilson, art teacher at Triumph. “Sometimes people say, ‘Art? It’s a bit of a fluff.’
“No, this something that’s going to have real benefits.”
Each crosswalk will have a different color-coordinated design that was created by students from all four schools, where they were then voted on by their respective student body and narrowed down to the resulting finalists.
It is the job of Wilson and other art teachers to facilitate the process and help a group of about 25 students throughout the day. High school students rarely get the chance to create a permanent piece of art for the city, let alone one that makes a statement and a lasting impact.
“I just feel super inspired to see the students get so excited when I first told them about the project,” Wilson said. “I was like, ‘Oh, nobody’s going to sign up for this.’ It’s cool to see kids taking a more active role and being able to facilitate this stuff.
“I feel inspired to see young kids doing something beyond what they thought was possible as a high school student.”
CultureX events will take place at various times July 14-17 in downtown Cheyenne. Visit thecultureexpo.com/ for more information.
Will Carpenter is the arts and entertainment/reports reporter for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 307-633-3135. Follow him on Twitter @will_carp_.