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Underpass mural project begins

Artist Guillermo Avalos begins work Monday night on a series of murals for the Highway 22 underpass that will depict the history of southwest North Dakota. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)

Artist Guillermo Avalos has begun work on murals for the Third Avenue/Highway 22 underpass.

A Long Beach, Calif., based artist, Avalos completed murals for Dickinson Fire Department in 2017 and Best Friends Mentoring in 2014. He also has a mural in Hurdsfield.

Avalos said it is great to be back in Dickinson.

"This is my fourth year coming back here," he said. "It's always a delight, coming to see some of my friends I know here, and also to see about doing some artwork."

The four underpass wall panels will comprise on large mural, more than 400 feet in length, celebrating North Dakota.

The walls north of the underpass will depict the landscape of the badlands.

The east wall will show immigrating Ukrainians and the west wall will show cowboys, Native Americans and buffalo.

South of the underpass, the west wall will depict Dickinson State University's May Hall and the east wall will show historic downtown Dickinson and a modern pump-jack.

Avalos will be working with kids from local schools of all ages, even college art students, as well as community members.

"We're going to be doing increments of 20 kids per two hours or so, per day," he said.

The size of the project is somewhat daunting, Avalos said, especially when dealing with autumn weather.

"We got here a couple of days ago, just to make sure the weather was going to be on our side," he said. "I have a contingency plan, making sure I stay a couple of extra days, in case it rains or the weather just does not permit us, but also for the community to come out and play."

The mural for Best Friends Mentoring was completed in November without problem, and the fire station mural completed in May.

"You'd think the weather would be nice in May, and we were painting in 36 degree weather for a week," Avalos said. "It's a challenge, but a challenge I'm willing to take."

Avalos began Monday by planning out his drawings with a grid system and sketching against projected figures into the night.

"When you see these lines on this wall, there's going to be some figures there, so I want to make sure that everything's lined up," he said. "Tonight, we plan to project those images if the weather permits us to do so."

Avalos looks forward to working with local kids on the project.

"This is how I started," he said. "I started at 15 and somebody gave me the opportunity to participate in an after school program, working with a muralist, and after that I got the painting bug. I've been painting ever since."

Avalos enjoys being able to contribute to the beauty of a community.

"When you're doing public art, specifically with a very tight community that really wants to improve the area, we want to do great things," he said. "For me, doing that, it really creates the opportunity to meet new individuals, but also for them to understand the purpose and the concept behind doing a large scale art piece like this."

For the roughly $32,000 project, Western Wellness Foundation, parent group for Best Friends Mentoring, is using a $10,000 National Endowment for the Arts Challenge America grant and matching funds from the City of Dickinson.

Kris Fehr, BFM executive director, said she's excited for the start of the project.

"It's been two years coming to this point, and now we will actually see things, and that's the exciting part," she said. "It's a great opportunity to continue to build our community."

To schedule a time to participate in helping to paint the mural, visit the South-X-West Arts North Dakota website at sxwartsnd.com.

A link is also available on the City of Dickinson website at dickinsongov.com.

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