I had the pleasure of listening to RJ Price tell me the story behind a new mural in Phoenix. RJ is the Chief Marketing Officer for Downtown Phoenix Inc., an organization that works with business leaders from our membership organization, Phoenix Community Alliance, and a host of volunteer and community organizations to create a more walkable, interesting and vibrant community. RJ is key in matching artists with suitable “canvases” throughout Downtown Phoenix. Below is extrapolated from what he told me about the “Together We Rise” mural on E. McDowell Road.
A Local Artist and His Vision
Last March, renowned Phoenix artist Hugo Medina had an idea for a mural. It was early in the COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdowns had just started. Hugo met with the Downtown Phoenix Inc. organization to discuss his concept.
“I want to do something that honors the front-line workers,” Hugo said. “I see medical personnel, warehouse workers, delivery drivers, retail and restaurant workers all putting themselves in harm’s way to keep the community safe.” He continued, “They are providing for the daily needs people are going to have while in quarantine. Or, in the worst case, medical attention.” Hugo expressed that he did not want to be paid for his artistic contribution, just help with supplies.
RJ replied, “Great! Let’s find a wall.” One of the many things that Downtown Phoenix Inc. does is play matchmaker between artists and suitable surfaces, essentially finding the right wall on the right property with the right owners for each specific project.
The Search for a Canvas
RJ had thought that he had found the perfect property. However, when the property owner heard about Hugo’s idea to paint someone in a mask, the property owners backed out of the project, citing that images of people in masks hit “too close to home” with regard to COVID-19 and all of the challenges through which they were going. They politely asked Downtown Phoenix if they could find another wall. RJ respected their decision, but had to start over from square one.
Normally, Downtown Phoenix matches artists up with walls in the core of the downtown area. Unfortunately, there were not a lot of suitable canvases for this project. RJ suggested that the organization look just beyond their normal boundaries of operation. RJ contacted Joel McCabe, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Trellis, and asked if there was a suitable wall along the McDowell Road “Miracle Mile” revitalization area. When RJ explained the concept of the mural to Joel everything crystalized.
Finding His Muse
Originally, Hugo didn’t know exactly what he wanted to paint, only that he wanted to honor first responders. Then an event happened that gave him focus. There was a Patriot’s rally at the Arizona State Capitol to protest the governor’s order to shut down the economy. The main group of people there wanted businesses to be allowed to reopen and for people to be allowed to do what they wanted in the spirit of commerce. Also in attendance was a band of medical workers who went down to the capitol to counter those rallying against the governor. Many were nurses from Banner – University Medical Center on McDowell Road. The nurse who received the most media attention was Lauren Leander because the images of her stoically staring down ravid protesters was so compelling. Lauren was unwavering, with arms folded, held her ground as protesters were spitting insults at her face. Calling her “un-American” and “traitor.” With a father who is a long-time Phoenix Suns broadcaster and a mother who works at Arizona State University, Lauren is very connected to her Phoenix community and has been an ICU nurse at Banner for over five years. RJ and Hugo began putting the pieces together and Lauren became the central idea for the mural. RJ reached out to the Leander family and asked for permission to use her likeness.
During a month of Zoom calls, RJ, Hugo, and Lauren discussed the goals, features, and sentiment of the mural project. Lauren expressed that she didn’t want the mural to be about just her. She stated that she had thousands of colleagues on the front lines, not just in the medical field, but in many different industries that were serving the community’s best interests. RJ realized that the first wall would not have been large enough for this new direction of the mural.
Moving to the Miracle Mile
Joel connected RJ with the leadership team from Ace Uniforms which is located on the “Miracle Mile.” It was a serendipitous situation. Ace Uniforms had a wall that was large enough to hold Hugo’s new vision. The wall faces Banner – University Medical Center where Lauren works. It was only blocks from Hugo’s home. Additionally, Ace Uniforms serves so many front-line workers from across an array of industries. RJ pointed out that the crews that disinfect the downtown area for his company also get their uniforms from Ace.
A Moving Tribute to the Community
The mural is a testament to the community, especially its strength and ability to come together. It features, not just Lauren, but many other front-line workers who are actual patrons of Ace Uniforms. Hugo is glad to see that they are getting the recognition they deserve.
You can see the beautiful mural at 1506 E McDowell Road.
Help Trellis Help Others
If you were moved by this story and want to help Trellis continue their mission of improving communities and the lives of the people who live there, please donate what you can. Trellis provides financial education, affordable housing, and mortgage loan and down payment programs to the most vulnerable and underserved in the greater Phoenix area, as well as funds and manpower for community revitalization efforts.