Jul. 10—Public art is no cultural necessity. It is, however, a staple of mankind — one that manifested 50,000 years ago in the form of cave paintings that depict the lives and experiences of our distant ancestors.
Crude renditions of primitive humans and the animals they hunted to extinction sat amid other creatively limited imagery of a simpler, but comparatively more strenuous time on planet Earth.
Alleyways and local businesses aren't covered in these kinds of paintings, obviously. They are coated in color representative of Cheyenne and its residents' experiences. Renditions of the bison, magpie, or general geography of vast Wyoming and the cowboys that once roamed in sharp sunlight in barren plains, are the modern artist's form of documenting a local culture.
Seven years ago, this was not the reality for the Capital City. Then, some murals arose, like the bison and company that guard the back parking lot behind the Paramount Cafe, and things began to change.
It wouldn't have changed so drastically if it weren't for the development of Paint Slingers.
"My goal with Paint Slingers was to change the city of Cheyenne's idea of street art and graffiti and let them know it's not a negative thing," said Eddie Fernandez, the founder. "It's actually a really positive thing. It brings vibrance and culture to the streets."
There was a point where Paint Slingers was an alternative form of entertainment that served primarily to compliment the 4-Ever West Tattoo Festival.
In these early stages, Fernandez would bring in a makeshift wall for he and other regional graffiti artists to spray-paint as a group. There was a live DJ. The walk-up tattoo experience remained the main attraction for the weekend.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the tattoo portion of the two events being canceled due to social distancing requirements. It allowed for the public art event to usurp the tattoo festival as the premiere event of the weekend.
In the absence of body artistry, attendees could walk around downtown and watch the beautification of many vacant spaces.
This isn't to say that Paint Slingers has stolen the show.
In reality, all of the events that have grown around the weekend make the newly rebranded Culture Expo something that honors the present alternative culture that occupies the city amid a month of traditional Old West celebration.
Along with Paint Slingers and 4-Ever West Tattoo Fest, there will also be Cheyenne Makers and Creatives' annual Steamroller Print Making show, a glass blowing art show, a BMX stunt rally and a chalk art competition, among other events planned around the city.
Paint Slingers and 4-Ever West still hold the premiere spots in CultureX. For the most part, the events will continue on unaltered.
New this year to Paint Slingers will be a block-party style event held at the top of the municipal parking garage at Carey Avenue and 17th Street. While illegal graffiti is a minor issue downtown here when compared other major cities, the top of the parking garage is one of the more decorated locations in this town.
In an effort to not only ward off any additional tagging, but to bring a unique display of color to the often vacant upper level, a collection of graffiti artists will spend Saturday bringing new life to the vandalized walls as a DJ and food sellers cover the open-air fourth story.
A helping hand
This was made possible by the city of Cheyenne's new involvement in CultureX.
It's beneficial for multiple reasons. One of the most observable will be in the form of live music performances.
The committee selected performances from electronic dance music act 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 scheduled for the weekend. The municipality also took on the responsibility of trash collection, street closures and other such work.
"We didn't take all the load, but we're helping everybody with our experience," said Jason Sanchez, deputy director 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, is really good."
The city's involvement took a weight off of Trinidad Serrano's shoulders. He no longer has to coordinate any additional musical acts or vendors involved in the 4-Ever West Tattoo Festival.
There's nothing new coming to the tattoo festival this year. In the past, Serrano, owner of the T.R.I.B.E. Zoo Tattoo shop, is normally scrambling to get things together 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.
Of the benefits of having a tattoo festival in downtown Cheyenne, the most overlooked is that all of the 40 artists, spanning 10 states, were personally invited by Serrano. He guarantees quality from all of the artists.
"I've been tattooing for 22 years, and I travel a lot, so over the decades of traveling, I make contacts," he said. "I have friends that are doing tours, and I had a whole list planned out who I'd like to invite. The first year, I reached out and invited those artists, and, you know, most of them were able to come in."
About 80% of the artists featured in the festival are returning from years past. Serrano made it a point to increase the number of female tattoo artists this year, for the sake of making attendees more comfortable, depending on the location of their tattoo.
A full list of artists is available online at 4everwestfest.com.
For those uninterested in getting a tattoo, there's plenty to see. Many of the tattoo artists will also be selling their artwork, like canvas paintings or jewelry. Entry into 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 competition, mustache and beard contest and tattoo competitions both between the artists and their subjects.
Steamroller Print Making
Just down the street, outside their new location on 15th Street, Makers and Creatives will host its third annual Steamroller Print Making event.
Onlookers can gather around as artists carve different designs into thin sheets of wood, then lay the designs on 3-foot by 3-foot sheets of paper and literally flattened into existence in spectacular fashion by 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 make sure every print is correctly created.
"There's a lot of different types of printmaking, but this particular type is essentially carved into either linoleum or woodblock," said Desiree Brothe, founder of Makers and Creatives. "It's a very old style of printing. This was done back in medieval ages. Japanese artists were very well known for their block prints, as well."
While she doesn't head the event for Makers and Creatives, Brothe pretty much oversees everything else for CultureX, and clearly there's a lot to manage. The city stepping in has helped with the workload, but the real relief is seeing CultureX gain the support of the city and community as one of the highest funded events of the year.
Urban Edge Advocates
Possibly the biggest introduction to the festival this year is due, in part, to Brothe's involvement in Urban Edge Advocates. The group has the goal of "creating spaces and gatherings which naturally foster meaningful social interaction, and deepen community ties to the Downtown and West Edge District."
In connection with CultureX, Urban Edge Advocates is hosting a poignant project with local high schools.
Cheyenne East, South, Central and Triumph High teachers and students will all be contributing to painting four crosswalks around downtown.
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 beautification. There's that safety benefit of art being used for a practical purpose, which I think kids don't always see," said Sara Wilson, an art teacher at Triumph. "Sometimes people are like, 'Art? That's kind of the fluff subject.'
"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 across all four schools, where they were then voted on by their respective student body and narrowed down to the resulting finalists.
It's Wilson and other art teachers' job to facilitate the process and help a group of roughly 25 students throughout the day. High schoolers rarely have the chance to create a permanent piece of art for the city, let alone one that makes a statement and 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 thought, 'Oh, no one's going to sign up for this.' It's cool to see the kids taking more of an active role, and being able to facilitate this kind of thing.
"I feel inspired to see young kids getting to do something beyond what they thought was possible as a high school student."
CultureX events will run at various times from July 14-17 around downtown Cheyenne. Visitthecultureexpo.com/ for more information.
Will Carpenter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's Arts and Entertainment/Features Reporter. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 307-633-3135. Follow him on Twitter @will_carp_.