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'I'm Just Ecstatic': Colorado Artist's Work Among Chicano Murals To Be Preserved

DENVER (CBS4) - Preservation efforts for Chicano/Chicana murals across Colorado are receiving a major boost moving forward.

On Wednesday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation included Chicano/a/x Community Murals of Colorado in its annual list of America's 11 Most Endangered Places. It's the first time murals have ever made the list.

(credit: CBS)

"The murals celebrate the diversity of communities and culture while connecting us to our past, present, and future," said Lucha Martinez de Luna, the Director of Chicano/a/x Murals of Colorado Project (CMCP).

Now cordoned off by fencing, Emanuel Martinez's mural "La Alma" reflects the trials and triumphs of his community. From a push for equality and recognition during the Chicano Movement of the 60s and 70s to combatting violence and gentrification now, the issues change, but persistence and pride remain constant.

"We wanted to reflect the soul of the community at that time, this was predominantly Mexican American or Chicano," Martinez said.

A pioneering muralist, Martinez painted "La Alma" in 1971. Decades later, the reflection of the Chicano Movement stands largely untouched, unlike many other pieces around town.

"Most of my murals that were done in the '70s have all been erased, with the exception of this one," Martinez said.

artist and mural
(credit: CBS)

Now that fate appears less likely with its listing as an endangered historic place, an effort that aims to spotlight preservation efforts. According to CMCP, aging and Colorado's harsh climate present one threat to the longevity of murals, as well as erasure, "whitewashing," gentrification, and a lack of legal protections.

"This is a giant step forward in the preservation of Chicano community murals across the state," said Dawn DiPrince, State Historic Preservation Officer and History Colorado's Executive Director.

"This is more than about preserving beautiful art, although it is beautiful. It really is about the preservation of Chicano culture and heritage and the preservation of Colorado history," said DiPrince.

Martinez's mural is among five selected to represent Colorado's Chicano/Chicana murals. Their locations include Denver, Pueblo, and the San Luis Valley.

One mural, located at 27th and Larimer Streets was painted by Alicia Cardenas, who was killed late last year in a shooting spree that spanned Denver and Lakewood.

"Unfortunately, she doesn't get to see that, but I think her spirit is definitely here. In fact, I know it's here today, and it's a part of this wall now," said David Ocelotl Garcia, whose mural was also listed as endangered.

For Martinez, murals aren't just paint, they're a community's story out on display. Now this listing as an endangered place shines a spotlight on his mural and the efforts to keep it restored and untouched.

"I'm just ecstatic, I'm so proud and honored to get this mural saved, people can come here years from now and still appreciate what took place," said Martinez.

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