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Up to five new murals planned this summer at various sites

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FARMINGTON — A project designed to make the back entrances to downtown businesses more attractive and pedestrian friendly is ramping up again with the onset of spring, according to one of the project organizers.

The Art in the Alley project, launched last year, is designed to cover the exterior walls of several downtown businesses with murals. Farmington downtown coordinator Michael Bulloch, one of the project organizers, said four murals have been completed and three more are scheduled to begin soon. He said as many as five murals could be completed by the time summer is over.

"We have a bunch of proposals (from artists) and several building owners considering those proposals," he said.

Art in the Alley supporters hope the murals will spruce up the off-Main Street areas that will get a lot more use when construction on the Complete Streets downtown renovation project gets underway in January, restricting access to the front entrance of many businesses.

Work on the murals began in late July. A handful of them had been completed before the weather turned too cold and wet for painting to continue. The list includes works by James and Eugene Joe, and Jaime Fairchild at Brown's Shoe Fit Co., Tommy Singer at the Totah Theater and Elton Brown at Capacity Builders Inc.

Work on three more murals is scheduled to begin soon — one by Ivan Lee at Complete Streets headquarters, one by Luke Paul at The Chile Pod and another by Bulloch at English Color.

Additionally, three murals painted on marine-grade plywood by artists who rent studio space at the Artifacts Gallery are being displayed on the business' fence, though those works are not officially part of the Art in the Alley project.

"We're really happy with it, and we see this as a continuous thing, even past the (Complete Streets) construction as more building owners want to be a part of it," Bulloch said.

The project has received financial assistance from the philanthropic foundation of the Merrion family, helping project organizers supply artists with materials. Bulloch said there are a couple of building owners who are extremely eager to have a mural painted on their property, and he encouraged artists who have a project in mind to submit a proposal.

Bulloch said he is pleased with how the murals have met the expectations of organizers.

"It's really making the alleys a much more pleasant place to use as a pedestrian walkway," he said.

More: Murals on shoe store wall kick off Art in the Alley project

The Art in the Alleys project is just one of several initiatives recently undertaken by downtown boosters. The completion of a "photo mural" project planned for the entrance to a space at 201 E. Main St. — between Downtown Junkers and the Journey Church — was delayed when two of the panels were damaged during shipping.

But Bulloch said the new panels have arrived safely, and construction of a frame for the piece will commence shortly. He expects the project to be finished by no later than this summer and probably much sooner.

The project will feature a life-size reproduction of a historic photograph of a business that once was located at the site, the Grand Union Tea Co. The image dates from the early 1900s and features a woman standing beside the entrance. The panels on which the image is reproduced are made of weather- and fade-resistant vinyl material.

The project was funded by a $5,000 grant from the Resilient Communities Fund, which is administered as a partnership between the New Mexico Resiliency Alliance and the New Mexico MainStreet program. The grants are targeted for locally driven economic development projects in rural or underserved communities in the state.

More: Historic photo project planned for downtown Farmington space

The grant was awarded to Farmington last spring, and the deadline for spending the money was Dec. 31. Bulloch said the damage to the panels during the shipping process delayed their assembly, but organizers succeeded in using the funds by that deadline, and fund officials were willing to let the project's completion date slide to this spring.

Along that same stretch of Main Street, a pocket park is planned for the space just north of TJ's Diner. The property is owned by the city of Farmington and has been dubbed the Breezeway Plaza. Bulloch said city officials have applied for an AARP grant to enhance the property and expect to receive word on their application by the end of June.

The plaza is designed to ease access to downtown for patrons of the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center at 109 E. La Plata St. Bulloch said the city sent another grant proposal to AARP last year for the project, but the scale of the work they had in mind then was considered too ambitious by the judges. This year's proposal is more modest, he noted, and focuses on getting a large visual return on not much money through the addition of festival lighting, planters and a facade that mimics a building.

Bulloch said the Breezeway Plaza is envisioned as a project that would be completed in phases, and some of the elements that were included in the original proposal would be added as time goes by and additional funding becomes available.

"We've got our fingers crossed for that grant," he said.

More: Farmington art gallery owners invest in new downtown building

At the other end of downtown, Bulloch said there is considerable enthusiasm being generated by the space behind a building at 305 W. Main St. The property recently was purchased by Studio 116 owners Karen Ellsbury and Patrick Hazen, and is now occupied by the Arrow Soul artists coop gallery and Nizhoni Trading.

A small courtyard is located next to a vacant garage structure behind those businesses, and Bulloch said plans call for converting it into an events space or pocket park that would be shared by the various businesses in the area.

He hopes to see the garage converted into a speakeasy or microcafe business, and the courtyard easily could be converted into a community gathering spot with the addition of a deck, festival lighting, shade structures and planters, he said, explaining that grant money for that purpose is being sought.

"It's an urban space," Bulloch said, noting that it still has good visibility even through the only access to it is through the alley. With a good cleanup and the addition of a few cosmetic features, he said, "You're up and running with a really great space."

Bulloch hopes to see all those projects have as much of an impact as the pocket park Ellsbury and Hazen created in the space behind Studio 116 last summer. That project, partly funded through another Resilient Communities Fund grant, has become a showplace for the district and is an example of the hidden potential held by the "back door" to many downtown businesses, he said.

"That wasn't a lot of money for something that is now an extremely vibrant space," he said.

Bulloch said he has delivered presentations on downtown Farmington's renovation plans all over New Mexico, and when he comes to images of the Studio 116 pocket park, people have a strong positive reaction.

"It's such an amazing space," he said. "People all over the state seem floored by the transformation from a gravel desert to a fun, people-filled space."

All those efforts have contributed to the city's successful application for official status as a member of the New Mexico Arts and Cultural District program established in 2007. Bulloch said member districts are eligible to receive consulting and design services, as well as historic preservation tax credits, once they have become fully accredited.

Farmington is working its way through that process now, he said, explaining that a team of 15 downtown boosters has been formed to assist in that endeavor. The district — formally known as the HeART of Farmington Arts and Cultural District — encompasses most of downtown from Court Avenue on the east to past Auburn Avenue on the west. It stretches north past the Farmington Civic Center nearly to Apache Streets and extends south to Broadway Avenue.

"It helps with tourism, and, in my mind, it helps educate people who are local," he said. "People forget we have artists and musicians and poets here. It educates people about the culture features we have here."

For more information about Art in the Alleys or any of the other downtown projects, call 505-599-8442.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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