Early Wednesday morning, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and a team of students from North Carolina Chapel Hill unveiled a mural project at Calwa Park designed by muralist Cynthia Velazques.
City officials said they hope the artwork will spark a wave of new murals to help beautify neighborhood parks.
“Part of my vision for Fresno is an inclusive, prosperous beautiful city where people take pride and their neighborhood and community,” said Dyer. “One way to do that is through public art, and through beautification projects.”
At Calwa Park, near a sea of soccer fields, goalposts and shaded trees, stands a small park bathroom painted in pastel blue that now depicts a young Latino boy juggling a soccer ball while surrounded by bluebirds – a species native to Fresno.
The mural aims to represent the children of the Calwa community, says Velazques.
“I believe everyone loves beauty, everyone loves art, and we are all able to see and appreciate beauty,” said Velazques. “Public art is for the people, it’s not about myself or what I think but about how I am representing the community and what they are about.”
A group of freshman students from the Morehead – Cain Scholarship program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill helped bring the project together.
The students spent eight weeks in Fresno, working in partnership with Velazques and Dyer’s office to celebrate the community through public art and storytelling.
Elizah Van-Lokeren said she enjoyed working on the project working alongside the other students and Velazques.
“Working with Cynthia was like a dream, she is collaborative and kind, and gentle, and there are only good things to say about her.”
Van-Lokeren says the best thing about the project was learning about the community’s agricultural heritage, visiting the area’s national parks and watching families and children play soccer every evening.
“My favorite was looking at the mural of the boy juggling the soccer ball and then you look to your right and there are actually little boys juggling soccer balls and hanging out,” said Van-Lokeren. “There’s just a lot of kids having fun, whether it’s a game or tournament or whether they are just with their dad playing soccer.”
Reflecting the Latino Community
From the start, Van-Lokeren says many of the students felt inspired by Velazques, who immigrated from Mexico during her high school years and is now a community artist and educator for the Mennonite Central Community.
Velazques said they held several team meetings, coming up with a strategy and collaborating to bring the project to Calwa. She said the effort helped her grow as an artist.
Velazques grew up in Guanajuato, Mexico – a city well known for colorful streets and art, and growing up there influenced her style.
“My town in México was a great source of inspiration, because it’s very colorful there, very vibrant, and it has always been my main source of inspiration, and I think this colorful mural represents the community here very well,” said Velazques.