Colossal Cave Road Art – Inspired by Vail’s Unique Stories – Created by Community by J.J. Lamb of the Vail Preservation Society

Tyler Wardell presents art concepts for Colossal Cave Road project. Courtesy Vail Preservation Society

The creation of murals and public art along Colossal Cave Road was sparked by a desire to connect the community. The art project was powered by partnerships, created by students from eight schools, involved too many community members to count, and fueled by in-kind donations of technical expertise, facilitated and funded significantly by the Vail Preservation Society (VPS) through grants. The art is shaped by Vail’s unique places and heritage. It is a story ten years in the making.

In 2007 soon after VPS received its 501C3 status its Board developed a strategic plan. Creating a series of sites that would connect the community was a priority. We went to residents to find out what the sites should be like. How could they reveal relationships between the cultural and natural heritage unique to the Vail area? Sites needed to build a sense of place, create shared civic space to encourage residents to stop, linger, visit in real time and spark a curiosity about their community. Installations take their design cues from the Marsh Station train bridge east of Vail. Every element of the art connects to local heritage.

Cienega H.S. Construction Tech welding students with their creation. Courtesy Vail Preservation Society

Royce Davenport, a local Vail artist, has lent his expertise and enthusiasm from the beginning.  Joy Mehulka with Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation worked with residents sharing her years of insight gained working on interpretive sites, signage, and graphic design. It is her beautiful and thoughtful design that brings the important words in the Sonoran Conservation Plan to life. She encouraged all of us to continue the process. She said that it would be well worth the effort.

Students from seven schools creating murals. Courtesy Vail Preservation Society

Pima County has been an incredible partner, and three years ago allowed art to be incorporated into the Colossal Cave Road project plan. Our partnership with the Vail School District has been invaluable, providing student experiences that also have a lasting legacy. An Empire High School student, Tyler Wardell, was part of the team presenting concepts at County project meetings in 2014. This project is a great example of how public and private partnerships can work for the benefit of all. Southern Arizona Paving, the Colossal Cave Road project contractor has literally “paved” the way and made the final process seamless.

Student artist creates the Shrine of Santa Rita mural piece. Courtesy Vail Preservation Society

Through donations, Legacy Brick sales, in-kind expertise by Swaim Associates, Schneider Engineering, artist Royce Davenport, art teachers and Construction Tech teachers on their own time, and grant funding, the art has come together one piece at a time.  In 2013 VPS received $6,000 from Arizona Humanities, in 2014, $25,000. Transportation Art By Youth grant, in 2015 Arizona Humanities funded a unique student cultural exchange and art project. Together We Will Tell Our Story brought students from Vail and the Tohono O’odham Nation together to discover their shared history and create a mural. In 2015, a Vail Education Foundation grant funded specialized welding instruction and materials for Cienega High School Construction Tech welding students.  Over two years they created the giant V for Vail – two railroad spikes coming together, first envisioned by Royce Davenport, to life. The V anchors an installation holding six murals. The work of the Cienega High welding students has already become a local icon.

Ten years of building partnerships and lasting relationships have made the public art along Colossal Cave Road a reality. We can all be proud of the results of this grass roots effort and of every student and citizen artist from 1 to 80 years old who came together to create it! You are all Placemakers. If you created mural ‘cobble’ at Vail Pride Day, you were a student artist, a welding student, or participated in the early work groups; you are part of the Colossal Cave Road public art that will build a strong sense of place and community identity for generations to come. Thank you all.

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