DENVER — “I think being creative is what does keep youth sane in a really complex world,” said Melody Epperson.
Epperson, a longtime educator and professional artist, recently partnered with the youth members of Arts Street, a local nonprofit that uses creativity and other training to help break the generational cycle of poverty. Together, the group created an art installation called Tree Tales.
The outdoor exhibit is located in La Alma Lincoln Park within a Historic District of one of Denver's oldest neighborhoods. You'll know you're in the right spot once you see eight trees lined with a total of 80 colorful handmade flags. Epperson and 16 of Arts Street’s participants created the fabric adornments through a screen-printing technique they learned at Ink Lounge.
Youth share stories through trees at La Alma Lincoln Park
QR code posters attached to the trees provide additional interactive elements, each bearing a different code. Once the code is scanned via smartphone, visitors are directed to the Tree Tales website where they can listen to eight unique stories recorded by youth participants of Arts Street. The stories range from fiction to short biographies.
Yukami Murguia, 18, an Arts Street artist, said her Tree Tale was about her journey from her home country of Mexico to the United States. In Murguia's story, listeners will learn about the health of the trees in her hometown of Guadalajara-Jalisco compared to those in Denver.
“The trees [in Mexico], I don’t know. They gave a different aspect [than] over here [in Denver]. [The trees in Mexico] have like sad emotions. The trees over here look more healthier and more secure,” said Murguia. Later, she explained that even though she is proud of her Mexican heritage, she is happier and feels "more secure” living in Colorado.
“I want people to feel freedom; that’s what I want people to feel while reading my story,” said Murguia. “Having a long journey from another [country], it’s like, sometimes you don’t feel that secure.”
Murguia hopes her story will inspire other people who move to different countries to not feel so out of place and to continue to “express themselves” and “feel confident in who you are."
Youth artist Malachi Washington, 16, said his Tree Tale was a fictional story about how a tree would view the world.
“Say you just sat in front of a tree all day and just did not move, more or less. So, you’d be seeing what the tree would have. More of a first-person perspective really puts you in, you know, where that tree would be,” said Washington. “You feel rooted down.”
Epperson came up with the idea for Tree Tales after doing her own research into tree fables and mythologies from various cultures.
"I tied those ideas together by putting something fabric-related into the trees,” she added, explaining she feels the opportunity to be creative can help young people stay sane within the noise of modern society. In total, it took two months to sew and screen print the flags.
Funding for the project was provided by Denver Arts and Venues. Ten flags will also be included in the exhibit I DO/ WE DO/You Do, on display from May 18 to August at 5 at the Center for Visual Art (CVA) located at 965 Santa Fe Dr. in Denver.
Lindsey Ford is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.