By Molly McCowan
If you’ve been wandering the streets of Old Town lately, you may have wondered how a two-story mural could have appeared almost overnight.
The newest mural in Fort Collins, which runs between Mountain Avenue and Walnut Street (between Bohemian Companies and the Fort Collins Food Co-op), was installed and opened to the public on April 29. But this was no one-night wonder – The concept for the mural, titled Jazz Alley and painted by local muralist Terry McNerney, has been an idea in progress since the fall of 2007.
The idea for the mural was a fusion of everything that Pat Stryker – founder of the Bohemian Foundation – brings to the table as a visionary in Fort Collins. Stryker’s positive role in supporting the community, promoting art in public places and infusing the city with music and an upbeat energy shine through in Jazz Alley.
A large part of the inspiration for the mural was in keepings with the visions of Gene Mitchell, an influential community leader who lived in Fort Collins throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Mitchell was integral in making Old Town Square the interactive, interesting place it is today, and he fought for its redesign even as he was experiencing serious financial woes.
He was quoted as saying, “I am absolutely determined that Fort Collins will have a downtown that will sparkle and be known” – a vision that the Bohemian Foundation strives to carry out today.
When Bohemian Companies decided to build a home base in Old Town Fort Collins, they took inspiration from Old Town Square and Mitchell’s achievements. The block between Walnut Street and Mountain Avenue is appropriately named the “Mitchell block” in his honor.
As the soon-to-be building was being finished, however, members of the organization realized that it would look out onto a blank wall.
That’s when Pat Stryker called upon Terry McNerney to help.
“I saw Terry’s work around town and in friends’ homes. There are so many great artists and creative talent in Fort Collins [that] it was easy to choose a local artist,” she said.
Terry McNerney, a Fort Collins resident for over twenty years, has been painting murals since 1997.
The transition to creating art on a large scale was a fluid one for McNerney, who had been painting and illustrating long before he became a muralist.
“I did street art for so long that people started taking notice. It was a natural progression for me,” he said.
McNerney was enthusiastic about the Jazz Alley project from the beginning, considering it the “ultimate challenge” for any working artist.
Together, Stryker and McNerney worked to reach the mural’s final design over the next 18 months, and McNerney began painting the mural in the first floor space of the Bohemian Companies building – a demanding, physical process that started with 39 eight-foot long aluminum sheets.
“When you work with house paint as a medium, you have to paint very quickly, as it starts drying immediately. You get one shot to blend the paints, or you have to let that area dry and start anew. The most difficult part of the process is the long hours standing on ladders and scaffolding – it’s a very physical task,” said McNerney.
But the arduous months of work came with great rewards.
“Jazz Alley is a gift to the community. It was an ugly alley that now everyone can appreciate and enjoy,” he said.
The image of the mural pictured above is a section of the second story of the mural – a scene showing what onlookers would see from the Mitchell building if there wasn’t a wall blocking the view. It is a captivating and colorful panorama that plays off of the natural beauty of Fort Collins and the foothills.
The first story of the mural depicts a vibrant jazz club scene complete with many faces that locals will recognize. Stryker found difficulty in choosing only a few faces to represent the dynamic music culture in Fort Collins, however.
“[Choosing the people featured in the mural] was hard because we couldn’t have everybody – we tried to fit in as many as we could. We added a marquis to the mural that lists additional bands – there were just too many musicians to choose from,” she said.
When asked for the names of those depicted, Stryker kept an air of mystery.
“That’s the fun part – you’ll have to come see it and take a guess at who you might know,” she said.
In Stryker’s eyes, the mural reaches out to the local arts and music community.
“[The mural] contributes to the continual growth of the arts and culture in Fort Collins, and we hoped to capture the essence and inspiration for our community,” she said. “The main idea of Jazz Alley is that it’s fun and it celebrates local people and musicians.”
Now that’s something we can all agree on.
You can find Jazz Alley between Bohemian Companies and the Fort Collins Food Co-op on the corner of Walnut Street and Mountain Avenue. It is open to the public daily and will be closed by gates at both entrances at dusk. Find out more about Terry McNerney at mcmurals.com.
[Editor’s note: Thanks to Tim O’ Hara and Terry McNerney for the photos of Jazz Alley]